I call sleep “The Cinderella of Good Health”. That’s because we all know the principles of healthy eating and exercise. Yet when it comes to sleep, people struggle. They search the net and try a few things – reduce caffeine, no screens before bed, join a yoga class. When these measures don’t work they become disheartened. They start to believe that they just have to put up with their sleep problem.
Sleep is a foundation stone for physical, emotional and psychological health yet one in ten of the population worldwide now suffer with insomnia. These days it’s more important than ever to pay sleep the respect and attention it deserves. As a survivor of burns, I know that you will have worked incredibly hard to make improvements to your physical health. Focusing on improving your sleep can support your body’s physical healing and can help give you the mental strength to cope with what each day brings.
Severe trauma leads to heightened levels of anxiety, as a survivor of burns it’s highly likely that your sleep has suffered. It may be hard for you to switch off unpleasant or worrying thoughts. You may not feel safe to relax into sleep.
When bedtime arrives, you’re wired-tired instead of sleepy-tired.
When you’re wired-tired, your body is on alert. You may feel exhausted but your fight-flight system is activated, preparing you to deal with danger. The fight-flight response evolved way back when we were cave dwellers confronting the very real threats posed by wild animals. These days however we can activate fight-flight just by imagining or remembering a frightening situation.
Sleep and fight-flight are not good bed-fellows. The more wound up you feel, the less able you are to drift off.
Sleepy-tired, the state you need to be able to drift off, feels very different. It’s when both your body and mind are relaxed and the only thoughts you have are calming pleasant ones.
It’s not only anxiety that interferes with sleep. Physical pain from burns and scars can make it difficult to get comfortable, itchy skin that many survivors of burns have during the healing process can also make it harder to sleep, as can certain medications.
So what can you do if you’re not sleeping well?
When you have night after night of broken sleep it’s easy to lose hope. It may have been going on for so long that you’ve forgotten what it feels like to have a good night.
You no longer believe that a good night’s sleep is possible for you. As a recent client told me – I just don’t dare to hope that I could actually sleep well. The good news is that after just two sessions with me she was starting to rebuild her confidence in her ability to sleep normally. With the right science-based approaches, you too can learn to sleep well again.
The sleep support that I offer is built around five elements –
- Good 24/7 Sleep Habits – daily routines and behaviours to promote sound sleep
- Positive Sleep Mindset – rebuilding confidence in your ability to sleep well
- Sleep Efficiency Training – a powerful tool to track your progress as you create a positive association between bed and sleep
- Mind Management – learn techniques to manage thoughts that interfere with sleep
- Practical Relaxation techniques – to calm body and mind and strengthen personal resilience
The body is designed to be a superb sleep machine. It wants to sleep! With this comprehensive approach you’ll learn the skills and mindset to bring refreshing sleep, sustainably and healthily. When you sleep well you reap the myriad of physical, emotional and psychological benefits that Zzz’s bring. Good sleep will support you as you heal and move forward with your life. That’s why I’m absolutely delighted to be supporting survivors of burns and scars with the Katie Piper Foundation.
I’d like to finish with three top tips to bring better sleep –
- Learn a simple breathing exercise. If you’ve never tried anything like this before then I urge you to give it a go. It’s such a simple yet powerful tool. It’s free too! Breathing a little deeper and slower calms the nervous system and helps you to relax. When you’re relaxed you’re more able to tolerate physical discomfort. Focussing on your breath also quietens unwanted thoughts that get in the way of sleep. It’s important however that you practise the exercise in the daytime at first so you become familiar with it. Then it becomes much easier to use whenever you need to. If you want to go a step further – Jay Clarke who runs nature therapy sessions at the KPF Rehabilitation Centre has some excellent, short meditation sessions on her You Tube Channel.
- Stick to regular bed and getting-up at times even on weekends. This might sound a bit harsh but sleep thrives on consistency. If you have a long lie-in at the weekend then you’ll find it harder to get to sleep that night. If you absolutely must lie-in, limit it to an hour. Avoid daytime naps and again if you really must nap, limit it to 20 minutes (set an alarm).
- Get some natural daylight in the morning each day. Aim for at least 15 minutes. Even on the cloudiest day, the intensity of natural light is far higher than indoor lighting. Protect your skin from strong sun if necessary. Natural light is important for maintaining your internal body clock, making it easier to feel sleepy at the appropriate time. If you combine this with some gentle exercise, your sleep will thank you for it!
For more sleep tips and to try out my free 7 day Better Sleep Trial visit my website https://sleepwell.today/project/resources-tools/
Leom was 35 and living in Birkenhead when during an October night, fire swept through his flat as he slept, he was rescued and taken to Whiston Hospital where he was placed in a medically induced coma for 2 months.
When was bought out of sedation, after multiple skin graft operations, 34% of Leom’s body was burned including his face, legs and left arm. He couldn’t talk for weeks and had reccurring episodes panicking that he couldn’t breathe. He stayed in intensive care for a further month before being moved to the specialist burns unit. There Leom worked with the physiotherapist on moving his legs and trying to walk again. He explains how he felt when he looked in the mirror for the first time. ‘It just didn’t look like me any more, the burns were so bad, my face was very scarred and my left hand, it looked like an ugly potato’. The hospital psychologist tried to help Leom come to terms with his injuries, but his poor state of mind at the time meant that he struggled to engage with the process.
