a profile of a woman with insomnia at dawn, tears flow from her eyes and birds fly above her

Is This Really Happening to Me? Insomnia 101

When I talked about my insomnia, everyone had an opinion.

“Wait until you have kids,” some people would say to me. “Then you’ll get used to it!” “Oh, you should try melatonin.” “Try going for a run.“ “I sleep with my TV on, it helps.” And someone even said to me, “Just drink until you pass out!”

What most people don’t understand is that it’s just not that simple. For me, melatonin was as useful as swallowing a Skittle. Exercise was impossible. TV and alcohol just made it worse. Each day when the sun began setting, I became stricken with terror. “It’s going to happen again tonight,” I would think to myself. Insomnia is kind of like being a prisoner of your own mind. Each early morning when the birds started chirping and my eyes were still wide open, I would cry.

Anxiety fueled my insomnia

Once I was actively in the throes of not sleeping, I was pretty inconsolable. For me, anxiety fueled my insomnia (and vice versa!), and more information actually worked against me: I found myself constantly Googling “how to cure insomnia.”

I would spend hours on Reddit, Youtube, WebMD, PubMed, reading all that I could about insomnia. I would also read about how bad it is for you: it causes heart problems, cognitive problems, inflammation. And of course, that just made my anxiety, and thus my insomnia, worse!

Insomnia survival tips

My journey with insomnia lasted about 2 years. I often look back on that time in my life and wonder how I survived it. In the middle of the night, very dark thoughts would often cross my mind. I have lots of advice and thoughts to share about my experience, but if you are actively in the midst of anxiety-fueled insomnia, here are my basic survival tips:

1. Stop reading about it

Put your phone down and close your laptop. Absorbing all of the information you can about insomnia isn’t helping you, I promise. Try to take a deep breath and let it go. You aren’t causing permanent damage to your body. And the more you obsessively learn about it, the worse it will get.

2. Sleep hygiene tips might make it worse

There’s a lot of articles out there about “good sleep hygiene.” I followed them strictly, and they didn’t help at all. In fact, they made it worse, because I began obsessing about them! During active insomnia, just do whatever you can to soothe yourself. If that means staring at your phone, staying in your bed even though you can’t sleep (many sleep hygiene tips say to get out of your bed – I suggest just staying cozy), napping whenever you can catch some zzz’s, just do it!

3. Don’t make plans early in the day

I worked a 9 to 5, so on the weekdays, this wasn’t possible. But on the weekends, if someone asked to meet me before 1:00pm, I would say no. I had to prioritize myself, and I knew that early plans would loom over me the night before and bring anxiety.

4. Try to not obsess or overthink

I realize this is the HARDEST tip. But try to not look too far in the future. Don’t tell yourself stories like, “I will never sleep again!” You will. It might take time, and it might be uncomfortable. But you will get through this, and you will be ok.

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