Welcome to this insightful interview with the lovely Lauren Meikle joining us all the way from South Africa. Lauren opens up about her unexpected journey through insomnia.
It all started when she started teaching K-Pop dance classes…
In this powerful conversation, Lauren reveals:
Lauren candidly shares her story to provide hope for other people going through insomnia.
You can check out even more gems from her in this wonderful interview:
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Full Show Notes & Transcription Below
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About Beth Kendall MA, FNTP:
For decades, Beth struggled with the relentless grip of insomnia. After finally understanding insomnia from a mind-body perspective, she changed her relationship with sleep, and completely recovered. Liberated from the constant worry of not sleeping, she’s on a mission to help others recover as well. Her transformative program Mind. Body. Sleep.™ has been a beacon of light for hundreds of others seeking solace from sleepless nights.
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Hello everyone, and welcome to this very special episode where I am happy to be joined by Lauren all the way from South Africa who reached out to me after my interview with Talia Cooper about a month ago and said that she wanted to come on the show and her experience with insomnia. So welcome Lauren.
Hi Beth. Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor to be here.
Well, thank you so much for being here, because I know it is much later for you in the evening in South Africa, so I appreciate that you're coming on the show. And I know that you did a wonderful interview with Daniel over at the Sleep Coach School, and I'm going to post that YouTube in the show notes because there were so many gems in that interview. But for the listeners today, tell us a little bit about how Insomnia started for you.
Yeah, so, oh my goodness. I think as with anyone who gets insomnia and gets into the really deep trenches of that, you don't see it coming. I didn't expect it at all. It first, my first really bad experience with it was when I started teaching dance classes. I was doing k-pop dance classes at the time. For anyone who doesn't know, that's like, I think the K-pop song everyone knows is Sai Gangnam style, but there's a whole world of K-pop where people do k-pop dance covers and stuff. And I started doing that on YouTube and a lot of people were asking me to teach them the moves and stuff, and I also had a lot of inquiries locally. So I thought, cool, let me start a dance school. I had always been a dancer and it was a dream for me to have my own dance school.
So I started doing that, and I think the night before the first class, I didn't sleep that well, but I thought, oh, that's to be expected because it's something new and I'm excited and nervous. So it didn't bother me that much. But as the weeks went on, I couldn't sleep at all the night before the classes. So the dance classes were on a Monday and it was the Sunday night, which was already stressful for me because it's the night before, the work week and everything, and we were living in a different city from where we were working during the day. So we had to wake up super early to drive, and then I would work a full work day and then do two dance classes back to back. So I guess I started overthinking that and then I couldn't sleep at all. I would get into bed maybe at around nine or 10, and then I would lie there until when I had to get up at five in the morning and it kept happening on the Sunday night, and then the rest of the nights I would sleep.
So obviously I'm not too stupid a person. I was like, this is definitely anxiety related if it's only happening on the Sunday. So I thought, what am I going to do about this? So I went to see a doctor and told her what was happening, and she just gave me this super heavy sleeping pill and said, take this on a Sunday night. But most of the time, even that sleeping pill wouldn't work. It would just make me feel almost high. And then the next day when I had to go work and do the dance classes on that Monday, I would feel even worse because now I haven't slept and I'm hungover from this freaking sleeping. I can't do anything, and I just kept getting really bad. So I thought, yeah, let me move the classes to a Tuesday instead. Yeah. So then I thought maybe on a Monday night I would sleep better already into the work week and everything.
And I guess sometimes it was better, but most nights then on a Monday night I couldn't sleep but before the dance class and it was a nightmare, and I felt like I had to sleep to have energy for the dance classes. So I mean would every week, basically most weeks on zero sleep, not even an hour or anything, teach these dance classes thinking back now, I got through it, but when you are in that day, that day after no sleep, you feel like the world is ending and your body is heavier and everything is just so difficult that eventually I stopped those dance classes because I was just like, this is not going to work. I dunno how to get through this insomnia thing and it's destroying my life. If I stop the dance classes, then maybe I'll at least sleep. So it was sad for me because I really enjoyed teaching the dancing, but I wanted to sleep more, so I stopped the dance classes, which was sad, but then the insomnia went away. So I was like, okay. So that was definitely an anxiety thing and it stayed away for a while until I had my first child, my first daughter Liana Rose, I guess when I was pregnant. You have your odd sleepless nights because you've got a tiny human growing inside of you that wants to dance parties at two in the morning and you'll use your bladder as a punching bag. But that was to be expected. It didn't bother me. But then after I gave birth, they always say sleep when the baby sleeps.
