|Why Toyah Willcox
refuses to take sleeping pills despite suffering
from insomnia for 36 years
From the age of
14, Toyah Willcox has suffered from chronic
Most nights she has just
four hours' sleep, much of it broken, and she has
become used to starting her day at 4am, having
given up on sleep in despair.
Over the years she's
resorted to a whole range of remedies, and at one
stage became addicted to sleeping pills.
and being unable to fall asleep became a part of
who I am," she says, 'but it was like having
a secret life, one that the people around me
would not understand. It can make you feel very
Toyah is speaking for the
first time about her battle with insomnia as part
of a special edition of ITV's Tonight With Trevor
McDonald. The programme investigates the growing
number of people seeking help for sleep problems
and uncovers an unregulated internet trade in
sleeping tablets and sedatives. Drugs, including
the sedative temazepam (linked to the death of
actor Heath Ledger), can be easily purchased -
many are highly addictive, as Toyah discovered
through bitter experience.
Her battle with insomnia
started when she was growing up in
"I was in the middle
of my O-levels and finding it very stressful, not
least because I am dyslexic.
about achieving good results kept me awake, so I
downed flu remedies to try to go to sleep.
"My mum and sister
also struggle to sleep so there could be a
"I reached the point
of sleeping only a couple of hours at night, then
feeling exhausted and stressed during the
She left school at 17,
working in theatre and playing live gigs.
"I built a lifestyle
around the fact that I was awake at night,"
"Going on stage could
be at any time, from 7.30pm to 2am. There wasn't
time to sleep.
"I have a lot of
natural energy that kept me going, even when the
insomnia left me physically
Toyah adds: "In those
days, doctors had no qualms about handing out
pills, especially the private doctors I
"When I was 25 I was
prescribed temazepam to help me sleep. It worked
"For the first time
in years, I was sleeping a full eight
became dependent and over time the pills were
"After two years I
decided I didn't want to be controlled by the
"I was performing my
songs on Top Of The Pops, my acting career was
incredibly successful and I wanted to continue
taking control of my life.
"This included giving
up alcohol and switching to a vegetarian
"I didn't want to do
anything to compromise my immune system or alter
my mood in any way, whether with food, drink or
She decided to stop taking
the sleeping pills literally overnight.
"I had no idea how
hard it would be. The worst aspect was the
boredom, with your body heavy with fatigue but
your mind still buzzing away.
"You are not really
awake enough to concentrate on reading, and in
the early hours, particularly then before the
advent of the internet and a more widespread
24-hour culture, there was so little to do.
"I gritted my teeth,
got on with my job and was incredibly relieved
when I found myself able to shut my eyes and
sleep, if only for a few hours, 14 days after I
took my last sleeping pill.
After that, never
again." After her alarming experience with
sleeping pills, Toyah was shocked to see how easy
it was to buy such drugs on the internet.
For Toyah, the problems
did not end with giving up the sleeping pills
because the insomnia remained.
"I hadn't known what
a decent night's sleep felt like since I was
Marriage in 1986 to
guitarist Robert Fripp, now 61, brought a new set
of sleep issues.
"My insomnia meant I
was pacing the house, with him trying to persuade
me to go to bed at a reasonable time.
"But when I did go to
bed there was Robert's terrible snoring.
"Bless him, he's
tried everything, including an operation on his
nose, but he still snores like an earthquake and
wakes both of us up."
Over the past 36 years,
Toyah has tried many ways to induce sleep,
including lavender oil massages and listening to
"Nothing has made any
difference," she admits.
"I count four hours
as a good night's sleep.
"I rarely go to sleep
before 1am, and I'm often awake again by
"The best quality
sleep I have is between 8am and 10am, and if I
have that I usually feel refreshed," she
adds. To see if there was another solution,
Toyah, who is 50 this year, investigated a range
of sleep remedies for the Tonight
These included sleep pods
being trialled at a Manchester call centre.
The pods, which look like
a cross between an egg-shaped chair and a day
bed, enclose the sleeper and block out light and
She tried one and found it
did induce a 20-minute power nap.
"I was incredibly
sceptical but it worked."
But she is resigned to the
fact she is "programmed" not to
Dr John Shneerson,
director of the Sleep Centre at Papworth
Hospital, Cambridgeshire, says those with
long-term sleep problems can find their insomnia
"The longer a person
has been living with sleep deprivation, the
longer it will take to find ways to treat
it," he says.
"It was Robert who
recognised that I have a phobia about going to
sleep," says Toyah.
"I fight the signs of
sleep by avoiding going to bed.
"It's true, I see
sleep a waste of time. I rarely want to go to bed
because I find it boring.
"I am naturally up
and busy and that's how I am happiest.
But the problem with
insomnia is that too many of your waking hours
are spent feeling as if you have jet
Unlike many insomniacs,
her health doesn't appear to have been
Intriguingly, for Toyah,
through the TV programme she discovered a trial
drug designed to keep people awake indefinitely,
apparently without side-effects.
"If such a pill was
ever available, I'd take it like a
Meanwhile she is keen to
concentrate on the positive side of spending so
much time awake.
"I have at least four
more hours every day in which to achieve my aims.
The internet has been a godsend.
"I've built up a
multi-million pound property empire overseas,
traded stocks and shares and built up my
financial knowledge because I'm awake in the
"No-one would want to
have their mind busy at 4am and their body
exhausted, but I think there's a case for making
the best of it."
TONIGHT With Trevor
McDonald: ITV1, Friday, 8pm.
8th April 2008