My husband has insomnia and is one of the worst sleepers I have ever encountered. Its true, though, that I don’t have much experience of insomnia, either in myself or in others. All the same, I think that observing my husband’s sleep patterns give a rather unique insight into what insomnia is like.
There are so many myths about insomnia that abound. In this blog I hope to bust a few of them. Please be aware that I am writing from a personal perspective though. I am aware that what I say may not hold true for everyone.
Myth 1: Insomnia means you just aren’t tired… Wrong! Tiredness or lack thereof has nothing to do with it. It is possible to be exhausted and in desperate need of sleep, yet find oneself unable to translate that desperation into actual sleep.
Myth 2: Insomnia means you never sleep… Again, wrong! Someone with insomnia does get some sleep, but often at odd times of the day or just for brief moments at a time. What an insomniac doesn’t get is a night’s unbroken sleep. Or sometimes, night-time sleep at all.
Myth 3: You can take medications to make you sleep… Wrong! Lots of medications cause drowsiness but this does not necessarily translate to actual sleep. And some might make you fall asleep but don’t help you stay there. Which means they help you have a wonderful nap from 11pm to midnight, after which one then wakes up again.
Myth 4: (following on from #3): Insomniacs should just go and get pills from their doctor… Wrong! Aside from the issues described above, many doctors will not prescribe long term sleeping pills because they can be seriously addictive and also become ineffective after a very short period of time.
Myth 5: An insomniac shouldn’t drive/work/operate machinery/etc… true sometimes but usually wrong. This is a tough one. It is likely that most insomniacs have moments where they are that tired that indeed they shouldn’t do anything but rest and attend to their personal needs. But many are very used to surviving on broken sleep and can function fine on fewer hours’ rest than is normally to be expected.
Myth 6: You can get used to insomnia… occasionally true for a few people but usually wrong! Some people fall into a routine, its true, and their broken sleep patterns dictate that they (for example) always answer their emails at 3am. But for many, including any insomniac who shares a home with what I will call ‘ordinary’ sleepers, being awake for hour after hour with no company, no one to talk to, and simultaneously being afraid to make too much noise for fear of waking others up, can be hugely frustrating. It can be very lonely to be the only person in a family with insomnia. So even if you can cope physically with less sleep (see #6), it can be very hard to cope mentally.
Myth 7: there are things you can do to cure yourself of insomnia… Wrong, oh, so, so wrong! It is possible to make yourself drowsy. It is possible to still a mind full of racing thoughts. It is possible to enter a state of deep relaxation. But none of these cure chronic insomnia, at best they just make it manageable. So if you banish caffeine and other stimulants from your diet, bathe every night with lavender oil, turn all artificially lit items off at 7pm and practise 3 hours of meditation or mindfulness every evening, even an insomniac will be more likely to sleep. But these take effort to start, effort to maintain, and do not ever hold any guarantee of working. They create the likelihood of sleep if maintained diligently but they do not cure insomnia.
Myth 8: Stop sleeping during the day and you will be fine at night…. hahaha, wrong! Depriving an already sleep-deprived person of the only sleep they are likely to get in 24 hours not only is used as a torture technique by some unscrupulous governments and agencies, it also virtually guarantees that there is so much anxiety and stress in an insomniac’s body come bedtime that they are guaranteed to stay awake all night.
Myth 9: When insomniacs do sleep, its usually light/ when insomniacs do sleep its usually heavy… two sides of the same coin, and both wrong! Just because someone has insomnia, it doesn’t mean that what sleep they do get is predictable. They will experience all the natural variations in sleep that everyone else does.
Myth 10: Insomniacs don’t have dreams… Wrong! My husband, when he does manage to sleep, reports some of the most vivid dreams I have ever heard about. Often insomniacs will forget their dreams more readily due to the stress of finding themselves awake at odd hours but this doesn’t mean they haven’t dreamed.
Myth 11: If you are the partner of an insomniac, their restlessness will keep you awake too… wrong, wrong, wrong! I sleep a solid night’s sleep every night, of around 7 to 8 hours. I wake briefly once a night but that’s it. My husband’s insomnia worries me sometimes, but doesn’t wake me.
So those are our insomnia myths. I would love to hear other people’s experiences of insomnia. Do the things I have written seem accurate to you, or would you suggest changes? And can you think of any other insomnia myths that need busting? Please drop me a line.