But the insomnia came back with such a vengeance after I had leona. At first it was because I felt like I am responsible for keeping this human alive, and now I kind of bring myself to lose consciousness when she relies on me to make sure she's breathing and she's okay. So yeah, I couldn't sleep at all, and this went on for several weeks. I remember saying to my husband at the time, I feel like I'm losing my mind. I'm going to end up in a straight jacket, in a mental asylum. You need to rush me to the er. They're going to have to put me in a coma just to make me sleep. It's so scary not sleeping. If you literally believe you can't sleep anymore, it's absolutely terrifying. And it started with that fear of needing to watch her to make sure she's okay.
But then I eventually just, even when I really convinced myself, no, she's fine. I can really relax now. Let me try and sleep. I couldn't sleep because I felt like, oh, also she had to wake up every three hours so I could nurse her. And I was like, okay, so she's sleeping for these three hours. I have to sleep now before her next feed. I have to sleep now. I have to sleep now. I kept telling myself that, and then of course I would still be awake after three hours for her to drink the pressure, just the pressure of that having to sleep now. Yeah, no, it is insane. That pressure. And I mean, she would sleep. She was an absolute angel as a baby. She would've continued sleeping if I didn't wake her up or the doctor said I had to feed her every three hours.
So I'd wake her up and I put all this unnecessary pressure on myself, and it was a nightmare. Eventually, my husband, one night, he said to me, you need to relax. So have a glass of wine or something. You're not pregnant anymore. You can have a glass of wine or whatever. So I had a glass of wine and I laid down on the couch while leona was sleeping, and I actually, I fell asleep for two hours and my faith was restored and I was like, I can't sleep. I can't sleep. I was so excited. But then the problem was like I did with lots of other things later on, I believed I needed the wine to sleep now without, I needed this glass of wine in order to be able to sleep, but then sometimes it worked, but sometimes it didn't. So it was like, okay, let me try something else. And then it would be valerian
That I would take, and I was like, oh, that would unquote work, and then it would work until it didn't work. And then I was constantly chasing the next thing that would support my sleep because I literally believed I had lost my ability to sleep naturally, and most nights nothing would work at all. I would be up at three in the morning, googling, postpartum, insomnia, and I found stories of other people and most of these stories that have no happy endings. So it just made me more depressed. And it was wine, it was valerian. Then I would do the calamari tea, like cbd oil, these ridiculous, these bluetooth, this Bluetooth sleep mask. It's
A sleep mask. I have not heard of that one. That's new.
Oh my gosh. There's this guy on YouTube, he's got a million subscribers for his sleep meditation, and everyone's in the comments, you have changed my life. I can't
About your stuff. So when that didn't work for me, I was like, there is something wrong with me. There is something wrong with me. If all the things that work for everyone do not work with me. I'm just listening to this guy telling this story about these fairies in the bloody forest and approach this house and slowly go down towards this river. I'm like, it's fascinating, but I'm not any closer to Yes,
Yes, I can so relate. Probably anybody listening to this podcast will completely relate to everything you're saying because you're doing all these things and everybody's like, oh yeah, the trick this worked and it doesn't even touch it for us. We're like, it doesn't even touch it. Totally. And then that is, you do feel like, well, I must be the one person that just has completely lost disability.
Yeah, exactly. No, I don't even know.
I know sometimes it's sort of like, how do you even explain what it's like to go through this?
