I’ve had insomnia since I was a little girl. That’s why I know my insomnia isn’t due to something circumstantial like stress at work or troubles in my relationship. I didn’t have such problems when I was seven years old and would drag my blanket and pillow into my parent’s bedroom at 4am, crying, to say, “I haven’t fallen asleep yet.” And even if then my insomnia was due to some perceived stress (what could that be? the other kids didn’t share their toys with me? I don’t know), and it always is a result of stress, the larger issue still exists: the way my brain responds to stress is by staying awake for weeks on end. Treating the external element—whether it’s stress at work or concerns over money—won’t help my insomnia. Not really. Life will always bring me another stress factor. I have to find a way to sleep, no matter what is happening in my life. In the meantime, I’ll continue to suffer these struggles that only other severe insomniacs understand.
You always feel you’re missing out
Even when I’m awake and doing something fun, I feel as though I’m missing out. I’m so sleep-deprived that there is a permanent layer of fog around me, keeping me from fully enjoying any moment. I’m not registering just how beautiful the beach is or how funny a joke was. I feel removed from everything and everyone.
You hesitate to make plans
It can be hard for others to understand why I hesitate to commit to a four-hour hike on a Saturday. But, unlike others, I don’t get to rely on the fact that I’ll sleep the night before. And, you kind of need to sleep in order to take on full, active days. Whether or not I’ll be somewhere depends entirely on whether or not I at least got some sleep the night before, and I can’t promise that.
You fear bedtime
While everyone around me looks forward to bedtime, loves their bed, and gets all excited to put on their PJs and say goodnight to the world, I don’t. I dread bedtime. For me, nighttime is the loneliest time. It’s when I truly feel as if something is wrong with me, while I hear the street, the neighborhood, and the city quieting down—sleeping. But not me.
You’re always in a rush and disheveled
When I do manage to fall asleep, it’s important that I milk the most out of it. That means that if I need to be somewhere at noon the next day, but didn’t fall asleep until 6am, I will sleep until 11:15am. I’ll just jump out of bed, throw on whatever clothes I see, do a quick teeth brush, and do my makeup in the car. I’m always in a hurry and I never have time to put myself together the way I’d like to. I get to sleep a bit or be on time and put together. But not both.
You envy your sleeping partner
I feel envious and even a bit resentful of my partner because he sleeps. He does it right next to me, where I can see him. I just lie awake and watch him get seven or eight solid hours of sleep. It tortures me. It’s part of the reason we sleep in separate rooms now.
Morning appointments make it worse
People can think I am just an overgrown teenager because I say I am not a morning person. Perhaps I should clarify that, the reason I don’t want to take that 8am dentist appointment isn’t because I was up partying until 5am. It’s because I was sitting in bed, panicking and staring at the ceiling until 5am.
If someone wakes you, it’s war
If somebody wakes me up on the rare occasion I fall into a deep sleep, I have some pretty unspeakable thoughts about what I’d like to do to that person. Whether it’s children playing in the corridor or even my beloved boyfriend flushing the toilet, I give them a look that I imagine causes them nightmares.
You don’t perform at your peak level
I know that I don’t always do what I’m capable of doing in many of my endeavors. I make a lot of mistakes. There are probably people who believe I’m a klutz or even a ditz. I’m just sleep-deprived and my brain isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Travel is very hard on you
While travel is nothing but exciting for others, it’s dreadful for me. I can’t control the sleeping conditions. What if the bed is uncomfortable? What if the hotel is noisy? And there is the extra FOMO going on because I’m in a new place so I really want to do everything/see everything, and I need to sleep in order to do that.
Having houseguests is also difficult
I feel very stressed about having guests sleep over because I want to be a good host but it’s hard to be when I fall asleep at 5am, and my guests are up at 8:30, trying to find cereal and toothpaste in my apartment. I just don’t feel right about sleeping late when I have houseguests, and I spend the entire night stressed that I won’t fall asleep in time to wake up at a decent hour to take care of them.
People assume you have psychological issues
When I tell those close to me I suffer from insomnia, they start interrogating me on my mental health, assuming I have trauma or issues hidden away. I don’t. I just…can’t sleep. I don’t need the third degree on my psyche in addition to my exhaustion.
You have tried everything under the sun
Whatever it is you’re going to suggest, I’ve tried it. Whatever herb, meditation practice, hypnosis, tea, or supplement—I’ve been there done that. I’ve spoken to doctors about it—my regular doctor, a therapist, and a sleep specialist. I’ve read books about it. I’m an expert on sleep at this point—I just can’t get any.
You also don’t want to rely on something
The most frustrating thing is that, even when I do find something that works for a bit, I don’t want to rely on something in order to sleep. Most of the world doesn’t have to—they just go to sleep because they’re tired. Why can’t that be me?
Your outlook is bleak
It’s hard to remain positive when I’m sleep-deprived. I have to fight off depressive and bleak thoughts, reminding myself that’s just the sleep-deprivation talking.
Few people understand the gravity of it
Many people believe I’m just being dramatic. “Everybody has sleep issues” they’ll say. But do those people struggle to fall asleep until the sun begins to rise every day for months on end? Just because someone wakes up once or twice during the night doesn’t mean they know the gravity of true insomnia. It is crippling.