When is the moment one realizes one is an insomniac? Is it when one as a college student finishes an essay at 5AM, goes to sleep, then wakes up and showers fifteen minutes before the essay is due in the late afternoon? I did that for an essay on Belize for my British Imperial History course as an undergraduate. Is it when one pulls an all-nighter, goes to the University Commons to pick up two croissants and a bottled water, and realizes everyone is looking at you like one of those crazy hobos, before taking a Calculus final and then going to sleep? Is it when one makes friends from India and online (who later came to study in the United States) because you are both online at the same time? Or is it earlier, when one averages about 2 or 3 hours of sleep during most of high school, draining the batteries low for a long time and seemingly permanently disrupting normal sleeping habits? Or maybe it is when it is 4AM, you’re not sleepy, and you’re writing a blog entry about being an insomniac. Either way, there comes a point when one realizes that one just doesn’t sleep normally.
Perhaps the most baffling part of being an insomniac, especially when one has been so for as long as I have been (between a lifetime of nightmare-plagued sleep, an inability to sleep deeply going back years, besides the screwing up to my own sleeping habits I did as a teenager and young adult), is that one doesn’t always know why one feels insomniatic. It’s not always related to worries, though more generally I suppose the fact that my mind is always whirring and working rapidly and constantly probably does not help my sleeping habits. It’s not always related to mood, either. Sometimes sleep, or the lack thereof, has its own mysterious rhythm.
I suppose at some level between my academic ambitions and my mental health history that insomnia of at least partial and recurrent nature was probably inevitable. Between IB and Engineering School, some sleep reduction would have been inevitable simply to get all the work done. Unfortunately, things have long since passed the point where I could regulate my sleep normally. Sleep is like feast or famine–when sleep comes easily I can easily sleep a good 10-12 hours a night (sadly, that has not been the case for the last few years), but when it doesn’t come, it sometimes doesn’t come at all. For example, I can remember four trips in my life where I barely slept at all–the 2002 Winter Vacation I spent in Tampa (aside from the Winter Family Weekend in Lexington, where I slept great), the 2003 trip I took with some friends to go skiing for the first time, the 2006 Feast of Tabernacles in Turkey, and a 2009 trip I took to Chile. When I don’t sleep at all for prolonged periods, I get really loopy and I’m not really at my best.
For many years I have tried to figure out what it is that could lead to good sleep. Boring books doesn’t really help all that much–I either get so tired I read the same page over and over again, or I dream of reading and doing homework in my sleep (not fun) and wake up tired. I’ve tried sleeping pills and herbs, and they don’t work at all for me, at least the ones I’ve tried (one I ended up allergic too, and that’s definitely not fun). One thing that once worked relatively well was heavy exercise, but that doesn’t always work well, and it often comes with heavy side effects (especially if it involves too much strain on my feet). One has to keep a very delicate balance when it comes to health.
Helpguide provides some very helpful tips on how to sleep better . They include: keeping a regular sleep schedule, cutting down on noise (sleeping with a fan is a good tip), create a relaxing bedtime routine (easier said than done), eat right and get regular exercise, get anxiety and stress in check, learn how to get back to sleep if/when you wake up during the night, and finally, know when to see a sleep doctor. It’s probably right after you write about being an insomniac as it approaches 4:30AM, though.