When someone tells me they've had a bad night's sleep, I find it hard to sympathise. I can't believe anyone sleeps as badly as me. On a good night I get three hours of restless catnapping, waking every 15 minutes and then dropping off again. I regularly go for two or three nights with no sleep at all.
I can't remember any one night when I lost that ability to drift off, but by the age of seven I would regularly be pacing my room until dawn. I wasn't a particularly anxious child - there's no history of insomnia in my family and my mother said I slept well as a baby - so there was no obvious explanation. And no obvious solution: my mother tried everything, but nothing worked.
At school I was short-tempered with exhaustion and would bang my fists on my desk and kick walls. By eight, I was so frustrated and desperate to sleep that I hit my head against the wall in the middle of the night; if I couldn't fall asleep, I thought, I'd knock myself out. The years went by with no improvement - I could barely cope and grew into an irritable teenager, a loner always on the periphery of groups. Yet it felt normal to me because I was so used to being by myself at night.
I have never been able to lead a conventional life and can't imagine working in an office - I can barely function in the mornings. Fortunately I have been able to build a successful career as a ring designer, deciding what hours I work.
Before I met my wife, Julia, insomnia wrecked several relationships. Girlfriends would say, "I'll make sure you get some sleep," but my tossing and turning drove them away. Julia and I have accepted we need separate bedrooms. We tried two mattresses zipped together, separate duvets - but I need the radio on to drop off, and it keeps her awake.
When we did sleep together, I couldn't bear it if Julia woke me up when she snored. "How can you wake me up?" I'd rage. "It's taken me four hours to get to sleep."
We don't share a bed any more and I yearn for the day when we can. Instead, when Julia goes to bed at 11pm, I pad around the house, or work until 2am or 3am. It's pointless trying to sleep any earlier. I take sleeping tablets only once a week because they are addictive - three times the recommended dose (with my GP's blessing) to ensure three to four hours' solid sleep.
When my children were babies, I'd hold them in my arms and watch them drift off peacefully - it was like watching a miracle. I'd hold them close to try to absorb some of the blissful sleep that I craved. We have four children now and they've grown up understanding that Daddy is awake at night. It meant I could do the nightshift when they were babies.
It's still such a mystery to me, the act of falling asleep. People say, let your mind go blank, but how? Thoughts whirr round in my head. I don't have that ability to switch off.
I once gave a colleague a lift and he told me casually he was going to have a power nap. Thirty seconds later, I heard snoring and nearly crashed the car. I wasn't jealous - I'd never want to deprive anyone of their sleep - but I was definitely envious. How on earth did he do it?
Over the years, I've taken part in numerous sleep studies and therapies: cognitive behavioural therapy, allergy tests, diets, yogacise, aromatherapy, acupuncture, melatonin. Each new specialist would treat me as a challenge, determined that they'd be the one to crack my insomnia. But I grew to recognise the signs of defeat in their eyes, and with it any hope of a cure. They could never find any cause.
Sleep deprivation is a form of torture and, before I met my wife, I could easily have contemplated suicide. My salvation has been psychotherapy, being able to talk about how angry I've been all these years, and gaining a new perspective. It hasn't cured my insomnia, but at least it has given me a coping strategy - acceptance. Hours of talking has led to understanding. It doesn't sound much, but it's a huge source of comfort to be able to manage my frustration. So when the night comes now, the dread doesn't descend as deeply as it did before. I don't have that extreme sense of frustration. I settle down in front of my computer, tapping out emails of support to fellow insomniacs, while the quiet hum of the radio keeps me company into the small hours. I feel not quite content but resigned.