Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I happened to come across an article on the New York Times website today about what it feels like to have long-term insomnia. It was a really interesting thing to me, because I can definitely identify with lots of what the writer had to say.

When I was younger and still living at home, I often didn't sleep at night. It wasn't because I couldn't, it was just because I preferred not to do so. It was easier for me to get things done at night when the house was quiet, and it was a time when I could do the things I wanted to instead of fulfilling the obligations I had during the day.

My junior year in high school, I had a solid year of good sleep before, sometime in my senior year, I started having awful nightmares and waking up in the middle of the night. I'd be absolutely terrified of absurd things that weren't putting me in danger or circumstances that didn't even exist. I really struggled with this situation, because my boyfriend at the time (who I lived with for most of this period) didn't understand what was going on and didn't really want to. So I'd sit up at night, crying and just generally freaking out while he slept like a baby and had no concern for what was going on. I knew that he couldn't fix the problem, because I didn't have any idea how to fix it, and I didn't expect him to sit up all night with me every night. But I think what I really wanted from him was just some sort of understanding - an acknowledgement that what was happening was a real issue to me, and that, even though he wasn't experiencing it, he understood that it really took a toll on me.

After awhile, I drifted out of that phase and got back into a normal sleep pattern again. I woke up every morning feeling ready to get out and do something new. I took good care of myself and was happy to be making some sort of a life on my own.

Then in 2008, my headaches started getting worse and I had them more frequently. I slept a lot more than normal, because my sleep at night was so disrupted. In 2009, I started having problems even falling asleep. Since then, I've been mostly awake until 4 a.m. every night. I've tried melatonin and Ambien and all of that fun stuff, to no great avail. So at around 11 each night, I get myself ready for bed and usually even try to go to sleep. If I do happen to have such luck, I wake up within an hour or two and can't get back to sleep until early in the morning.

All of this wouldn't be so bad if my body didn't automatically wake up at 7 or 8 every morning. Occasionally, I'll get a nap in before noon or in the early evening, but more often than not, I'm running on 4 or less disjointed hours of sleep a night.

Anyway, I guess my point to all of this is that a lot of people don't understand (either because they don't have the problem and can't grasp it, or they think it's fake, or they just don't care) the effects that constant sleeplessness can have on a person.

So go over and read the article here. It's by Lindsey Anderson, and if you want, you can also visit her blog here. It's not a call for pity for people who can't sleep - it's just kind of an insight. I like to understand things in other people's lives, so I found the article interesting.


  1. Well, hon, you see the time on this post. I've always been a "night" person naturally, but could quash it and stay on a normal schedule. Now that I'm older, it's harder. I completely sympathize.

    I go through "spells." Long spells. When I don't have them and can go to bed at 10 or 11 and actually fall asleep, it feels like I'm on vacation - so much more energy, better outlook on life, skin looks better... and the bags under the eyes go away. I even start losing weight (which I need to do)!

    Have tried the pills, routines, exercise, booze (cut that one out right quick - didn't do much good anyway!)... you name it. The pills leave me groggy no matter how much sleep I get and no matter what brand I've tried. And, if I cut down the dosage to the point where they don't, they don't do the job. You're right - folks generally don't understand. All they've ever had is transient insomnia and give off a "you're just not trying" kind of vibe. I don't talk about it anymore.

    My body (mind?) doesn't want shut down. It's not spinning thoughts or anything - sleep just won't come. I'm comfy, relaxed, content even... but don't sleep. I've tried just staying in bed, figuring at least I was getting some level of rest, but I seem to be just as beat in the morning so I figure I might as well stay up and get something done. I recognize quite readily when I'm ready to go to bed.

    I can continue to sleep, once sleep finally arrives (usually between 1 and 2 but sometimes as late as 4am), but the need to earn a living means getting up and doing the day. You'd think I'd crash early the next day, but nooooo. Sleep refuses to come again. So right now, Saturday and Sunday are the only days I feel up to snuff.

    Like you, I'm not complaining. Just sayin'. I know it's not quite the same as yours, but thought you'd might like to know someone you know (sorta, kinda anyway... LOL!) can appreciate what you're going through. Off to read the links now! (I don't really want to know what this is doing to my innards, though. *sigh*)

  2. OMG - read a comment on the article that sounds just like me. Thanks for sharing that link!

    The commenter is retired now and just shifted her schedule to what's "natural" for her and has been fine ever since (if a bit out of sync with everyone else). Got worse for her after 50, too (late 40s for me). *sigh* another 15 years to go 'til retirement.

    Doesn't fix the problem of having to live on a 9-5 schedule, but you sure feel like less of a freak hearing that other sane, intelligent folks have the same issue. Hang in there, hon.

  3. Mine sort of is the same as yours. Just can't get to sleep. It's not that I'm not tired, and my head's not racing or anything. And the pills don't work. Oddly enough, booze does kind of work for me. But I don't really enjoy drinking at all, and mostly it leaves me feeling worse when I wake up - also, alcoholism is not really a better problem to have. :)
    Thanks for telling me your side of it. It does kinda help to know it's not just me - I get very frustrated with myself! Ah well. Maybe we're the uncrazy ones.