11 Things Never To Say to Someone With Insomnia

by Rebecca Jane Stokes

I am trying to think of worse things than a bout of chronic insomnia. So far, the closest I've come is this one time I pooped myself while throwing up at the same time and then just rolled over and fell asleep in my own filth. It sounds punk rock, but I assure you, it was not punk rock. It was a stomach virus that manifested while I was watching the movie version RENT in theatres for the second time, aka, the opposite of punk rock, if we want to be real about it. The point: Insomnia is worse than just about anything. As a life-long insomniac, people love to give me advice about how better to put myself to sleep. I understand that they are well-intentioned, but seriously, it's not even remotely helpful.

That's because, no matter what kind of advice we're given, insomnia is the gift that keeps on giving. If, you know, by "gift" you mean "horrific, soul-sucking demon-slug." I've battled the aforementioned slug my entire semi-adult life, starting from the age of roughly nine. I probably looked like the world's weariest person who had not yet attained a double-digit age. I did stuff like creep downstairs and watch TV with the sound off until I heard my dad get up to get ready for work. Nowadays, because I am a grown-up, I can do stuff like frantically blast the sound on my TV as loud as I want without fear of parental repercussions. But this offers very little comfort when it's 6:30AM and I'm crying uncontrollably while watching the sun rise. With that in mind, here are 11 things those well-meaning folks have said to me when discussing insomnia that they really, really shouldn't have said.

"You look so tired!"

Because that's EXACTLY what I was hoping to hear after spending forty-five minutes in front of the mirror trying to make myself look human. Excuse me while I go sob off this mascara and Google phrases like "no sleep how long before die".

"Have you tried Ambien?"

I get why people make this suggestion: People know about Ambien. It's supposed to be a wonder drug. For some insomniacs, it works like a charm. But it's 2014 and I'm an insomniac with health insurance—If I'm not taking Ambien, there's a reason for it. Like that time I tried it and woke up two hours later, naked on my kitchen floor. For me, that stuff is a one-way ticket to Crazynakedtown, USA, population: me and my tears.

"Exercise more!"

Because you know what's worse than lying awake all night, staring at the ceiling, begging for sleep to come? Running for an hour, doing restorative yoga and light weight-lifting, laying in bed, every muscle sore and tired—and then lying awake all night, staring at the ceiling, begging for sleep to come.

"You should stop drinking coffee."

One of the first things insomnia takes from you is your sense of joy. You know what consistently brings me joy regardless of my sleep-addled state? Coffee. I drink it in the morning. One cup. I have another cup around two o'clock in the afternoon. Do not take coffee away from me. Sometimes it feels like it's all I've got left.

"Are you sure you didn't sleep a little?"

The people who ask this are the same people who don't believe folks who claim to have allergies and assert that depression is "all in your head". It's condescending and judgmental. We need a consoling ear, not someone who mistakenly thinks that this is a courtroom and you are a witness being examined on cross. (I've been watching a lot of legal dramas lately; they're on all night long.)

"Going three days without sleep makes you legally insane."

You know who knows this full well? Every single person who has ever experienced a chronic bout of insomnia. Being reminded that there are so many things about insomnia that are bad for you is not going to make us fall asleep anymore quickly. That said, it will provide us with a cunning legal strategy should you mysteriously wind up dead with a note pinned to your chest that says, "NO SH*T, SHERLOCK."

"You can play catch-up this weekend!

SLEEPING DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. The best way to treat your insomnia is to try and get on a schedule. In theory, it is delicious to take advantage of the rare times we do fall asleep and milk it for all it's worth — but that's exactly the worst way to handle our insomnia.

"Try meditation!"

Meditation can be great. I know it's helped me exponentially at times. But let's be real: There are days when no amount of quietly breathing and trying to clear your mind can cure what ails you. Sometimes your mind is just too fucking full of all-of-the-things and meditating only proves frustrating and dull.

"I fall asleep at the drop of a hat."

BULLY FOR YOU! OH, HOW LUCKY! People who can fall asleep without working at it, tricking themselves into sleep, or otherwise busting their humps trying to get their snooze on are like unicorns: They are pretty creatures who I need to believe do not exist, and if you are going to insist on trying to prove otherwise, I will be forced to leave the room sneering.

"I don't need a lot of sleep."

I don't know when this started but somewhere along the way, people confused insomnia with whiny-bitches-who-don't-get-to-sleep-as-much-as-they-want. That's not it. That's just so all what insomnia is, you guys. It's awesome that you feel like your nightly average of four hours of sleep is all you need. How excellent to be you. Here's the thing: I'd gladly take your four hours over the six I spent waking up for an hour, going back to sleep, waking up for an hour, and then going back to sleep.

"You should drink some warm milk!"

Lack of lactose is not my problem. Come over here so I can hug you. And by "hug" I mean "kick you in a place that will hurt you the most without causing permanent damage in an effort to fully express my irritation."

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