this entire newsletter will be in lowercase because it's panedmic week 637 and who has energy for punctuation

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march 2021

how to ROCK insomnia!

the first day with disrupted sleep is annoying. the second, frustrating. the third, discombobulating. after that, days start to lose their meaning. add to that a global pandemic where you barely leave the house, and you find yourself in the kind of temporal wasteland that usually just exists between christmas day and new year. “what day is it?” today. it’s today.

march is a month of anniversaries. one year since the beginning of the pandemic. four years of writing this newsletter. a few decades since my birth. but let’s not be so bound up in the spacetime continuum, shall we? let’s just untie the guide ropes and just drift off into the stratosphere a little...

i don’t have any new music this week

i don’t even have complete and coherent sentences for you.

what i do have is some new and exciting symptoms.




you’re not doing insomnia properly unless you’re waking up from an anxiety dream a couple of hours after you finally managed to drift off

and then you spend the next 3 hours in a completely wired state, still jittery from the dream but also obsessing about how you can make yourself feel tired so you can get back to sleep

being motionless in a dark, quiet room should also ensure that you’re getting no sensory stimulation, which should leave your brain free to click into default mode and just endlessly doomscroll through all your current worries



if you’re rocking anxiety then why not try doubt?

not just mulling over one or two things in life that you’re not sure of, but a deep, all-encompassing sense of unease about whether any of the conclusions from experiences that you have had in your life so far are in the slightest bit reliable



look, you’re awake anyway

you’re wired, you’re jittery

maybe the cure is more poison? hair of the dog that bit you and all that

just think about that warm, bitter, nutty aroma

and even if you are awake, at least you’ll be awake for a reason

at least maybe you’ll stop worrying about why you’re awake



now is a fantastic time for hand-eye coordination

if you have any

because you might find it in short supply

don’t, for example, decide to reset the clocks to daylight savings whilst awake in the middle of the night

because sleep deprivation induces a delightful combination of clumsiness and impatience

and whilst the actual resetting of the clock might be relatively straightforward...

don’t expect to ever be able to put it back on the wall again



last, and by no means least, sleep


wonderful, restful, glorious sleep

in fact, that’s my main recommendation for this month

eight hours of deep, profound sleep

Upcoming Events

Friday 16th April

okay, so this month is a bit different...

this April, just like last year, the Bastard English Session is teaming up with the Folk Weekend Oxford festival to provide a later, madder version of the usual online madness

it will be on Friday 16 April, from 10pm to 12am

and when the time comes you simply click this:

and then enter the password, which is:

  • bitshowy

and a reminder of the New (well, now Old) Bastard Protocol:

  1. If you’re performing, you’ll need to change your Zoom settings to ‘Use Original Sound’.
  2. It’s a one-at-a-time performing thing, and I have to mute everyone during each performance (because of audio lag) (and also, because I get an enormous kick out of it).
  3. Feel free to use the Chat function throughout!
  4. Also, I find all Zoom calls weirdly tiring, so feel free to hide your video, and wander in and out.

Dear Diary...

yeah, so, here’s the thing…

in a matter of weeks, if all goes to plan, H will be giving birth to a tiny human, so whatever sleep problems i have now are about to seem pretty trivial

but maybe a little bit of the current anxiety is that if my sleep patterns are so wonky now… what are they going to be like then?

in the famous torture scene in Casino Royale, Ian Fleming writes about how there is a stage where the pain becomes ecstatic, and… i wonder if sleep deprivation works in the same way?

actually, sometimes when i do wake up in the middle of the night, i do feel so profoundly, existentially awake that it’s like i have ascended to a spiritual plane above mere human tiredness.

i feel a bit like the character in that film Limitless: suddenly i can focus fully and clearly on any given topic, and work without any fatigue.

but the longer i work like this, the more i am actively pushing my sleep routine out. and, most likely, the more i am likely to pay for it the next day.

So What Have We Learnt?

So if my February was sort of a Depression Month, March has definitely been my Insomnia Month.

But I feel like I have actually learnt something which has been very useful to me, and may be to some other people too.

I’ve been paying a lot more attention to sleep since reading the book Why We Sleep by Professor Matthew Walker (who I’ve taken to just call Doctor Sleep). When I asked H what the current popular science book was on sleep, this was the one she suggested, and indeed I went on to recommend it in this newsletter back in November.

The book is packed full of interesting information, but it is also sort of a laundry list of horrible diseases that you’ll get if you don’t sleep 8 perfect hours of golden undisturbed sleep every night from the age of 40 onwards. It is... a little relentless, which is perhaps why I hadn’t actually quite got to the end of it.

One night last week, when I was once again woken by a dream in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, I thought I would actually look up what Doctor Sleep had to say about insomnia specifically. And I found this:

How to Beat Anxiety and Insomnia | Neuroscientist Matthew Walker

It’s an interview, and the interviewer asks Doctor Sleep the questions I specifically wanted to ask.

She says “You say how bad it is to not get enough sleep, but what if you make time for it and you just can’t fall asleep? Perhaps because you’re too anxious…”

And he says that yes, there can be many causes for insomnia but anxiety is probably the most common one. We get into ‘fight and flight’ mode, and we cannot sleep until that mode is switched off. He sees this when studying patients with insomnia at the sleep centre in the University of California: they’re desperate for sleep but they’re ‘wired and tired’.

And he recommends two things:

1. Meditation: which he says he only discovered in relation to insomnia when researching the book, but he has now been meditating ever since…

2. Journaling: he says that writing about whatever is troubling you can have a cathartic effect, and can switch that fight/flight mode off.

But then the interviewer asks, “Yes, but what about when that anxiety is caused by not being able to sleep?”

He replies by saying that this point was the cause of perhaps the most pushback he got after the book. He prefaces by saying that he wrote the book because he believed that science communicators like him hadn’t done a good enough job in educating the public about how important sleep is, and how bad the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation can be. He wanted to be truthful about the science. But the grim descriptions were so bleak that readers complained to him that it was so distressing that they couldn’t get to sleep!

So, in answering her specific question, he says: if you’re awake in bed for more than 15 or 20 minutes, don’t stay in bed!

Your brain is extremely sensitive to associations – ambient light, ambient noise outside, room temperature, sensory input of all kinds basically – and you need to instruct it that Bed Is Where You Sleep. If you start telling your brain that Bed Is Where You Lie Awake Worrying About Not Being Able To Get To Sleep, that is what it will do.

This made me realise – aha! My brain is like the TikTok algorithm!

Which, okay, is revealing about my state of mind at the moment, but what I mean is that TikTok is a great platform if you diligently click ‘like’ on every video that you like and swipe away immediately from anything that you don’t. But if you don’t tell it, proactively, what you want then it will just throw random stuff at you - frantically clawing its fingers out for something to grab on to.

Anyway, I thought I’d take Doctor Sleep's principle of the ‘associative brain’ and dial it to 11. I now have a series of rituals that I follow in the evening: tasks that I do in order, scented candles that I light, drinks that I drink… Basically, I am trying to deliberately give my brain as many cues as possible that I am moving into the sleepy sleepy phase.

Initially it worked like, well, a dream. But on Friday night I thought I’d go easy on some of the rituals, and I had such a bad night’s sleep that it made me anxious enough the next night that my rituals didn’t work. So I suppose it’s a Work In Progress.

I’ll keep you posted.

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the folk session. About life. About the universe. About what day it is.

  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
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