The people listening understand and maybe they feel less alone. The biggest thing for me was feeling so isolated and alone. Yes, the clock's like one, A.M., two, A.M. three. I can hear my husband snoring, I can hear my babies snoring, and I know everyone I know is just fast asleep. The world's outside. It's asleep. And it's like you said, I think in one of your emails, in your email course, I think you said it's not so much a fear of sleep as a fear of wakefulness. Yeah, I think that's said once. It's like this crippling fear of wakefulness, and that was terrible dear that period with Liana, and I guess at that time it sort of resolved a little bit on its own. I don't know how it's like it came in these waves sometimes and there wasn't even any specific bad trigger.
That was in January, 2019. So she was wake up every three hours for several months, and then it was when she was around six months, so maybe around June she started sleeping through the night and sleeping longer stretches, and everyone's like, oh, that's amazing. You starts sleeping better. Do you think I started sleeping, then I lost my ability to sleep again. It's like that pressure now. Oh, my baby is now sleeping for nine hours straight. That means I have all this time to sleep. I must take advantage of it. I'm asleep, I'm asleep, I'm asleep. And that pressure again sent me into another spiral. Six months later that time I actually, I went to see a, what do you call them? The sleep specialist, and oh my gosh, I feel like that made things so much worse was they put me on sleep restriction. I'm sure you know all about that.
I would had to keep this diary. It's like, how many hours did you sleep last night? But at night, how do sleep? No, I dunno. I'm trying to fall asleep and now you're putting all this pressure on me and telling me I have to count my hours of sleep. I'm already drowning in anxiety and most days my log would be like 0 1, 0 2. I did it for a few days and then I was like, no, I am not doing this. I never went back to that sleep specialist. He also told me I must only be in bed from one a.m to six a.m with the sleep restriction and sometimes I could 10 or 11, I would be so tired, I could feel my eyes closing, but I would force myself, myself to stay awake. He said, so doing these ridiculous adult coloring books and anything to help me stay awake until one. And then the second I hit the pillow at one o'clock, bam, absolutely wide awake, wired, unable to sleep. I cannot understand why sleep restriction is they say it has this 90% success rate. I do not believe that for a second. Well, good for
You for only sticking to that for a couple of days and recognizing that this isn't working for me, so that's amazing.
Maybe about a week I was like, I cannot do this. I'm just going to like I did before. I'm just going to leave it and see if it resolves on its own. And again, it did dunno how just sort of went away. I relaxed a little bit and somehow it got better and that was, yeah. So 2019, and it actually went away for a while, but I was still living in this constant fear of the next spiral because I still didn't understand how sleep works. I still didn't have confidence at all in my sleep. I hadn't resolved the root of my fear at all. I was just most nights falling asleep, but constantly living in fear of that next spiral, which did come again. Then the worst part of insomnia of my entire life was several months ago. I had my second child in February and surprisingly after having her, I slept fine because actually I didn't this time listen to all the clashing advice everyone was giving, like wake her up every three hours to feed her, put her on her back in this ridiculous contraction and at a certain angle and all these things.
I didn't listen to anyone. I just did my own thing. She slept in the bed with me and I just fed her on demand when she wanted to drink, and I was much more relaxed and the insomnia didn't come. Then during those first few weeks I expected it to, I fully expected it to because of how it went with my first child, but it didn't come then. And I thought, oh wow, okay, I'm actually okay. The insomnia seems to not be coming back. That's great. But then all it takes is that one tiny trigger, not even a trigger trigger. It's the smallest thing that we had a friend come to visit us and we ended up staying up really late until probably midnight. And then my older child woke up in the night, I think she needed to go pee, and then my three month old at the time wanted to nurse and there was just everyone chatting and peeing and stimulated me and then I couldn't sleep again after that three a.m chaos.
And I think if I had gone to bed earlier, not going to bed at midnight, if I had more than the three hours of sleep, I wouldn't have stressed out so much. But now that night after, I was like, oh, I only had three hours of sleep last night, so I really, really need to catch up tonight. Again. That pressure, pressure, pressure. You have to sleep, you have to sleep. And then that night I didn't sleep at all and it's such a dark feeling. I'm sure people listening know if you've been through insomnia before and it goes away and comes back, it's such a bitter, dark, horrible, depressing cloud over you watching the sunrise and you haven't slept. And then I started to really panic and I'd never in my life had a bout that went on for this long. This went on for a month where I wasn't sleeping at all or at the most one or two hours a night I would fall asleep and then wake up or jump awake an hour later and then not sleep again all the other way around.
