Kim Cattrall has spoken out about her battle with insomnia.
In a special episode of Woman’s Hour, aired on Radio 4 on Friday morning, the Sex and the City star described how her anxiety about work and relationships, grief at her beloved father’s death, and fear of her own mortality all contributed to her insomnia.
Her chronic sleeplessness began when she came to London in October 2015, to star in a play at the Royal Court Theatre. Upon arriving in the UK, the 59-year-old actress said she initially attributed her sleeplessness to “jetlag … too much tea [or] another stage of menopause”.
But when Cattrall continued to lie awake night after night, she became worried. And as her ability to “hold onto ideas, thoughts, even tasks” began to slip away from her, she started to question her mental health. Her father had died from dementia three years earlier, and she feared she might be developing the same disease.
In a powerful summary of the worries that consumed her as she lay awake in the early hours of the morning, she said:
“I didn’t go to university and I didn’t have children, I have no husband... I’m guilt-ridden and I’m alone… I’m agitated about getting friggin’ older... I will be found out that I am a sham, I’m too strident … I’ve gotten to where I am because I’m fuckable… I’m frightened I will not be accepted or liked by others as a strong woman… I’m not talented enough, I just got lucky.”
Cattrall described her experience of sleeplessness as feeling “like a three-tonne gorilla sitting on my chest”, and said that a gruelling rehearsal schedule contributed to her sense that she could not sleep.
Eventually, she visited a doctor, who diagnosed her with exhaustion due to insomnia. She quit the production of Linda during rehearsals in November 2015 on the advice of medics and a friend, who warned her: “This is bigger than the play. This is bigger than your strength.”
She was replaced in the cast by Noma Dumezweni, the OIivier award-winning actress who will play Hermione in this year's production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
When she returned to New York, Cattrall began a course of cognitive behavioural therapy in an attempt to beat her insomnia. She was told not to nap during the day, to set up pre-sleep rituals such as taking a bath, and to banish electronic devices and clocks from the bedroom: “Only sleep or sex in bed.”
One of the most crucial changes that helped her sleep, Cattrall said, was coming to terms with her father’s death. She had been by his side as he died, and said that this had jolted her into a sharp awareness of her own mortality: “I realised that if he could die, I could too.” This fear contributed to her insomnia, as she believed that “by going to sleep, I might not wake up.”
A self-confessed workaholic, Cattrall also realised that she needed to allow herself some downtime: “to do nothing, to sit, to think, to stop, to eat a pear”. Learning that “wasted time is not time wasted” enabled her to relax.
“I choose… to tame my appetite for work and challenge... [because] without sleep, I can’t possibly dream,” she said. And ultimately, she added, “fearing death is a colossal waste of time, because guess what? I won’t even know I’m dead. And strangely, that’s comforting.”
Listen to a clip of Kim Cattrall speaking about her insomnia below, or hear the full episode of Woman's Hour on BBC Radio iPlayer here.