On Being an Insomniac

A friend of mine recently mentioned (with my permission) to a large group of people that I’m an insomniac.  As expected, several people had/have questions about it.  I write this now as a place to point to as more or less a FAQ for those wondering about my personal experience with insomnia.

First and foremost, no.  It’s not every night.  Sometimes I’ll sleep for a good 6-10 hours with no problem–on weekends I’ll sometimes sleep the day away, in fact.  It comes in random, albeit lengthy pockets.  When it DOES come, it’s more than one night in a row–having one night where you have trouble getting to sleep does not make you an insomniac.  An established pattern does.  When it’s bad, four hours a night is on the HIGH end.  I often exist for several days or even a week to two on 2-3 hours on work nights.  More on the weekends, when I don’t have to set an alarm.

It is not fun.  I’m not up partying and carousing.  James Urbaniak recently did a podcast where he talked about insomnia, and he nailed it dead on.  It’s not a time where you can get work done, since you’re up anyway.  You’re still exhausted.  You just can’t sleep, and it makes you useless.  Uselessness is a primary symptom of insomnia.  It’s not the college student who is up all night slapping together a ten page paper he had months to do but he waited until the last minute.  It’s not the party-going drunkard out until all hours having fun with his friends.  It’s the guy who wants to sleep, tries to sleep, and doesn’t sleep.  It’s actually fairly miserable.  You can’t get anything done.  Any attempt to do so will be looked upon by one’s self the next morning with derision and disappointment.  And in my case, usually with buyer’s remorse.  I literally bought $200 worth of art online one night.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sometimes I can nap during the day.  Obviously not on work days.  But yes, when I am finally able to sleep, I do.  Unfortunately, insomnia is a vicious round of second-winds…and most of them come just before my eyes shut.  When I can sleep, I do.  When I can’t, I don’t.  And I still have to find ways to function.

It is not caused by my caffeine intake.  My caffeine intake is actually pretty consistent between bouts of insomnia.  It doesn’t go up or down.  When I’m sleeping regularly, my coffee-to-human ratio is roughly the same as when I’m up until all hours being useless.  I’ve looked into it, and that’s the way it is.

I usually just lay there.  “Why don’t you just try going to bed anyway?” you say.  I do.  That’s exactly what I do.  I go to bed and I lay there for several hours not sleeping.  Sometimes I’ll get up and watch TV or read a book, sure.  But a lot of times, I’m in bed, being very quiet, and staying very awake.

Sleepytime tea–although delicious–does not help.  It just doesn’t.  Stop suggesting it.

Yes, I’ve tried praying about it.  Stop suggesting that too.  I’m actually something of a Deist anyway.  (Though not 100%.  I’ve written about that before, and I might again later.)

No, I have not participated in a sleep study and I have not actively sought medication.  As for the drugs, I have a stern “no pills–that shit killed Heath Ledger” rule.  I will not break that.  As for sleep studies, I have difficulty sleeping in strange places, and I therefore get the sense that the results would be skewed.  If it’s a medical issue, it’s a damn stupid one, and I don’t trust doctors.  I have previously tried some OTC remedies, and YES they’ve included Melatonin.  It doesn’t work very well.  The only thing I’ve noticed is that my dreams get uncomfortably vivid, making the sleep I DO get much less restful.  Now, I know there are those of you out there right now saying, “So you don’t WANT to get better?”  Of course I do.  But I do not believe medicine is the answer in my case.

I do think I know what causes it.  I am not comfortable sharing it with everyone on the Internet.

And a note about YOUR behavior when I mention being tired or not sleeping well, good reader.  Please do not ask me, “Why can’t you sleep?” or “Have you tried (your specific remedy)?”  That’s roughly akin to knowing someone has the flu and asking them, “Why do you have a fever?  Have you tried NOT having a fever?”  If you did, the person with the flu would be well within their rights to hold you down and lick you on several mucus membranes.  Fair warning… I’m not sure what the insomniac version of that should be…so any time someone asks me why I’m not sleeping and offers me their solution, I plan to likewise hold them down and lick their mucus membranes.  It will be uncomfortable and weird for both of us–at first anyway–so let’s not go down that path.  Please do not treat it as though it is somehow my FAULT, and we’ll avoid all unnecessary licking, defined of course based on our individual relationship and past history.

And perhaps that is the primary issue.  I am an insomniac.  Through NO fault of my own.  I did not become an insomniac due to some mistake I made in my past or due to poor choices being made presently.  I feel ridiculous calling it a “disease” even though it is…  It’s just when you stack it up against cancer or diabetes or MS, it doesn’t really feel like it’s a “disease.”  More like a “condition.”  Whatever it is, it’s not the fault of the person who has it.  It’s just our own personal hell that we have to struggle through, and those who don’t have it probably will not ever fully understand it or empathize.  Oh well.  Hopefully I’ll never have to understand and empathize with cancer or MS or whatever either.  If insomnia and the lack of understanding of it is the worst I have to deal with, so much the better–I’ll take my knocks.

But regardless…  Just try to be nice about it, okay?  It IS a problem.  No matter what your assumptions or misconceptions.  It is something people SUFFER from–many much worse than myself.  People have been hospitalized and even died from insomnia-related disorders.  It’s not fun.  It’s not silly.  It’s not dismiss-able.  It’s not something to be laughed at (and yeah, I heard a couple of snickers when my friend mentioned it the other day–and that DOES hurt when people do it…it really, really does).  It’s a real thing, a real disease, and it’s hell.  I’m just lucky enough to have a little less hell than some of my insomniac brethren and sisteren (not a word!).

Hope that helped clear it up for anyone who’s been wondering.  If not, feel free to politely ask any questions that were not covered above.

Sweet dreams.

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3 thoughts on “On Being an Insomniac”

  1. Hi Derek, for more years than I can remember I have suffered with a sleep disorder that blocks me from stages 3 & 4 of sleep. I awake every 1 1/2 hours like clockwork. I tend to go to bed early because I know I will wake up all throughout the night. I have journaled my dream time and it is minimal. I understand what it is like to live a life deprived of sleep. Jimmi

  2. Thanks for the comments and support. Sorry it took me so long to approve them. My alerts are all screwed up and I didn’t know they were there until now.

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