When you think of chronic insomnia, you probably only really think of one thing: not sleeping. You picture someone lying on their back in bed, fruitlessly counting sheep, or counting to 100, or trying to remember all the lyrics to "One Week" by the Barenaked Ladies, until they finally pass out. And yeah, it's like that ... for the first night or two.
But once you realize that your insomnia is more than a blip — that you are now part of the 10 percent of the adult population who suffer from chronic insomnia — something changes. You realize that you can't just spend six hours every night staring at the ceiling until it's time to get up for work. And that, my friend, is when stuff starts to get weird.
I should know — I suffered through two years of chronic insomnia, a time when I averaged four hours of sleep a night. During these years, I noticed that my life — and the lives of many fellow insomniacs I spoke with — took on a Jekyll-and-Hyde split. During the day, you're a (sleepy) worker, friend, partner, mother, whatever. But late at night, you are someone who makes ridiculous sleep-deprivation decisions, like cutting your own bangs with kitchen scissors or signing up for Esperanto language lessons. Basically, in the wee hours of the morning, you are a total unhinged weirdo. And it's kind of hilarious.
Yeah, it's sometimes tough to find the humor in such a dire affliction. But sometimes, as you spend your 10th straight night chugging Zzquil like it's Vitamin Water and googling "can coconut oil/physical therapy/Legos cure insomnia," you have to laugh (but not too hard — that Zzquil will really stain your pajamas).
1. You Have Secret TV Shows You Only Watch While Sleepless
And I don't mean idly flipping through infomercials or Famiy Ties reruns as your eyes glaze over. I mean insomniacs get deeply involved in a very specific TV show that they've never spent a moment of their daytime lives thinking about.
In interviews for her recent album The Voyager, musician Jenny Lewis described a years-long bout of chronic insomnia that led her to begin obsessively watch boxing matches in the middle of the night. I personally got way into Family Guy, a show that I had somehow managed to completely miss for the previous 15 years. But you don't mention your secret insomnia TV show to your friends or coworkers during the daylight. It's your weird secret friend, there for you at 4 a.m. when no one else is.
2. You Have Paranoid Thoughts About The Weird, Late Nightlife Of Your Neighborhood
I don't mean the "going out and partying" kind of late nightlife. Partying! As if! After a few days of chronic insomnia, you can probably barely get it together to make yourself some microwaveable raviolis, let alone throw on a cute outfit and interact with other human beings.
But when you're up all night, you become aware of the late night goings-on in your neighborhood. Who's that guy in a jumpsuit who walks down your street at 3 a.m. every day? Where is he going? I mean, probably to work, but who really knows? Do we have any compelling proof that he's not a hook-handed murderer? And what's with that unmarked white van that parks across the street from 2 to 3 every morning? What are your upstairs neighbors doing every night at 4:35 that sounds like someone moving a chair halfway across the room? You live in a small town full of terrifying secrets, just like Twin Peaks! EXACTLY like Twin Peaks. That is clearly the only answer. Oh my god, is not sleeping making you SMARTER?
3. You Try To Sleep On The Floor
In your search for the source of your insomnia, you'll often begin by assuming there's a problem with your bed. Maybe the floor is better? Can you sleep on the floor? No? What about the couch? Bathtub? Car backseat? Backyard? Someone else's yard? That weird spooky house on the corner where no one ever seems to come or go, but there's always that one light on on the top floor? The shampoo section at the 24 hour CVS? No? Hmmm, maybe you need to get some giant cardboard boxes, tape them together, and sleep in that. I bet there is no line at the cardboard box store at this hour of the night...
4. You Begin To Hate People Who Sleep
Which is rough, because that's like, what, everyone? I mean, you don't hate hate them. You just look at your peacefully slumbering partner, or think about your friends who say things like "I think I slept too much last night, I'm so groggy," and you imagine their head bursting into flames. This isn't the cause of the social isolation that many insomniacs feel — that would probably be rooted in the fact that you're too tired to ever really interact with anyone, and that the issue still carries a social stigma — but it certainly doesn't help.
5. You Try All The Bizarre Sleep Cures
Your helpful friend asks if you'd tried melatonin. Ha ha, helpful friend; yes, I have tried melatonin. I've also tried NyQuil, warm milk, Sleepy Time tea, weird pills from the health food store, weird herbs from the health food store, weird meditation videos on YouTube, acupuncture, massages, yoga, only getting in my bed right before bedtime, and some stuff that's only legal in Canada. No, helpful friend, none of them worked.
6. You Literally Forget How Sleeping Works
So, like, I lie down, and then ... I close my eyes? That doesn't sound right. Do I adjust my bodily position first, or close my eyes first? Wait, how am I supposed to adjust my bodily position with my eyes closed? Maybe I should Google this, just to make sure I'm not doing it wrong.
7. You Forget How To Dress Yourself
Are you wearing pants? Insomnia turns everyday life into an exciting, Carmen Sandiego-style mystery! Where in the world is ... the contact lens for your left eye? It's in your right eye, along with your right contact. That's why you thought you'd gone blind in one eye. And it's only 8 a.m.! Who knows what other exciting insomnia-induced mysteries today will bring?
8. You Google Everything
When you are up all night, you will Google everything and anything — but especially things related to your affliction. Maybe you'll check out some famous insomniacs. Bill Clinton and Madonna? Hey, they seem to be doing alright! Maybe you can build a happy and satisfying life on three hours of sleep a night! Maybe insomnia will actually help you become the first president who is also a sexually provocative pop star! There ya go! What kind of person who sleeps would ever come up with an idea that great?
You also Google insomnia symptoms and treatments (which inevitably leads you to paranoia-inducing message boards frequented by people who haven't slept since Friends was on the air), and whether you can die from insomnia (yes, you can, now let us never speak of it again).
9. You Send Incoherent Emails
The middle of the night is a great time to get some extra work done, right? I mean, since you're up anyway, and are definitely not feeling super exhausted and emotionally fragile and prone to sending a business email that devolves into misspelled musings about why you never got a role in your high school's production of Les Miserables. The middle of the night is also a great time to send five paragraph emails about your childhood to people who winked at you on OkCupid.
10. You Make Questionable Interior Decorating Decisions
Why not tackle that chore list that you can never get around to during the day now? I mean, if there's a better time to decide how you're going to rearrange your furniture than when you're on your sixth straight night of zero sleep, I haven't heard about it. Now, where should we move the mini-fridge? Into the shower? Perfection!
11. You Develop An Online Shopping Habit
One soothing thing about chronic insomnia is that, while many of your waking life problems seem to take on greater significance in those early morning hours, some of them no longer seem to matter at all. Like money. What is money, even? What is this "credit card debt" I keep hearing about, and why shouldn't I go into it to buy some weird crap right now? Making a pointless purchase will at least give me a feeling like I have some vague modicum of control over my life, providing a brief respite from the sensation of utter helplessness that insomnia can create. Plus, a week from today, when the thing I ordered arrives and I have no memory of buying it, it's like getting a present!
12. You Refresh Social Media When There Is Nothing To Refresh
When you're on there at 5 a.m. to remind yourself that you're not alone, the fact that the last post anyone made was three hours ago can simply make you feel more alone. Maybe you need to get more friends who live in Europe, so that they'll be posting stuff when your so-called American "friends" are all asleep in their so-called "beds" like the traitors they are.
13. You Wonder What That Weird Sound Was
Squirrel on the fire escape? Or ax murderer who saw the light on in your window and is coming over because he really wanted to murder someone who was already awake, instead of having to wake someone up and deal with them being all groggy? Oh god, does he have insomnia, too? It would be so nice to talk with someone who understands!