The “Big Sleep Out”

As a proud supporter of a local charity, Simon on the Streets, I took the opportunity to participate in their “Big Sleep Out”, with the aim of increasing awareness and funds for their incredible work to support homeless people.

As a clinician, I work alongside individuals helping them to make changes to improve their quality of life. As a business owner, my partner and I work with a philosophy of “working beyond our comfort zone”, so our business and our profession is ever evolving. So, what better, than to participate in a personal challenge of spending the night sleeping rough.

Whilst the idea of sleeping rough is beyond my comfort zone, I knew spending the night with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a cardboard box would not even come close to the real challenges that homeless people experience on a daily basis but may provide a little insight.

As the day approached, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty filled my mind, including thoughts of, “what should I take”, “what if the rain doesn’t stop” and “how cold will it be?” A slap of reality soon hit. Whilst these thoughts were all valid, individuals experiencing homelessness do not have the luxury of picking or choosing their attire or the weather conditions, so the challenge that lay ahead suddenly became even more meaningful.

The evening of the “Big Sleep Out” consisted of finding a spare spot of grass under a tree to set up a makeshift cardboard shelter in preparation for the night ahead, with a little assistance from my new neighbours! An evening of music, a quiz and chatting to fellow participants was arranged by the charity which was a fantastic way of not only raising awareness of the cause further, but to connect with others that were passionate about the amazing charity work.

Once the evening drew to an end, the time arrived for me to bed down for the night in my sleeping bag, sheltered by the elements by my makeshift cardboard shelter. The night passed in an uneventful manner. Was it a good sleep? Far from it! Sleeping under the beaming light of a streetlamp was the first challenge, followed by the hustle and bustle of the city nightlife. A broken night of sleep passed with a constant sense of hyper-vigilance, an awareness of every noise and neighbouring movement, inhibiting my usual deep, refreshing sleep. An unaccustomed early start to the day occurred at 5:30am, much earlier than my usual wake up and without the necessity of several alarms! On waking, already feeling sleep deprived, a morning brew and a bacon butty was a much needed tonic, and my day commenced.

Prior to participating in the “Big Sleep Out”, and having worked with individuals that were homeless, I felt I had a level of understanding and empathy towards their situation and circumstances. However, there were so many things that I took away from the experience, including:

  • Sleep deprivation is real! The inability to achieve continuous, deep restorative sleep results in fatigue, which in turn contributes to difficulties with concentration, motivation, memory, and emotional well-being. As a one-off event, I experienced sleep deprivation, however, I can’t begin to imagine how it feels to experience this on a daily basis and the long-term impact this may have.
  • The level of hyper-vigilance, fear and anxiety around your surroundings is unnerving, often inhibiting the ability to rest, switch off and achieve deep restorative sleep. Being at an organised event with other participants creates a feeling a safety, a feeling that I suspect is far from reality.
  • Waking up at 5:30am initially felt novel and somewhat pleasant watching a city slowly arise. Thoughts soon developed into the consciousness of how early it was and how most places and services aren’t open at this time. The nature of such an early start, makes for an incredibly long day for those experiencing homelessness.
  • Social isolation. As an individual participant opposed to a group participating in such an event, it can be a little tricky. However, as all the people are aligned with the same common interest, an instant connection can be achieved, and discussions are opened up. Thoughts soon focus on those surviving alone, not having that someone to chat to and those being and feeling isolated.

Whilst many of us can have a good idea about what homelessness can look like, particularly when our paths cross with individuals experiencing homelessness, but spending a night with Simon on the Streets “Big Sleep Out” gave me not only a deeper understanding, but a grounded appreciation for what life really looks like being homeless. I understand that spending one night sleeping rough doesn’t come close to what life is really like, but it confirms why Retraining Pain proudly supports this amazing charity.

If we can help you with your clients with persistent pain, say hello at