Insomnia, Loneliness, and Sleeping Partners
As an under-eye-bag-wearing member of the Insomnia club, I used to spend my hours awake at night wondering how other people slept so well.
From falling asleep to staying asleep to waking up feeling rested - I have struggled since I was a kid.
In college and grad school, I used insomnia to my advantage as much as I could, which meant that I rarely spent much time in my bed and compensated with caffeine and adrenaline daily, BUT, I remained jealous of people who accomplished what for me was unavailable.
Sending countless "You up?" messages
For more than a decade, my nights could be summed up by the amount of sending “You up?” messages I’d send to friends who might be able to entertain me or keep me company while struggling to sleep.
Other insomniacs, chronic illness patients, new parents, or friends in different time zones were super helpful those days. I just wanted to not feel so alone and so vulnerable, waiting to fall asleep.
Insomnia can feel lonely
I used to daydream about how that would change when I had a partner sharing my bed. Would they stay awake with me? Would they also struggle to sleep? I had no idea what the adjustment would look like, or what feelings would come out in the process.
Insomnia for me has always felt really lonely. It’s been great for binge-watching shows, writing papers, and reading, but it’s also been isolating and depressing too. I was cautiously optimistic about having someone beside me during those periods of vulnerability.
Watching my partner sleep
My now husband and I met in 2014, and began living with each other in 2016. This was the first time I’d room shared with anyone since college 8 years prior, and by that time, I understood my own insomnia and sleep needs pretty well. I was grateful that my routine didn’t change much, and that my sleeping patterns didn’t get any worse, but I was not expecting to spend so much time WATCHING MY PARTNER SLEEP.
My husband is one of those special people - where he can put his head down on a marginally soft surface, close his eyes, and within minutes (sometimes seconds), be fast asleep. He doesn’t wake easily during the night and finds himself recharged in the morning. Do I hate this? Yes. Am I jealous? Yes. Do I feel happy for him? Also yes.
Comfort in my partner's sleepy company
Every single night for the last 4 years, I’ve laid awake beside my sleeping husband at the beginning of the night and in the middle of the night, thinking about how lucky he is to be deep in dreamland. I’ve also noticed that while I do feel envy of his smooth sleep journey, I am also grateful that he is sleeping beside me, and not in another room or another house. He can’t entertain me while he's resting, but his company is calming to me.
When my usual methods to encourage sleep and manage my insomnia fail, I know that I can wake my husband up gently if I need support, company, or help problem solving - but knowing I have that option means I don’t choose to use it very often. I’m still lonely when I can’t sleep, but the vulnerability caused by insomnia and sleep deprivation doesn’t feel quite as raw as it used to.
I’m curious - if insomnia has made you feel lonely or vulnerable, what has helped? Does your resting partner help or hurt? I’d love to hear your suggestions below.
Will you take our Sleep Disorders Survey to raise awareness for insomnia?