It would take me hours to fall asleep and then at four A.m I'd fall asleep until five. It was absolutely horrific and I just thought, this is it. I felt for all these years that I lived in fear of the next spiral, it's like this is what my brain's been warning me about. All, I dunno, I've been getting signs all these years that this was going to happen. I told myself the story that I was going to die and insomnia was going to kill me, and it was terrible. Daniel once in his book, he said something, this was so apt to me, he said, it's like the old lady who swallowed a fly. She swallowed the fly and then she swallowed what the spider to eat the fly and then the bird and then the horse and all that. You can't see one night of bad sleep as just swallowing a fly one bad night.
I kept making it worse and worse and worse and making the problem bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until I was in such a state. After a month of hardly any sleep, I was in a terrible state. I went to the doctor and she just, she told me I must take this ssri and she gave me more strong sleeping pills and again, none of it worked. I was convinced I was going to die. It was awful. It influenced everything. I like to work out. I like to do my makeup and feel good about myself and enjoy my days, but I was letting this complete inability to sleep, ruin everything I would mope around the house, I was ill.
I would not get dressed. My husband take the kids to school, I'm just wandering around, am I dressing gown, crying, trying to catch up on sleep in the day in between trying to get work done. It was really bad and I literally, I thought, this is the end of my life. I never ever thought I would get out of it, and it didn't help that you get, I dunno, who's that guy that wrote that book that says, if you don't get eight hours of sleep, you're going to die of cancer or something. Yeah, I think it's Matthew Walker, why we Sleep. Is that it, that guy? I think so, but it made me very angry. Yes. It got so much worse and yeah, hypochondriac and I always think I'm dying from anything now. I'm already struggling to sleep and he tells me I need to sleep, otherwise I'm going to get cancer and die. So that just made it so much better and let me actually get to something positive now. This is leading up to when I found one of your articles. I
I was going to ask you how did things change or shift
For you? Yeah, sorry, I have to get onto the light at the end of the tunnel now, otherwise I'm going to be rambling. So I had been googling for so many years for help and advice and no one can help in any way, but I thought, let me just Google one more time. I'm sure I have a feeling this time something's going to be different. I'm going to find something and beth, I dunno which article it was, I must actually go in my history and look, but it was the first time I was introduced to the concept of hyperarousal and speak of hyperarousal. It was like I got hyperarousal just seeing that work. It was like I felt like my brain lit up and everything just made so much sense. All those nights when I had insomnia, it's like your eyes are closed, but they're actually wide open.
It's like the only way you're just lying there looking at all the pretty patterns behind your eyelids if you are unable to sleep. And I said to my husband at the time, I feel like I can taste and smell the adrenaline and cortisol that stress that absolute high, high stress, cortisol and adrenaline levels and that was that fight or flight mode. And it's like you said, and Daniel said also as if you're being attacked by a bear or a lion or something and your brain, it's to protect you makes you be completely hyperaroused. And it made so much sense. I couldn't believe that I suffered for so many years completely unnecessary.
Thinking about that. It actually makes me a bit emotional because it was such a turning point for me. I dunno, it would be if I hadn't have found your article. It led me down a very good rabbit hole. Then I found your interview with Daniel and then I started watching other people's interviews and at the time I always wondered how can all these people focus so much on insomnia and talk about it? But now I'm in that position, I can talk about it for hours and I know that it's not going to affect my sleep at all because I understand hyperarousal now and I know exactly why I was struggling for so many years and I'll never let that happen again. And once you understand that's what's happening, then you can choose to not let insomnia have any power over you anymore because it doesn't exist. Insomnia does not exist at all. It's something that we just create through hyper arousal and if I can get up, I wouldn't believe anyone can.
I've heard so many people have this response to that word hyperarousal, and I had the same response and I'm like, how can this one word encapsulate the experience so well? But it does.
