Sleeplessness can be a nightmare.
But a former Oamaru woman has written a book to help remedy what has been described as a “global epidemic”.
Bernice Tuffery grew up on Oamaru’s South Hill with her two sisters and her parents. She went to what was then South School, followed by Oamaru Intermediate and Waitaki Girls’, before studying commerce at Otago University.
Following the early years of motherhood, she found herself in a mire of sleeplessness, and described it as like “living in a fog”.
“It was motherhood that really set things off for me, and that’s quite common for women.
“You’ve got to get up in the night and sleep crazy hours, and what have you. But normally, after your child’s sleeping again, your sleep comes right, whereas mine didn’t.”
It affected her memory, concentration and mood.
“So you tend to do less exercise, because you’re so bloody tired, or you start using a bit more coffee, and you start eating differently.
“It does just trigger that whole spiral, that the things that you do to kind of conserve yourself actually creates more difficult sleep. So you get into this horrible trap.”
At various times, Tuffery tried sleeping pills, and also melatonin, and although they offered a short-term solution, she knew they were not sustainable long-term.
“It was when I had that reprieve from sleeplessness, I thought, ‘sleep is so good, I’ve got to find a way to do this, this is amazing’.
“And that’s when I started doing research around it, going ‘what is the non-drug therapy for sleep? It’s a biological function, why can’t I do this?’.
“I knew there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me. I just couldn’t sleep.”
She found the answer in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBTi), which is “thought and habit training for sleep”.
“The key thing is what they call the sleep consolidation … so you spend less time in bed, but more time asleep. So there’s protocol around that and you can teach yourself to do that,” she said.
People with sleep problems tended to spend more time in bed, because they were trying to catch up. But this could work against them, because they ended up with poor quality or fragmented sleep.
“There is another element called stimulus control, which is training yourself so that bed becomes a cue for sleep. So when you’ve had trouble sleeping for a long time, your bed is actually a cue for wakefulness and, you know, horrible wakefulness.
“It’s about retraining your brain to go ‘when I see my bed, my body knows it can relax and go to sleep’, which is the opposite of what’s been going on.”
After finding the answer to her insomnia in CBTi, Tuffery was determined to use her knowledge to help others. Enter Sleep Easy, which was released by publishers Allen and Unwin earlier this month.
The book is more than 400 pages, but Tuffery said people shouldn’t be daunted, as it was really a “step-by-step guide” to tackling sleep issues, one week at a time.
Tuffery, who now lives in Auckland and works in market research, said people who battled with insomnia also tended to be very motivated to help themselves.
It was her first foray into book writing and she described the response so far as “amazing”.
“Even when I was writing it, I sort of reached a point where I just thought, ‘who am I to be writing this book?’.
“I’m not a doctor, I’m not an academic, I’m not a sleep specialist. You know, I shouldn’t be the one to write this. Then I got in touch with some of the sleep specialists .. and they were like do this, this book needs to exist’.”
Tuffery said she was really proud of her book, because she knew how important it was.
“It would have been much easier not to, and been like ‘yay, I’ve fixed my sleep, I feel great, now I can get on with my life’.”
Although there were a lot of sleep books written by specialists, this was written from the perspective of the person doing the work, she said.
“The inside story, ‘what does this feel like’. It makes it more approachable.”
Sleep Easy can be found at Oamaru Paper Plus, the Warehouse and Oamaru Public Library.