I'm an insomniac and I'm sick of your advice.

I’m an insomniac and I’m sick of your advice

Ye gods, has there ever been a more misunderstood fool than the troubled insomniac?

(Ok, just about every minority ever.)

Last night I popped a little blue pill and hugged my pillow and waited for blissful slumber to take me; the sweet onslaught of sleep as I slipped into the fuzzy warm waters of dreams…

And awoke an hour later.

I have spent most of my life being plagued by sleep issues. It’s not constant; it comes and goes. But when insomnia arrives, it stays.

It doesn’t matter how many sleepless nights you have, it doesn’t matter how bone-weary, dog-tired you feel…insomnia sticks to your soul like dried oatmeal to the inside of a bowl.

And then there will be other times when I can slip into a coma-like state completely unprovoked. Especially in a moving vehicle. How often have I embarked on road trips with friends, map sprawled open on my lap like a diligent navigator, only to nod off within five minutes, drool trickling down my chin? I am seriously the worst road trip companion ever, by the way. (I’m sorry, Lena and Jen.)

I’m like a baby. Can’t sleep? Put me in the back seat and drive around the block.

Ironically, since coming to Berlin four months ago, I’ve had the best sleeps of my life. I don’t know what it is. My room faces the busy street onto Griefswalder Strasse, and all day and all night traffic zooms by. But for some reason the familiar metallic clanging of the M2 trams is like a sweet baby lullaby. It’s like the dial on the radio of humanity is turned down at a quiet, soothing level.

Me, of all people, loving the city noise.

Where am I going with this blog post?

Oh yes.

Over the years I’ve had an endless parade of people telling me how to handle my sleep issues. They suggest warm milk, chamomile tea before bed, evening yoga, deep meditation, a tall glass of wine, listening to podcasts about finance, bowing five times to the moon and saluting the stars and then turning around in a circle three rotations quacking like a duck.

None of these things work.

And I know you’re all trying to be kind and helpful and wonderful, but nothing works. This is a fate I have come to accept. My mind is a reeling rollercoaster of anxiety in the evenings sometimes. You can’t just give me a glass of warm milk and expect me to shut off my brain as I’m lying there in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering if I can afford to pay my student loans this month.

Or, more often, the racing thoughts include the most inane bullshit. Why am I suddenly so fascinated with gummy bears and when should I start training for the El Camino and I wonder if that guy I met on the train will call me and god I hope my cat is enjoying her life in rural Newfoundland.

There is no way I can ever have kids, for real.

I’m writing this post because I want to offer a little insight into the mind of insomniacs, or people who suffer from sleep anxiety. (To be fair, a lot of your suggestions sometimes actually alleviate the situation…but not often.)

Just love your insomniac-plagued zombie friend. Please let me bitch about it openly and freely. Please.

I went to a neurologist once and told him I was having sleep issues. (Actually, it was about seizures, but sleep came into play, as most of my seizures happened in my sleep.) He asked me what time I went to bed and I said sometimes not until 6 AM, and he laughed at me and said, “Try going to bed earlier.” NO WAY? I HADN’T THOUGHT OF THAT.

If you’re wondering how a travelling insomniac fares on the road the answer is NOT VERY WELL.

So this is my solution for all you fellow insomniacs out there.


Embrace your stupid night owl behaviour.

I think half of what makes insomniacs so damned sleepless is that we’re constantly told we need to go to bed early, and getting up early is crucial, etc. etc. Apparently if you rise before 7 AM every morning you’ll be a goddamned genius wizard who’ll find the cure for cancer.

And then when you end up sleeping in you’re burdened with the most extreme guilt – like you’ve murdered some puppies or something. And everyone thinks you’re lazy, when really, god help us all, those extra minutes of sleep are as rare and precious as diamonds.

(I am aware that most 9 to 5ers don’t have the luxury of sleeping in. I don’t know how to help you. God speed.)

Here’s what happened when I started embracing my inner night owl.

