Ian 'H' Watkins Reveals Life-Long Battle With Insomnia: 'I've Tried Everything'

The Dancing on Ice star talks wellbeing, life as a single dad and mental resilience in the face of homophobia.

Ian ‘H’ Watkins may have gained his nickname due to his “hyperactive” personality in Steps, but he’s actually almost always tired, having suffered from insomnia since childhood.

“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can be wide awake for two hours, then by the time I fall back to sleep, it’s time to get back up again,” he tells HuffPost UK, “so I feel pretty wrecked in the morning.”

He’s never been a good sleeper, but H believes it got worse when he joined Steps, due to the group’s hectic touring schedule. “We were literally in a different time zone every day,” he says.

“It really did screw with my body clock for years and years, and I think that pattern has just settled with me now – it’s not great.”

Ian West - PA Images via Getty Images

The singer and current Dancing on Ice star says he’s “tried everything” to solve the problem, including visiting a sleep clinic several years ago where clinicians attached probes to his head to monitor his sleep. But the process didn’t offer a solution.

Now, he uses the Headspace or Calm app at night when he’s struggling, recommended by a friend. This hasn’t cured his insomnia, but it’s made it more manageable.

“It settles me and calms my breathing down,” he says, adding that his issues with sleep “absolutely” have an impact on his mental health and wellbeing.

“When you have a busy life or you have kids, you don’t come first, they come first, so I end up burying a lot of those feelings, I guess,” he says. “Then when you do the Calm or Headspace app, it brings things to the surface.”

Ian 'H' Watkins and Dancing on Ice professional partner Matt Evers.
Ian West - PA Images via Getty Images
Ian 'H' Watkins and Dancing on Ice professional partner Matt Evers.

H has had a turbulent career. The end of Steps led to the formation of duo H and Claire, but it had little chart success. Some acting, musical theatre and panto followed – but now, when he’s not on the ice, H is a busy dad to twins Macsen and Cybi, who are almost four.

Managing childcare, as well as the usual life stresses of “bills to pay, deadlines to meet”, leaves him with very little downtime. “I’ve been a single dad for nearly three and a half years now and that was never my life plan,” he says. “There have been times when I thought I couldn’t cope, but you deal with the things that are thrown at you.”

To get through tough days, H reminds himself of the saying ‘feelings are not facts’. And when he does have time to unwind, he’ll squeeze in a painting session.

The singer attended art school before he began performing and decided to dust off his paintbrushes a few years ago as a way to de-stress. He’s since had several exhibitions in north Wales, and enjoys the fact most gallery visitors don’t realise the paintings are by him.

“It’s my form of meditation, I guess, my way of relaxing [where] I just lose myself,” he says, adding that his favourite time to paint is just after the hectic school run.

Mental resilience has been key for H in recent weeks, when his first Dancing on Ice performance with professional partner, Matt Evers, received a mixed reception.

The pair made history by performing the first same-sex skate on the show. But despite the huge wave of support online from the LGBTQ community and beyond, the performance received 16 Ofcom complaints and homophobic comments online.

“A lot of the comments were overwhelmingly supportive, but when people call you hideous names and say things like ‘it’s not natural’ or ‘you’re a f****t’, all of those awful names are a dagger in my heart,” he says.

“I think the world has progressed and changed so much, but those kinds of people still exist and will come into contact with my children. And those bigots will breed more bigots and we’re bigger and better than that now, as a society.”

H is determined not to let the small number of negative comments overshadow the joy he’s getting from the show, though. If there’s one lesson he’s learned throughout his career, it’s to enjoy the here and now.

“I would always worry about the future... about what’s coming next instead of living in the moment,” he says. “[But] if you’re having a tough time, it’s about taking one day at a time. It’s about dealing with today and not worrying about tomorrow.

“It’s a saying everybody knows, but I should practise it more: ’Enjoy the journey, not the destination’”.

In ‘What Works For Me’ – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – we talk to people about their self-care strategies.