Insomnia is the most well known sleep disorder ― affecting as many as 10 percent of all Americans, according to estimates. It’s simply characterized by having trouble either falling asleep or staying asleep. For people who suffer from chronic insomnia, that means at least three nights of troubled sleep per week that lasts for at least three months in a row.
But if you’ve never experienced it, you probably don’t truly understand what insomnia feels like.
“[There] are really long and upsetting nights,” Susan Rutigliano, a 32-year-old from New York City who has struggled with insomnia since she was 17, told The Huffington Post.
“Those are the nights where its just you alone with your thoughts, crippling exhaustion and just waiting for the sun to come up so you can start getting ready to go to work and feel like hell the entire day.”
Sleep medicine doctors prescribe a specific type of psychotherapy to help people with insomnia ― and there are also several medications approved to help people who struggle with insomnia (though they are known to come with a host of unpleasant and sometimes scary side effects).
But that doesn’t mean the trek to more restful nights of sleep for people with chronic insomnia is easy ― or that those therapies always work for everyone.
“[Those people can] get stuck in this cycle of not sleeping well ― which can last for decades if left untreated,” Philip Gehrman, assistant professor of psychology in the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, previously told HuffPost.
Other things that cause (and/or perpetuate) insomnia can include neurological conditions, chronic pain, allerties, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, depression or unhealthy sleep habits ― staking naps at odd hours, keeping an irregular sleep schedule, using a computer or looking at some other kind of bright screen before bed or drinking too much alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime.
We asked members of our HuffPost Lifestyle Facebook community who struggle with chronic insomnia what they wished everyone else knew about how their restless nights affects their lives. Here’s what they said:
1. It affects every aspect of your day-to-day life.
“Its a really depressing condition to deal with,” Rutigliano. “It [affects] every aspect of your day-to-day life.”
“Even today it still creeps up on me sometimes despite being mostly under control. I have found that for me a combination of working closely with my doctor and taking medications AS PRESCRIBED as well as trying to have some kind of relaxing night time routine is my best defense,” she added.
“There are some nights when I could seriously take an Ambien and go run a marathon.”
“But honestly there are some nights when I could seriously take an Ambien and go run a marathon,” Rutigliano said. “Those are the nights where it’s just you alone with your thoughts, crippling exhaustion and just waiting for the sun to come up so you can start getting ready to go to work and feel like hell the entire day.”
2. There are very few things people with insomnia haven’t tried.
“I wish people who never had insomnia would stop asking me: ‘Have you tried melatonin, etc.?’” Jeanne Buckly, told HuffPost.
“I have had insomnia for several years, and there are very few things I have not tried,” she said. “There are a lot of nights where I wake up, can’t get back to sleep, and end up reading until I can get back to sleep, which is usually about the time I am supposed to get up.”
“The sleep meds make the insomnia more manageable, but I am building up a tolerance and [I] worry about the day they don’t work anymore,” Buckly said.
3. If they’re still asleep at noon, it’s not because they’re lazy.
Brianna Martinez has struggled with insomnia for nearly five years. Now 27, she wanted to avoid prescription medications at first, so she has tried taking melatonin, sleepy-time teas, cutting out electronics, drinking warm milk and scores of other strategies to help her sleep.
“I wish everyone knew that when I’m asleep at noon, it’s not because I’m a ‘bum’ or ‘lazy.’ It’s because five hours prior my body shut down from exhaustion ― the only way I can get some shut eye,” she said.
She’s chosen to cope without using prescription sleep aids. One strategy that has helped: not sleeping in the same bedroom as her husband.
“My insomnia used to not only keep me up, but him as well,” Martinez said. “I’d be up all through the night, waking him up either with the light and sounds from the TV, getting in and out of bed, tossing and turning ― we were both completely miserable.”
“Some of our friends think it’s weird, but we both get vital sleep.”
“Some of our friends think it’s weird, but we both get vital sleep ― and there’s something exciting about ‘sneaking’ into one another’s rooms at night,” she said.
4. Imagine waking up at 2 or 3am EVERY morning.
“I have tried everything. I even stopped drinking wine,” Valerie Clark, told HuffPost. “I wake up at 2 or 3 am EVERY morning.”
“It seriously affects my life. I am so tried at night that I need to be asleep very early in order to get enough sleep,” Clark said.
“I have no problem getting to sleep or staying asleep until [that] witching hour. It is very frustrating!”
5. They wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Here’s what Fay Ranshaw, 31, wishes everyone knew about insomnia:
“The constant struggle with your pointless thoughts and how frustrating it gets! Walking [around] like a zombie at work and nobody really [batting] an eyelid when you say it’s [because] you struggle to sleep!” she told HuffPost.
“I don’t think those who don’t suffer take it seriously ― so that leaves you feeling like you’re just being over dramatic! Which then brings the anxieties! I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” said Ranshaw, who has struggled with insomnia since she was 19.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at email@example.com.