When Daisy Maskell was hired to present Kiss FM’s breakfast show, she and her friends reckoned it was the perfect gig. She’d always had trouble sleeping. A job that required her to be wide awake and ready to face the day at 5am seemed the ideal fit.
But rising at the crack of dawn merely fuelled 23-year-old Maskell’s sleep deprivation, she revealed in the fascinating if ultimately unsatisfying Daisy Maskell: Insomnia and Me.
The film conveyed the sheer, grinding torture of insomnia. Video diaries recorded by Maskell found her awake in the middle of the night, her buzzing mind making rest impossible. “I went to bed at 3.30,” she said. “I’ve almost over-ridden the tiredness I felt. It is kind of frustrating.”
She spoke of her dissatisfaction at not being able to do something that “came naturally” to many. “It feels like my body’s failing me,” she said.
Maskell turned to the NHS website section on healthy sleep habits. Tips included taking a bath before bed and using deep-sleep pillow spray. None of it was any use. Visiting Sleepyhead Clinic in Exeter, she was advised to stay awake until the very moment when she started to nod off.
As well as sharing her own story, Maskell pulled back the curtains on an epidemic of insomnia. She met YouTuber Hannah, 22, who has documented her struggles with sleep deprivation, and Ellie, 23, who tweets about her insomnia, which she believes has weakened her immune system and made her life “10 times harder”.
These experiences will have chimed with many. One in five of us struggle to fall asleep, it was revealed. Gen Z has been particularly badly hit, with almost half of 16- to 24-year-olds telling researchers that they were getting significantly fewer hours sleep than they had been prior to the lockdown.
Hannah felt it was because she was “over-thinking” in the pandemic: “I’m trying to create solutions for a problem that’s not there yet,” she explained to Maskell.
“I always say to my mum, ‘I can’t turn my brain off tonight. This past year has been the worst for my sleep.”
Maskell’s brain had been firing on every cylinder too. Neurological tests revealed cerebral activity at rates significantly above the norm. Sitting down with a psychiatrist, the radio presenter suggested this might be linked to the emotional fallout from her parents’ separation when she was a child.
She also felt her irregular sleeping was connected to an eating disorder she developed at the age of 14. “My issues with my sleep have only made my issues with my eating even worse,” said Maskell. “When I can’t sleep, I will combat those negative feelings and the strain with binge-eating.”
Insomnia and Me ended with her revealing that she was seeing a nutritionist and undergoing tests with her GP.
It was a brave and frank film and Maskell commendably stepped outside her bubbly breakfast radio persona – she was a natural on camera and it was hard not become invested in her struggle.
Yet it felt like this was merely the first step. She signed up for therapy and was optimistic about the future, but was really only beginning the long, potentially arduous path to recovery – it made for an underwhelming conclusion. It would have been nice to be with her all the way to the finish line.
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