The story of today brings us to Sydney, in Australia. Heidi Dening, a Keynote Speaker, Author and Educator, shares with us the journey that brought her to overcome the insomnia resulting from a traumatic event: she escaped being burnt alive when petrol bombs were thrown at her bedroom while sleeping.
My name is Heidi Dening and I live in Sydney, Australia. I believe that education changes lives and I have dedicated my career to transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide on how to strengthen their resilience and embrace self-leadership strategies so they can overcome adversity and rise out of tough times stronger than ever. I do this at conferences (online and on stage), in workplaces with large and small teams, via online platforms, and through my amazon best-selling book called, ‘Her Middle Name Is Courage – How Self-Leadership Transforms Pressure into Performance, Chaos into Clarity, and Rage into Resilience.’ I work with clients across many industries because I am sure you will agree that the universal messages of resilience, courage, self-leadership and wellness are more relevant and important now than they have ever been.
What were you looking for in life?
Even as a little girl, I had terrible sleep issues. In fact, when I was eight years of age, my teacher recorded a relaxation tape (yes it was that long ago!) for my parents to play to me at night to try and help me sleep.
Then, five years ago I survived a violent crime when petrol bombs were thrown at my bedroom while leading a group of volunteers overseas. We had got mixed up in some local cultural conflict that had nothing to do with us, but their intention was to burn us alive. Thankfully, we narrowly escaped. The result of this, apart from the post traumatic stress disorder, physical pain from my injuries and emotional pain from the horrific event, was the crippling insomnia that I gained. I have now learnt that this level of insomnia is natural when you have been woken from a deep sleep and your life is in danger. For me, because I was the one to hear the first noise (when the petrol bomb hit my room), I was able to get out and alert the others in time.
What was stopping you from achieving it?
When i returned to Australia, I found it nearly impossible to sleep because i was so hyper vigilant with listening for noises that would alert me to (perceived) danger. Subconsciously, my brain had linked sleep with life-threatenign situations.
But, as we know, out of tough times, out of crisis, out of adversity, good things can happen.
And the hard lessons I learnt during that time have inspired me to support organisations and their people to fall asleep and stay asleep so they can better deal with times of stress, uncertainty and change. I am sure you will agree, that this is a skill everyone needs right now to be able to deal with these tough times.
Which was the trigger for the change?
I studied every book, listened to every podcast, and spoke to every expert who would talk to me about what it takes to fall asleep and stay asleep. When you get a good nights sleep it changes your world and I desperately needed to find a solution that would help me so I kept trying different strategies - some would work and some wouldn't. What I know now, is that there is not a magic bullet that is the same for everyone, but there are themes on what we can all do to ensure we don't wake up sleep deprived.
How was your journey? What did you put in action?
I created and integrated into my sleep routine four different "sections".
Section #1: During the Day
I start my day with getting some sun on my skin and ensuring I don't have any caffeine after noon. I also write my 'to do' list for the next day so it doesn't circle around my head during the night.
Section #2: In the Bedroom
I love my 3 pets and they would do anything to snuggle with us during the night, but my sleep is far more important and therefore they stay out of the bedroom. I also use good quality silicone earplugs so I don't hear anything and all my devices are out of the bedroom.
Section #3: Create a buffer between work time and sleep time
I have a very strict 'wind-down' routine. An alarm goes off at 9pm to tell me to put all my devices away, and I read a fiction book for the next 55 minutes. This book cannot be anything that triggers ideas, so no work-related book or biography.
Section #4: Just Before Bed
I change into my sleep gear (not active wear) and I do a 3min gentle stretch/yoga routine on my lounge room floor.
How do you think your life would be now if you had continued in the same direction?
The kind of crippling insomnia that I had would have ruined me. When you don't sleep, your brain does not have the opportunity to rest and recharge and this means you can't focus, you make silly mistakes, you get teary over nothing, cranky over nothing and your decision-making ability deteriorates. In a nutshell, it means you cannot function very well. I was spiralling out of control and my anxiety levels were getting worse and I was catastrophising about everything. I didn't want to spend my life on sleeping tablets so I had to find a way.
How is your life today?
My life is very different now. As long as I stick to my routines and the sleep rituals that I have created for myself, I can easily fall asleep and most of the time I stay asleep. Not always ... but enough so I can be a highly functioning adult that has multiple responsibilities. My role as a speaker (on stage and online) means I need to be articulate, empowering, inspiring and sparkly. This is hard to fake, hence why sorting out my sleep was absolutely crucial if I wanted to continue to have a successful career. I also know now that 'Perfection Is A Fairytale'. I won't always have the most perfect sleep but I have made enough of a difference to ensure that I can wake up and make the most out of my day.
What would you say to someone reading your story?
For anyone who has struggled with sleep problems, I would say 'trial and error...trial and error...trial and error". Keep working at it until you find what is right for you. Often it is just small micro-changes that can make a real difference. Please persevere - you are worth it.
Which are your top 3 inspiring books?
Her Middle Name Is Courage, by Heidi Dening. I need to disclose this is my own book, but I still have 'pinch me' moments to think I have been able to write thousands of words that inspire so many. I like it because it reminds me that I can do anything I put my mind to.
Get it in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain.
Which are your top 3 inspiring movies, series or documentaries?
The Australian Dream. I like this documentary because it has reminded me that we all need to step up and speak out so we can have a better world.
Stateless. I like this documentary for the same reason as the previous one. As David Morrison said in his powerful speech, “the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept”. We must all find the courage to ensure a more equitable world by not walking past unacceptable conversations or behaviours.
Grease. I still love this movie as it reminds me of my childhood and watching it dozens of times after school with my friends.
Which are your top 3 favourite songs?
You're In My Heart, by Rod Stewart. I had 33 posters of Rod on my walls as a teenager so he always has a special place in my heart.
Beautiful Day, by U2. It was always the theme song to an event I used to manage in Vanuatu when I had my Foundation there.
Mr. Brightside, by The Killers. It is the song I sing in my head before going on stage to help calm my nerves and create an empowering energy pumping through my body.
Which is your most inspiring quote?
If it's going to be, it is up to me, by Unknown. I know that I am the only one who can direct my life in the way that I want it to go and therefore I have to find the courage myself to keep moving forward. It is not something I can outsource nor delegate to a team member.
Tell us about your own favourite picture!
This is my favourite picture because it was taken during the last holiday I was on before COVID-19 shut down the world. I am in Cuba and I love the photo because of all the joy that this resilient country and its people brought to me. How lucky was I to be able to visit it.