5 Things I Wish People Knew About Living With Insomnia
As someone who has struggled to sleep well, or decently, since childhood, I consider myself a life-long insomniac. I’ve walked through what sleep struggles and deprivation look like at every point along the way - from elementary school to college, from young adult to professional, operating alone and then with a partner, transitioning into life as a wife and then a mother.
No one stage has been harder, easier, less ideal, or less lonely than another, but there are some common themes about life with insomnia that I wish people could just...understand.
Yes, I am always some degree of tired
I’ve written before about how I equate life with insomnia to feeling a status of constant drowsiness. To date, that’s the best way I’ve been able to describe the internal feelings of my life with a sleep disorder. The challenge of falling asleep, of staying asleep, of ever feeling fully rested - they wear on me in exactly the ways you’d expect them to.
But some days are much much harder than others. Sometimes I look, and feel, normal. Like you wouldn’t know I have insomnia. Other days, one glance can give it away. There’s no consistency. Sometimes there’s a build-up, some really hard days in a row that lead to a crash, but often I find myself fluctuating somewhere in the middle.
Yes, I am doing everything I can to manage my symptoms
You name it, I’ve probably tried it. From sleep studies and sleep diaries to sleep therapy and CBT, from over-the-counter to prescription medications to sleep hygiene and routines, from specific schedules and plans, caffeine use and disuse, exercise and food timing, etc, I have tried a heck of a lot of things.
Sadly, there has not been one single right answer for my body. Yes, I have other co-existing health conditions that directly and indirectly impact my insomnia, but when it comes to treating insomnia specifically, I have been open to attempting any option that has felt like there was any chance of success. Some things have been beneficial, some things have been a waste of my time, but not one thing has “cured” my condition or eliminated the insomnia symptoms that I struggle with.
Yes, insomnia is a real disease
Insomnia is a common sleep problem. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that about 30 percent of people complain about sleep struggles, and 10 percent have associated symptoms of functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia.1
This is a LOT of people affected by insomnia. This includes people who do and do not undergo testing, who do and do not get an official diagnosis, but who definitely struggle to rest or feel rested, much like myself.
No, I can’t just take a sleeping pill
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve tried several medications to treat my insomnia. Starting with over the counter products, I’ve taken everything from zzzQuill, to antihistamines that make you drowsy like Benadryl, to something like Unisom, and while some involve a quick fall asleep, they never allow me to stay asleep, or to feel rested upon wakeup. In fact, they almost always made me feel more drowsy the next day than my plain old insomnia did, so I chose to stick with that.
In the prescription realm, I’ve worked with my doctors to try a plethora of medications meant to help with sleep, from the traditional Ambien to Restoril to adjusting doses of anxiety and depression medication - none of which gave me the restful, hopeful sleep I’d been looking for. In fact, the side effects were usually more than I bargained for, and at the end of the day, I’ve chosen to manage my sleep without medication at all.
No, I don’t think it’ll just “go away”
Many well-meaning friends and family members over the years have said, "Oh, once this or this or this is over, maybe you’ll sleep better." And maybe, there's a possibility that it might become easier for me to fall asleep or possible for me to get more quality rest when I’m less stressed or I don’t have a toddler or I’m not pregnant, but from what I’ve learned in my 34 years of life, I will probably always struggle with some symptoms of a sleep disorder.
Yes, I always hope they’ll wax and wane with time, but I no longer expect that. I’ve just kind of learned to ride the waves.
If you can relate, I’d love to hear anything you’d add to my list of things you wish other people knew about your life with insomnia!
Do you have any perfectionistic tendencies?