It does. It's exactly all it is. Hyperarousal on high alerts even if your eyes are closed, but it's like they're wide open. Your heart is beating, you're sweating. Every single part of you, all your senses are on fire and hyperaroused, exactly what it is. It made so much sense as soon as I read that and I was like, why? I know my years has no one ever talked about this before.
Definitely, I felt similarly and I hope that that word Well, it is, I think moving into the mainstream a little bit more because it almost, it seems like it confirms your experience a little bit or something or just explains your experience. And so I know you mentioned that when you're going through something like insomnia, it feels especially scary because you don't understand why it's happening. And once you understand why it's happening, it actually makes sense from a biology standpoint that the brain would be creating this hyperarousal based on the anxiety about not sleeping. And it's so paradoxical how it keeps you awake even though you want to sleep. So you've got, like you said, those fight or fight hormones coursing through the body, but then once you understand what it is, tell me how that changed things for you.
So for me, it wasn't immediate that I was completely healed, but I think it was exactly what I needed to hear that night. I actually ended up sleeping quite well and the next few nights was sort of on and off, but obviously it's something, understanding is just the first step then you need to start implementing it, implementing it. And sometimes when I would be trying to fall asleep and I would feel that anxiety kicking in and the heart beating and stuff, I would say, Nope, this is hyperarousal. I understand exactly what you're doing, brain and you can stop it now. I'm not in danger. There's no bear attacking me if I don't sleep. It's not the end of the world. And then usually that's the last thing I remember and then I wake up in the morning. So it was process of implementing it and sort of just welcoming the fear instead of trying to fight it.
Then it makes you more scared and you get more hyper aroused. So every time I felt it coming, I would sort of just accept it and let it happen and talk to it and say, no, I know what you're doing brain and you can calm down. There's no bear, there's no threats or anything. So yeah, it was a slow process. But yeah, understanding and implementing it slowly, slowly got better. And since I discovered that word and I've gone through this eating process and I haven't been struggling at all, sometimes I sleep really badly because I have two children who wake up night and I've got a nine month old who's teething and got a four year, almost 4-year-old that has been sick twice in the past month. And then I was sick. So those normal life things make me have a bad night of sleep, but it's never because of insomnia. Yeah, never because of hyper
Yeah. I think it is what connects it from your life, keeps
It from becoming. It's like when you have those normal sleep interruptions in life, they don't send you in the same spiral that they might have before you understood. Right. It's just sleep disruption versus what's happening. Why is this happening? I don't understand why it's happening. So I remember when you were talking in your previous interview, you talked about making that conscious decision once you understood what was going on and why you had insomnia and you were able to sort of start teasing things apart and pay attention to the story. And you talked about you made that conscious decision for insomnia not to rule your life anymore. And I just thought that was so powerful and I'm wondering if you would expand on that a little bit.
Yeah, because I think it's difficult because you could make the decision, but your brain doesn't always get the memory immediately.
But I carried on, I made that conscious decision because I was sick and tired of this thing controlling and ruining my life because I had everything I've ever wanted. I've got a great husband, I've got two little girls. It's like this absolute potential dream life for most people. And it's like my brain was finding a way to punish me and I felt like I didn't deserve it. And eventually I was like, no, this is rubbish. I've worked hard enough to have a decent life. I am choosing to not let anything take that away from me, including insomnia. I think insomnia it's, I think it happens largely also because people who suffer from anxiety, we believe we have less control than we do. So we always believe some other force or something else is in control. Our brains are in control and able to make our lives miserable.
We have more control than I decided, no, I'm not going through this anymore. I still want to get up even if I haven't slept. I want to do my workout. I want to get ready, do my hair and makeup. I want to have a date night with my husband. I want to play with my kids. I want to want to have a nice day no matter how I've slept. And I think choosing to do that also helped a lot with the insomnia going away because I think most people with insomnia, you spend every waking moment thinking about that night that's on the way. As the day goes on, you're thinking, oh, what am I going to put in my bath? What tea am I going to make? What meditation am I going to do? And the sun starts setting and you get more and more stressed and stressed and stressed about sleep. But if you just stop focusing on it and just let it be, enjoy your life, go to bed. And if hyper arousal happens, you must just understand exactly what's happening, let it be, don't fight it off. And then that's when insomnia ends and that's how it ended for me.
