'Sleep disorder has taken over my life': Woman speaks out as charity announces sleep pandemic

  • ITV Wales' Health reporter Katie Fenton has the story.

Michelle Gunter from Abergavenny used to be described as "the life and soul of the party".

However, due to her sleep disorder the mother-of-two was left feeling as if her "life was not worth living anymore."

In a heartfelt interview with ITV Wales, Michelle explained how her inability to sleep has "taken over" her whole life.

Since beginning to struggle with a sleep disorder, Michelle feels her lack of energy has caused her family life to suffer.

She said: "I've not been able to work. My relationship with my husband is strained because we've got to sleep in separate beds. I've got no energy to play with the kids like I used to.

"People have stopped inviting me out because I always say no because I'm just so knackered. Every possible area of my life... the impact has just been huge."

Michelle, 44, began to struggle with her sleep in 2021 when she experienced hypnic jerks, involuntary muscle contractions which are likened to the sensation of falling.

Triggered by a stressful period in her life, the jerking sensations would stop her from sleeping altogether.

"As soon as I was about to nod off to sleep, I would jump. This happened hundreds of times a night, stopping me from sleeping altogether", she said.

Since then, Michelle's sleep has never been the same, and is now worse than ever before.

Michelle used to be the "life and soul of the party" before her sleep disorder completely derailed her life.

Despite not sleeping during the day and attempting to go to bed early, Michelle said she wakes up every twenty to forty minutes before finally giving up on sleep altogether, beginning her day at around three in the morning.

She said: "I'm just losing hope. I don't want to stay like this forever. I don't like the person I've become.

"My sister got married last week and I missed her hen party. The people I saw at her wedding told me 'I can't believe you didn't go to her hen party, you're always the life and soul of the party'."

She added: "I'm not that person anymore, that's not me now... and that's just really hard to accept."

Feeling helpless, Michelle sought help from professionals - a process she has describes as "difficult."

Michelle tries her best to spend quality time with her children, but is often left feeling exhausted.

In a telephone consultation with a GP, she was initially only offered an antihistamine, despite expressing how her lack of sleep made her life feel worthless.

After exhausting all options, Michelle then turned to Aneurin Bevan Health Board's Sleep Laboratory, where she spent the night in order for her sleeping patterns to be examined.

Michelle described the experience as "uncomfortable".

She said: "The equipment they put on you in unbelievable. You have pipes up your nose all these wires attached to your head, and the environment is a hospital ward, it's noisy. It's not a relaxing environment."

Michelle described her experience at the Sleep Laboratory as "uncomfortable."

Four months after her stay at the Sleep Laboratory, Michelle said she received a telephone call diagnosing her with mild sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder and chronic insomnia.

Michelle expressed her frustration after waiting two and a half years for a face-to-face consultation.

"Nobody has said 'let's test your bloods, let's see if you're menopausal, let's check your iron', nothing like that", she said.

A spokesperson for Aneurin Bevan university Health Board explained the Sleep Centre at Nevill Hall Hospital provides a full service for patients with 70 different types of sleep disorders, whilst also taking referrals from other health boards.

They said: “Like all NHS services, the Sleep Centre has seen a significant rise in demand in recent years. There are currently around 2,500 patients waiting to access the service. We clinically assess patients and prioritise them according to the severity of their condition and therefore waiting times vary.”

When asked why she wanted to speak out so candidly, Michelle said: "I just want to get this solved. At the moment I keep thinking what's wrong with me, why can't I be normal?

"Nobody seems to suffer like I do. But perhaps people do but they just don't talk about it".

Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, an organisation dedicated to supporting sleep in the UK, told ITV Wales the current sleep landscape is as bad as it has ever been.

Recent research conducted by the charity has shown around 9 in 10 people across the UK are experiencing problems with their sleep.

They also revealed around 14 million people are currently living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder due to the normalisation of disrupted sleep.

Lisa Artis said: "There is a sleep pandemic and what we mean by that is that there is a sleep crisis and it is becoming a public health issue.

"It's having a really serious and escalating impact on not only health, but the economy and society as a whole. We know that sleep deprivation is linked to a wide range of medical issues such as high blood pressure, type two diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's."

The Sleep Charity's research also showed an average 200,000 working days are lost in the UK every year due to insufficient sleep, costing the economy up to £40 billion annually.

Ms Artis added: "It's an ever increasing problem and unfortunately a lack of training and lack of treatment options mean that only a fraction of people are getting the support they need and that's one of the reasons why we're calling on the Government for a National Sleep Strategy".

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of supporting people with sleep disordered breathing.

“The development of NHS sleep services forms part of our Quality Statement for Respiratory Disease.

“The NHS Executive’s clinical network for respiratory disease will continue to include a national clinical lead role for the development of sleep services.”

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