Not being able to sleep, whether before a trip or once you’re on it, can really mess up your day. Pippa’s been there, and now she’s done a deep dive into how to avoid insomnia so you can get some shuteye.


Five things I can see: sheets, wall, window, dirty socks, headtorch. Four things I can feel: sheets (again), aircon breeze, my t-shirt slightly sticky with sweat, little grains of sand in my bed. Three things I can hear: coughing from above, snoring from beside, whirring of the aircon. Two things I can smell: old socks, ocean breeze air freshener.

It’s an exercise designed to calm your mind, yet I feel anything but calm

The clock has hit 4:30am, and I’m supposed to be heading out for a scuba lesson at 6:30am. I’ve been lying in this 12-person dorm for the last 6.5 hours; earplugs in, eye mask on, attempting to disappear into the land of sleep.

I’ve tried all the tactics I know – reading with a headtorch until my eyes are sleepy, counting down from 100 in increments of seven, gradually relaxing each part of my body from my toes to my head. I’ve even started listing three positive attributes about each of my friends. Yet still I lie, far too conscious for my liking, swinging like a pendulum between hyper-calm states (as I try to relax) and panic as I realise the relaxation techniques aren’t working.

The clock passes 5:30am and I still haven’t drifted off – I think it’s time to give up. Reaching for my phone I type out a message to my scuba instructor.

‘Sorry, I’m feeling too sick to come in for the lesson today.’

I leave my dorm room and sit outside. Crouched on the ground, my frustration bursts out of me in sobs – how could my body and brain let me down like this?


Insomnia – How I Learnt To Deal With This Adventure-Ruiner,Pippa Salmon, sunrise, palms, view

Sunrises aren’t so pleasant when you haven’t slept and have a big day ahead

Homesickness Starts to Seep in

I’m totally alone in a foreign country. I went to bed ‘early’ last night so I didn’t meet the other hostel residents, and now I’m sleep-deprived and disappointed too. Of course, my natural response is to firstly – call my mum, and secondly – search for comfort amongst my friends on Instagram.

‘Does anyone ever just NOT sleep? Because it’s currently 6am and I still haven’t fallen asleep – and I feel like the stress of not being able to sleep is what is keeping me awake… sorry for the ramble but any advice/tips/tricks or even just solidarity if you experience this too is much appreciated.’

Insomnia – How I Learnt To Deal With This Adventure-Ruiner,Pippa Salmon, instagram post

I have never had so many responses to an Instagram story.

Why did so many people reply?

Nearly 60% of Australians regularly experience at least one symptom of insomnia – whether that be difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early.

According to the 2018 Philips Global Sleep Survey over half of people who reported difficulty sleeping said it was due to worrying. Another 27% said their restlessness was the result of physical discomfort/illness, and 21% believed it was due to technological distractions.

Clearly, this issue affects a lot of people.

Not only is it frustrating, but chronic sleep deprivation can also negatively impact your mental and physical health.


Insomnia – How I Learnt To Deal With This Adventure-Ruiner,Pippa Salmon, snow, ski, person

Sleep = happy mind = more adventures!

Thankfully, the next night I fell asleep without much difficulty

As a result, I put my insomnia research on hold – out of sight, out of mind. 

Yet a few weeks later when I was back in Australia, my sleeping began to drop off again. I began a new job that involved shift work – a sporadic combination of early mornings and late nights that sent my circadian rhythm cartwheeling into non-existence. 


I had around three weeks where I cried most days about how bad my sleep was. I would lie in bed each night, panicking about not being able to fall asleep, and the consequences of being tired the next day. I tried taking sleeping pills but these would only make me stress more when they didn’t help me fall asleep immediately.

I was trapped in a routine where I’d have two or three mostly sleepless nights, matched with one night where my exhausted body would have no choice but to collapse into oblivion. Yet, as soon as it had the brief chance to recover, I’d be back into sleeplessness.


Insomnia – How I Learnt To Deal With This Adventure-Ruiner,Pippa Salmon, person, nap

Quick nap mid-party

I Began to Hate My Bed

No longer a safe and restful place, I associated it with stress and anxiety. I would try to go to bed earlier, to give myself more time to fall asleep, yet would lie, eyes wide to my darkened room, hands tingling and heart quickening as I got more and more worried about my inability to sleep.

It began to impact my day-to-day life. I had to cancel plans, and I became stressed about uni because I found myself struggling to concentrate. My efficiency at work was also undoubtedly compromised.

And Then Came the Kicker

I was at a university surf camp and had hardly slept the previous few nights. I made sure I was physically exhausted that night by surfing throughout the day, and left the party slightly earlier than everyone so I could maximise my sleep time. Yet it hit 3am, everyone returned to the dorm and I still wasn’t asleep.

I listened to them getting into their sleeping bags, murmuring to each other before their soft snores indicated they had no trouble heading into the world of rest. It felt so unfair.

I left my bed and sat under the stars, crying and shaking. My fingers fumbled as I pulled out my phone, my friend had told me I could give him a ring if I couldn’t sleep that night.

He stayed awake with me, calming me. I still couldn’t sleep, but at least I didn’t feel so alone.

I was too physically and emotionally drained to stay the full length of the camp, so I left early.

All those hours lying awake had helped me to realise something – sometimes, sheer determination isn’t enough. Instead of spending the day surfing, I decided it was time to seek professional help.


Insomnia – How I Learnt To Deal With This Adventure-Ruiner,Pippa Salmon, people, surf, ocean

Leaving the surf camp was a frustrating but necessary decision

What sort of professional help exists?

I booked an appointment with a GP, who prescribed me melatonin, a hormone produced by our bodies that helps with sleep regulation. I talked to a counsellor, who gave me advice for dealing with my sleep-related anxiety. I signed up for a free online cognitive behavioural therapy course, specific to insomnia, which gave an in-depth explanation of sleep issues and tips and tricks for managing them.

Gradually, this all began to help.

So is it all better now?

In no way would I say I’ve ‘defeated’ my insomnia. In fact, as I write this, I’m running off a lack of sleep after a couple of bad nights. Yet these have become far less common. And, largely thanks to the online cognitive behavioural therapy, I no longer experience the same feelings of panic that I used to.

I know I can still function reasonably well when my sleep has been less than ideal, and understanding that fact has been incredibly helpful in keeping my sleep-related anxiety under control.


Insomnia – How I Learnt To Deal With This Adventure-Ruiner,Pippa Salmon, people, sleeping bags

‘Cosy’ sleeping arrangements


If you’re experiencing something similar, believe me when I say you’re very much not alone. And, as much as I hate to say this, it probably won’t ‘just go away’. The longer you leave it, the more embedded these cognitive patterns become, and the more difficult it is to change your way of thinking so that it’s conducive to sleep.

I hope reading this has been helpful, and if not helpful, then at least a bit comforting. Working on improving your sleeping patterns isn’t easy, but it’s very much worth it. There’s no worse feeling than spending the week excited for a weekend adventure, only to have to call it off because you were unable to sleep the night before.

However, just to clarify, I still managed to get my SCUBA licence. Spending a couple of extra days relaxing on an island wasn’t exactly the end of the world…