After a little over 5 months in hospital, Leom was discharged and returned home, he continued to visit Whiston Hospital as an outpatient and finally after 6 months, the devastating decision was made to amputate his left hand. By now Leom was living in a flat by himself, he was struggling with the motivation to get up in the morning, didn’t go out at all and had no contact with anyone, he even had his food shopping delivered. He decided to get a dog and Duke, a husky cross, soon became Leom’s reason for living and the two became inseparable. Walking Duke gave Leom a reason to leave the house, but even then he kept his cap on all the time, trying to stay hidden away.
Leom came across The Katie Piper Foundation, he started talking to our staff about hair restoration and rehabilitation. Supported by our team, he had several hair transplants to restore not just the hair on his head but his eyebrows and part of his beard and this made a positive change to how he felt. ‘Having my eyebrows restored was a huge thing, I could look in the mirror and I looked more like me again, that was a big confidence boost’. In 2019 he came to stay at the newly opened KPF residential Rehabilitation Centre. This was something he had been considering for some time, but struggling with the thought of leaving Duke and unable to see how anything could make a difference to his life he had been unable to bear the physical and emotional upheaval he felt he would have to go through, ‘I thought that nothing could really help, my life was what it was, I was used to staying at home, to being on my own, what difference could anything really make? ‘.
Eventually Leom made the decision to come and stay for a week, even on the day he was due to come he was still unsure if he would actually make it. Fortunately, he did and once immersed in the intensive rehabilitation programme he began to see immediate benefits. He focused not just on his fitness and the physical aspect of his injuries with our physiotherapists and personal trainers but also on improving his confidence, working with our psychotherapist to strengthen his mental wellbeing. Through our peer support programme Leom met others with facial burns, he talked to them about how they were living their lives and they helped him to see that life didn’t have to be restricted ‘there was a couple of lads with burns, I had never seen anyone else who looked like me. Chatting to them helped me so much, I realised I’m not the only person in the world living with this, it really turned around to how I felt about myself’.
During his time at the Centre, Leom worked hard to regain his independence and to go out again, to meet new people and show his face. One day he went for a walk on his own, he walked for 7 miles even stopping off at the pub for a drink, something he hadn’t done since before the fire. He went to the cinema and out for a meal in a busy restaurant with his team from the Centre, feeling comfortable as part of a group. Bit by bit he began to see that life was there to be lived again and he could carry on regardless of his injuries.
Leom eventually stayed at the Centre for another week. On the day after his return home he took a huge step forward and went to a party, he now has contact with some friends and is rebuilding his social life. Reflecting on his life now he says ‘What The Katie Piper Foundation gave me was incredible, I don’t know where I would be without them, the combination of the hair restoration and the rehabilitation stay had a lasting impact on my confidence, I could see that I could live my life again’.
Now Leom is learning to drive and is looking forward to taking his driving test, another big step forward in his life.
In 2018 Sal was living in the North of England with his wife and teenage son. He had a busy life working as an engineer and loved to spend his weekends cycling and volunteering in the local community. In June he took a trip to Yemen to visit his father and brothers and to catch up with extended family and friends.
After spending a couple of days in the city, Sal and his family decided to make a trip to their home village in the desert. Mindful of the poorly maintained, badly lit roads and army checkpoints, Sal took the drive slowly, chatting with his brothers and young nephew, with the windows down in the warm evening air. In an instant everything changed, Sal remembers seeing headlights coming towards him, hearing a bang as a van crashed and feeling burning as a barrel of acid from the back of the van showered through the open window on to him and his family. Struggling to see and with no water to douse the acid, Sal and his family were put in the back of a taxi. Over the next 2 hours, in agony, they traveled to five hospitals until they found somewhere able to treat their burns on just a very basic level. Sal had severe burns on his face and body. After five days in hospital, with very little support and no specialist burns care, Sal was desperate to get back home and booked himself on to a plane back to the UK. Sal’s wife met him in Jordan and they flew the eight hours back to Manchester together.
Upon arrival at Manchester, Sal was rushed to Wythenshawe Hospital, after 2 days he was transferred to the RVI Newcastle and into intensive care where the burns staff battled to save his life. With 37% burns to his body and face and only a scarf to cover his burns whilst in Yemen his wounds were badly infected. Having already lost an ear and much of the sight in one eye, doctors made the heartbreaking decision to remove the other eye to save him from life threatening infection. For the next 9 weeks Sal stayed in intensive care having specialist burns treatment, he had over 10 operations in an attempt to reduce the damage done by the burns. Finally Sal went home and now registered blind, he began facing the realities of a life with severe burns. He learned to walk again, to feed himself and to begin to cope with the trauma of what he had experienced.
In December 2019 Sal came to stay for a month at The Katie Piper Foundation Rehabilitation Centre. His goal was to improve his fitness and regain his independence. His scars were tight from his skin grafts and he couldn’t move one of his arms much at all, he was also struggling with his confidence and daunted by going out in public on his own. During his rehabilitation month, Sal had regular sessions of physiotherapy and specialist treatments to help ease his scars and improve their feel and texture. He worked with our personal trainers, trying boxing for the first time to improve his freedom of movement and his core strength. He was supported with his well being through therapy and was encouraged and challenged to do things on his own, he began taking trips into the local town on the bus and talking to new people, all the time making small steps towards regaining his independence.
Sal gave his all to his rehabilitation and the staff were there to support him every step of the way, ensuring that his month was spent in the most beneficial way possible. The progress he made was transformational, the staff were amazed at his courage and sheer determination to reclaim his life and become independent again. By the end of his month Sal’s confidence had rocketed and with a renewed optimism for the future he returned home, confident in his ability to start living his life again, ready for what the future could offer him and most importantly back on his bike and cycling again.