How To Make Things A Little Less Miserable For The Insomniac In Your Life

Here it is, for the whole damn world to know, my very favorite bedroom fantasy—the thought of which gives me tingles not just in some places but all of the places. Just contemplating this scene is like bathing in pure sunlight on MDMA: I go into a bedroom, crawl into bed, and drift off into a full night of restful slumber.


That is honestly, truly, the hottest, most fulfilling thing I can envision doing in a bedroom. But sadder than that? It’s a fantasy I’m not sure I’ll ever realize.

I’ve grappled with sleep for eight years now. My slumbering issue first reared its head out of the blue in college and I’ve been in an on-again-off-again relationship with this basic human function ever since. Mostly, however, it’s been off-again. I’ve achieved a blissful state of unconsciousness sans the aid of a substance a mere three nights in the past year and a half.

And even with­—I’ll readily concede—a not-ideal cocktail of sleep meds, I sometimes still can’t get more than a few hours of sleep a night, even when I re-up in the wee hours. And we’re talking the big boys of pharmaceuticals: Ambien, Ambien CR, an array of benzodiazepines, Trazodone, etc.

Some nights I try to take a night off from giving Big Pharma my business by popping an Advil PM or one of its comparable over-the-counter brethren. My body’s response can only be described as humiliating laughter, “LOL IS THAT ALL YOU GOT,” and then I either forego sleeping more than a handful of hours or dig into that ever-present tan prescription cylinder on my night stand with a desperate little sigh.

I don’t want to give up on my fantasy; I abhor living this way. So much so that I rarely let myself contemplate it fully because when I do, I’m overwhelmed with hopelessness that I’ll never be able to get by without drugs, that I’ll never feel fully healthy and, well, good. Because, when I do meditate on this state of sleepless affairs, I realize how much of my life I’ve lost to a clouded head, queasiness, frustration, looking and feeling like a character on the Walking Dead, etc.

But in the spirit of dogged optimism, while I fail at sleep, I can at least succeed in describing what one insomniac’s existence is like—and how others can ease the burden of simply stinking at slumber. In other words, if I can’t find respite under a blanket, then y’all will have to hear about why being sleep deprived is terrible and how you can ameliorate matters for me and my fellow dream-deprived comrades by not engaging in these missteps:

Never suggest we drink chamomile tea. 

This one’s big. Like, huge. Under no circumstances ever, should you EVER, EVEN JUST ONE TIME, even with the BEST of intentions, EVER, suggest we try some chamomile tea. WE KNOW it’s touted as having sleep-inducing qualities. We do. And if you think we haven’t been chugging that shit by the gallon on the daily since it dawned on us that our sleeping issues might be somewhat intractable, you are sorely mistaken. We’ve tried it. We know. Chamomile tea. It has calming qualities. And if those qualities were effective to combat or soothe the loathsome monster that is the inability to sleep, I’d walk around with an IV of the shit plugged in. It doesn’t work.

Don't think there is anything artistic or romantic about insomnia. 

I’m not kept awake because my thoughts are swirling around the character development for the next Great Gatsby . Nor do I startle myself awake with the seeds of brilliance: Aha! Yes I have it! The next Shawshank Redemption!  Fuck I haven’t even dreamed up Gigli-level drivel; I’ve never had even the tiniest shred of a worthwhile idea come to me while I’m fighting toward torpor at 4 AM. About the most enlightened thing I’ve done in the throes of insomnia is make some delicious nachos and watch Fargo. Cuz screw it, if I’m not sleeping, at least I can listen to the best accents on the planet and consume melted cheese.

Banish the notion that we’re just anxious.

Generally speaking, I’m not worried about my day’s events. Nor am I freaking about everything I have to do the next day, my mind too consumed with anxiety and runaway thoughts that I can’t pass out. I simply see a bed and get performance anxiety—an empty bed. My body gets amped up, it’s entirely forgotten the routine of head-hits-pillow, aaaaand cue unconsciousness. (Until the Ambien storms in like the Kool-Aid man and reminds my body with noxious chemicals.)

