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Changing a lifetime sleep habit

29 January 2018 - Dr Genevieve Yates

The Princess and the Pea

Like the princess in the “The Princess and the Pea” fairytale, I’ve always been a fussy sleeper. I can't sleep on planes, during the day (unless I'm sick), when it is noisy or if I'm cold.

I've spent every night of my life sleeping exclusively curled up on my side in foetal position.  The problem is that my sleep position has been causing increasing problems with stiffness and pain in my upper back and neck. Worst of all, at least once weekly, a severe cervicogenic headache would wake me from sleep.  I tried special pillows, physio, massage and stretching but all to no avail.

Enough was enough!

I decided to train myself to sleep on my back.   I followed a sleep restriction therapy approach and was meticulous about my sleep hygiene.

It has been horrible. I barely slept for the first week.  Although I managed a little bit of sleep in week 2, it got really bad again in week 3.

As I lay there awake, every fibre in my body urged me to roll over. I found it takes enormous willpower to resist making a simple little body roll, knowing you’ll fall asleep easily if you do, when you’re utterly exhausted. But resist I did.

How did I stay motivated?  My neck and upper back tenderness and tightness magically disappeared after a couple of nights of not sleeping on my side, and I’ve not had a single headache. Miraculous!

On the sleep front, I finally seem to be winning. I'm actually getting quality on-my-back sleep for at least 7 hrs a night. It is early days yet, but the past month of torture has shown me that with enough discipline and time, you can change ingrained habits of a lifetime!

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Dr Genevieve Yates
Dr Genevieve Yates

Genevieve is an educator, a GP and a writer in regional Victoria.

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