Kim Cattrall: Insomnia and the ‘gorilla sitting on my chest’

Actress Kim Cattrall had to pull out of a stage play last year because of her insomnia. (PA).
Actress Kim Cattrall had to pull out of a stage play last year because of her insomnia. (PA).
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As TV star Kim Cattrall opens up about her battle with insomnia, Chris Bond looks at what triggers the sleeping disorder and the impact it has on those affected by it.

KIM Cattrall has described her private battle with insomnia, saying it became “a tsunami” in her life.

The Sex And The City star has spoken about her struggle with sleeplessness which eventually forced her to pull out of a West End play last year.

She told the Radio Times her condition was like a “gorilla sitting on my chest”, adding: “I didn’t understand the debilitating consequence of having no sleep. It becomes a tsunami. I was in a void.”

Cattrall, who at one point went 48 hours without sleep, says she didn’t want to disappoint the audience, the theatre or her co-stars, but feels leaving the show was crucial to her mental health. “Letting go of all that was the hardest part but I realised the work that I really needed to do was more important than the play - it was work on my sanity.”

She left the production during rehearsals which prompted criticism from some people online. “I have my own voice on social media, where I can say: if you’re interested in what really happened, the whole story is more complex than being a disease of the week, than someone saying, ‘I have this battle’,” she says.

The Liverpool-born actress returned to New York and turned to cognitive behavioural therapy to help her tackle her insomnia.

She’s not alone in facing what can be a hugely debilitating condition. Last year, snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan spent nine months away from the sport citing several factors including insomnia for his absence.

It’s a common problem that affects as many as one in three people in the UK, and while it’s particularly common in elderly people it can strike at any age.

Most of us have experienced the odd restless night but insomnia is associated with sleeplessness over a longer period. Occasional episodes of insomnia may come and go without causing any serious problems, but for some people it can last for months or even years at a time.

Some medicines such antidepressants and steroid medication can have a negative effect on sleep patterns, but insomnia can also relate to underlying physical or mental health issues, such as heart disease or depression.

There is no single cure for insomnia but sometimes simple lifestyle changes can make a difference, as can cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or hypnotherapy. But anyone struggling either to get to sleep or stay asleep over a period of weeks should go and see their GP.

Karen Riley, a Huddersfield-based hypnotherapist, treats people with the condition and says persistent insomnia can have a hugely detrimental impact on someone’s quality of life. “Most of us know what it’s like to have a bad night’s sleep. But if you have chronic insomnia it can also affect your mood, your weight, eating habits, relationships and work, and people feel like they can’t cope.”

It can become a vicious circle. “Outside medical conditions the biggest cause is actually anxiety about not being able to sleep,” she says.

It’s not always clear what triggers insomnia but it’s often linked to stress and anxiety, while other factors can include everything from an uncomfortable bed, to jet lag, shift work, or drinking alcohol or caffeine before going to bed.

“It doesn’t just appear, it might happen after a bereavement or a change in job when someone gets a promotion,” says Riley.

“During the recession I saw a lot of people who didn’t just have work worries, they also had money worries or family worries. That’s the initial cause and then they start worry about not being able to sleep. You can end up trying to hard to sleep and it can feel like a never ending cycle.”