Oh, that's so good. I love everything you said, and I think sometimes just getting to that place where you're just like, F it, I am so done with this. Insomnia. And you kind of get onto your brain. You're like, oh, I realize I see what my brain is doing. And then that can be a good moment where you do just decide, okay, you're going to live your life and you're going to enjoy your kids and make life bigger than insomnia. It's so good. I have one last question for you that I ask all my guests at the end of the interview, but before we go there, I know this is a little bit off topic of insomnia, but I wanted to ask you, because I know you're a copywriter, and I've been thinking about this question since we talked about this interview a couple of weeks ago because I've been watching the show Mad Men, the series for probably the fourth, maybe the fifth time. And I'm curious if you have you seen the show?
I have not. I am ashamed. Oh,
You have to see the show. And I just have thought of you. And in fact, I went right before we did this interview, I went and watched parts of your wedding video, which Oh, you love that. It's so stunning. And I've mentioned to you before, I just love your personal style and your wedding video to me honestly looked like it could be a scene from Mad Men. So you have got to watch the series and let me know what you think whenever you have time. I know that you have two kids and life is busy, but I just think you would appreciate the show so much because you're a copywriter.
I've seen it's very stylized.
It's very stylized
Visual. Yes, yes. There's a lot of things I've always wanted to watch it. I never get around to it. I mean, these days, me and my husband have been trying to watch the latest season of the Crown since the beginning of the year. When does season five come? And most people probably can binge watch a show in a week or two. It's taken us forever and even up in watching the last latest season of sex education and the last episode I'm trying to watch for about a week and a half watching it, the middle dribs and drabs, and then one of my kids wants something or refuses to sleep until midnight, and then I'm like, okay, I'll carry on tomorrow. Wow. I've been on the same scene for four days, but it is on my list. I know a lot of people been raving about it for a long time since it first came out.
Yeah, I think you'll love it. And you can just have it in the wings for how many ever years down the road because it's such a classic show. But I think you'll love it because I think you'll appreciate the wardrobe and the sets and just everything about it. It just reminds me of you. Okay. So for the real last question, what were some of the silver linings that came from Insomnia for you?
Well, I think it sounds weird to say I'm glad I went through it, but I genuinely am, especially because I had gone through insomnia so many times before, and even if it went away for a few months or a year or whatever, I was constantly living in fear of that spiral, and I never got to the root of it. So this last bout I had that was so horrific where actually I got to the root of the problem and made it so that now I understand it, it's like I had to go through this hell one more time and then I never have to go back again. And it's given me such a deeper appreciation for life and the good things in life because, oh gosh, there's so many scenes in TV shows when people joke about sleep and if someone's had a bad night of sleep, it's like this comedy where someone's stumbling around stuff. But anyone with a song, it's more like a pretty horror movie if you're in the middle of that. But life on the other side of that, I'm so much more grateful for everything and to be able to have gone from being a victim of it, to being able to tell my story and bring hope to others, that's so nice For me. It's somewhere I never ever thought I would be.
I said I thought it was absolutely going to kill me. So to be now better off, stronger and able to help others as well, to be more grateful for everything, I am glad I went through it, and I think that is definitely a positive outcome of it.
Yeah, absolutely. So well said, Lauren. I so appreciate you taking the time to share your story, and I think our stories become someone else's hope. So thank you so much for being here today.
Oh, thank you Beth, for the opportunity to share the story. And I really, really hope someone hears it, who needs to hear it, and they can have some hope. It's not the end of the world and it's not going to kill you.
Yes, it won't kill you. It feels like it when you're in it. And I have a whole blog on that actually. So everyone, this is the Mind Body Sleep podcast. I'll see you all next time. And bye for now. Bye Lauren.
Bye Beth. Thanks for having me.
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