  1. I have slept better than I ever have in my life. At some point my weird inner clock adjusted itself so that now I fall asleep sometime between 2-3 AM and then am awake again by 9:30 or 10.
  2.  I reversed my work schedule. In the mornings, I make a giant cup of coffee and I settle down on the couch with my blankie and a good book. I read for an hour or until whenever the heck I feel like stopping, and then I’ll putter around the apartment tidying up or checking in with people via Facebook. Then I’ll start working in the mid to late afternoon.
  3. I write my best stuff in the evenings. I don’t know why. People say your mind is clearest in the mornings, but I’m most alert at night. I get excited about writing at night – my brain just works that way. And apparently it’s a common trait in intelligent people, so I’m a genius obvs.
  4. I stopped stressing out about how many hours of sleep I’m getting. It makes me laugh how many of us do the same thing – lying awake in bed, glancing at your phone’s clock, doing the math to see how many hours of sleep you’ll get before you have to get up. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

There are so many downsides, I admit. Shorter days. An animalistic instinct to howl at the moon. What?

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I didn’t sleep last night. But if you can relate, let’s hold each other and weep.

  • November 02 2015
    Trish McNeill

    We need to get married. I relate to every word.

    • November 03 2015

      Our wedding wouldn’t start until midnight!

  • November 02 2015

    When my insomnia got really bad, I was really lucky to see a sensible doctor.
    After 4 days of not sleeping, the doctor I saw was like “Well. That’s not acceptable. Here’s some meds.”
    And they worked. And it was glorious. And I wish I could have taken that doctor everywhere with me. Because doctors that tell me to do yoga are not helpful. Neither was the doctor who told me maybe I have a brain tumour. :P

    I am envious of your lifestyle allowing you to just go with it. I find routines that help, but then life makes me change those routines and I have to start all over :/ There was a time I just stayed up until I was tired enough… oh, to be a freelance veterinarian ;)

    • November 03 2015

      I forgot about brain tumour guy. :-| Oh my lord.

      I seriously have no idea how you manage with shift work. I could never, ever do shift work for that reason alone. Agh.

  • November 02 2015

    I spent the first 15yrs of my adult life fighting to keep up with the 9-5ers, despite the fact my body refused to give into sleep until 5am. It was the main reason I decided to start my own business. I work more hours than ever before, but I don’t start until midday most days, which means I’ve skipped those hours when interacting with the world feels like swimming through tar whilst getting kicked by a donkey and rubbing a raw chilli in my eyes. A-men to embracing your inner night owl!
    Alexis recently posted…10 things you can do to ramp up traffic to your site

    • November 03 2015

      That’s AWESOME! I love hearing that!

  • November 02 2015

    Thank you as an insomniac I really relate. I have prescribed medications as I work days

    • November 03 2015

      I now have sleeping pills as well but I’m so afraid of getting hooked, I use them rarely. But they’re really good for getting myself back on track when I need to, definitely.

  • November 02 2015

    Ah yes, the not helpful helpful advice. Boo on that.

    I have always been a poor sleeper. I find that if I can corral my anxieties and focus on working out complicated patterns in my mind at night then I fall asleep within an hour. Usually complicated knitted cables or crazy intricate ball gown patterns. Or chemical equations… depends on what craft I’m working on at the moment. Perhaps you could try to work out complicated travel plans in your head. How to get to Antarctica without going to Argentina first or something.

    Either way, I feel you on the sleeplessness. It affects every other part of your life when you don’t get sleep.

    • November 03 2015

      Now THAT’S a unique idea no one’s ever offered to me before, haha. Maybe I’ll try to figure out how to get home for Christmas without spending all my money…

  • November 04 2015

    I relate to every single thing in this post.
    I work shift work and it’s so hard to not allow my inner zombie to take over!

  • November 06 2015

    Oooh bloody good for you. I love reading posts like this, screw social norms and embrace your sleeping patterns whatever they may be.

    Far healthier than trying to conform, I totally relate :)

    • November 08 2015

      Hahaha, ditto!

  • November 08 2015

    Ha! I love this. My internal clock likes to randomly reverse every few years. Right now I’m on a ‘let’s wake up early’ one, but 3 years ago i was a ‘let’s stay up until 2 am every night!’ time frame.

    Seriously, i’ve always been a proponent of : when you are productive – work. When you are awake but not productive – relax. When you are tired – sleep. When you aren’t tired anymore – stop sleeping.

    It’s really a great way to live, not fighting my internal clock anymore.
    Also I love naps.
    Dani Blanchette recently posted…Travel Will Teach You…

    • November 10 2015

      AGREED! We creative types need to take advantage of any spurt of inspiration at all, haha.

  • January 26 2021

    When I tell you I can relate to everything you wrote here! Sleeping is basically an enemy for me, so I’m trying to drink vitamins and exercise more to see how it helps.

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