Never suggest that we exercise. 

Tire the body out enough and it’ll have to just succumb right? Seems logical. Yeah but no. In the dark depths of my sleeping issues hell-scape, I tried to exercise my way out of insomnia. Hard. I was running 9 miles a day and capping it off with an hour and a half of hot, power yoga. It didn’t make a difference. Exercise certainly has value, but it's been no solution for me.

In fact, unless you’re a cutting edge sleep scientist or sleeping with one so you have access to cutting edge research, please refrain from proffering up any kind of basic “sleep hygiene” advice. 

I recognize that you’re freaked out by my busted looking face and my pathetic, deflated sleep-deprived mien and want to help, but . . . I have the basic knowledge surrounding good sleep practice committed to memory—and have for years. I know not to do work in bed. I know to go to sleep at the same time every night, blah blah blah. I’ve spiraled into a heinous insomniatic inferno that got so bad I hallucinated dragons and got lost on my own college campus—I even had to pretend to be a tourist to not feel embarrassed about getting directions back to my own dorm. If a cursory Google search would have saved my ass, trust that I wouldn’t be here writing this right now.

Don’t suggest I nap. 

Simply put: I can't. Without the use of drugs, my body doesn’t allow me to curl up on a couch for a heavenly break from consciousness. There have been a few times I’ve accomplished this but it’s so rare, Venus has to be in Retrograde, the Knicks have to have won five games in a row, Don Lemon has to have reported a sound segment on CNN, and Kim Kardashian’s ass has to have been out of the limelight for a week or no dice. So yeah, basically napping’s out.

Don’t try to connect with me on the issue by sharing that one time you had difficulty sleeping for a week a few years ago and it was, like, so the worst. 

I’m happy to discuss how shitty it is attempting to navigate your days mentally and physically exhausted, when your brain is so scrambled words look like "a;slkdfj;alskd4jf;laksdjf" but please do not frame our plights as the same. I’ve been struggling to sleep on a daily basis for eight years. It defines my daily existence. I of course am overflowing with empathy for anyone who suffers from lack of sleep—lord have I got some empathy—but if you can skip off to bed on the reg with nary a thought that your body isn’t going Benedict Arnold you and refuse to just doze off so you can accomplish things the next day, then we’re in a different camp. I only ask that you acknowledge this.

Realize how physically painful it is.

Part of the reason I don’t label myself as an insomniac is because the term feels so innocuous, so insufficient. I’m not saying there aren’t far graver medical conditions and I certainly don’t mean to diminish those, but I do want to state that sleep deprivation has been one of the most painful experiences of my life. And this is coming from someone stupid enough to burn herself on a motorbike, go cliff jumping drunk, and bruise ribs surfing. I’ve also had my fair share of emotionally eviscerating breakdowns. And nothing hurts quite like chronic sleep deprivation. At my worst, I’ve been rendered an amoebic-like blob. I’m queasy, my arms shake, and every part of my body throbs, screaming out with a need I can’t meet. When sleep has been particularly elusive, I can’t even read as it makes me nauseated. It goes without saying that I can’t drive. And as mentioned, sometimes I hallucinate. And the worst part is that there is no release. I can’t even cry, my body is too tired. After a particularly bad episode, when Ambien had stopped working and it had been weeks of terrible sleep, I showed up at a doctor’s appointment and shrieked that I needed elephant tranquilizer: “Please just give me what you shoot into Dumbo’s arm to put him out—use a dart gun, shoot it into my face, I don’t care anymore please just helpppp!” Even when I’m not in a state of total, quaking immobility, my mind is foggy, words are hard to follow, and everything (. . . and everyone) grates. I feel like curling up in dead centipede fashion with a blanket over my head moaning (and have in fact tried this—seems like it would provide some succor, but no).

No one's ultimate bedroom fantasy should be a pathetic, slumber-oriented solo venture . . . but if this is indeed my reality and so many others, the least you can do is adhere to these guidelines, easing the fraught existences of the sleep-challenged everywhere.

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