Explaining Insomnia to Others

The vast majority of adults in my life sleep fairly well.

I’ve written before about sharing a bed with my husband, who falls asleep instantly and can sleep through most anything.

I grew up with parents who never complained about getting enough rest. There was bedtime and there was morning and I didn’t ever hear much about what happened in between for them.

I have had a plethora of roommates over the years, from room sharing to apartment sharing, and rarely did anyone else seem to struggle with sleeping the way I did. Sometimes, they’d comment about how I came to bed so late, or that they heard me awake during the night. Other times, they’d wonder aloud how I was still functioning on such little rest.

Same, girl. Same.

It is hard for others to understand

But to be honest, insomnia just isn’t something many people in my life can understand. In general, I think that unless you’ve lived with a sleep disorder or series of regular sleep disturbances, it’s really difficult to understand what it’s like to constantly be frustrated with sleep or having to sleep or not being able to sleep.

More challenging than that, trying to explain what it's like to live in a state of chronic exhaustion has not yielded much understanding in my circles either.

How I explain insomnia to others

After years of going in circles, I've come up with an elevator speech of sorts about what life with insomnia is like.

Living with insomnia means that sleep is an option, but never a guarantee. In fact, it's kind of like playing roulette - you have no control over the most important variables, and even if the odds are stacked up for you, you may find yourself desperately falling short.

Describing tiredness, rest, and sleep

Living with insomnia means that I may be absolutely so tired, and still unable to fall asleep.

It means that I might fall asleep, but sleep so lightly that I'm not actually resting.

It means that I might rest, but wake up abruptly and often.

It means that I'm basically always tired, no matter how many hours I was in bed or how many naps I am able to budget into my day.

Unpredictability and constant adaptation

Living with insomnia is like living with a newborn...except the newborn is your body and brain chemistry. It doesn't have the ability to communicate when things are hard or uncomfortable or wrong, so instead, it just keeps you awake.

Sometimes you need to eat and sometimes you need to listen to music and sometimes you need to take medication, but it's usually a guessing game as to which one thing will help in the moment.

Living with insomnia means constant unpredictability. It means that even if you have a good night, there's no guarantee it'll repeat the following night, or even sometime in the following week.

Living with insomnia means adapting on the go to the challenges of chronic sleep deprivation, while still often trying to live as normal of a life as possible.

There are no easy fixes

Living with insomnia can be extremely difficult at times, and no, a nap or a cup of coffee won't fix it.

How do you explain life with Insomnia to others? I'd love to hear below!

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