As long-time readers are well aware, I suffer from nightmare disorder and chronic insomnia. Last month I had the good fortune of a week or two of reprieve (which was so wonderful!), and I’m daring to hope that my sleeping problems are on the mend, but this is an affliction I’ve had to deal with my entire life.
It is something that takes a lot of time to work through, so today, I want to go over some of the myths around one of the most common sleep disorders out there: insomnia.
When we talk about insomnia, I think that the image that comes to mind for many of us is of a person who is awake all night and cannot fall asleep: someone who just does not sleep.
The truth is, insomnia doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re just lying awake, twiddling your thumbs, and never sleeping. There’s a lot of assumptions that we (the royal) make about this wide-spread sleep disorder, so let’s go over some of the myths around insomnia:
Myth #1: Having insomnia means you never sleep.
I think this is probably the most common assumption. Although some forms of insomnia mean that you don’t sleep throughout the night, more often than not, insomnia is about a) having difficulty falling asleep in the first place, and / or b) waking up throughout the night and having difficulty falling back asleep.
Failure to get an entire night’s sleep on most nights over a one-month period can be considered chronic insomnia.
– Prescription for Nutritional Healing
The National Sleep Foundation has some great info on the definition of insomnia, and the symptoms associated with it, which include:
difficulty falling asleep, waking up a lot during the night, waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep, or waking up feeling un-refreshed
It’s also important to note here the difference between acute insomnia and chronic insomnia: acute insomnia is a short-term form of insomnia which generally happens because of something going on in your life (a lot of people have acute insomnia before university exams or if there is a big change happening in their life, for example), whereas chronic insomnia is a recurring issue, generally characterized by having at least three disrupted sleeps per week which lasts for at least three months.
Myth #2: People with insomnia must be able to accomplish much more than the average person because they barely sleep.
This might be true for some people, but the problem is, insomnia can affect your waking life, too. It can actually end up decreasing productivity levels and causing a lot of challenges in the person’s day-to-day life. Moreover, sometimes people who experience insomnia can’t fall asleep, but they are also exhausted and can’t force themselves to get work done while facing another sleepless night, which renders the time that they are lying awake completely useless.
If chronic, inadequate sleep compromises productivity, creates problems in relationships, and can contribute to other health problems.
– Prescription for Nutritional Healing
For myself, I have found an additional challenge: if I wake up from a nightmare and can’t fall back asleep, sometimes I am too afraid to get out of bed to do work, even if I am awake enough to get work done. Those nights are the worst, in my experience; even if your rational brain knows that the nightmare isn’t real, it can be extremely challenging even to close your eyes—let alone get out of bed and do something productive.
Myth #3: Most people don’t *actually* have insomnia.
Insomnia is surprisingly wide-spread. Depending on the source you look at, between 10—30 % of Americans have had insomnia at some point in their lives! Sleep disorders are unfortunately a fairly common occurrence.
Of course, if we are going under the assumption that “insomnia is when you don’t sleep at all,” then it’s easy to see why this particular myth of “most people don’t *actually* have insomnia” is so prevalent.
Myth #4: There’s an easy way to treat insomnia.
Treatment for insomnia can include behavioral, psychological, medical components or some combination thereof. You and your doctor will need to talk about your particular situation and history of insomnia, as well as its causes, to decide on the best treatment plan.
This reminds me of the notion in Traditional Chinese Medicine about treating the patient, not the disease. It’s so true! What works for one person won’t work for someone else. What worked for you a year ago may not work for you now (and vice versa).
There are certainly a huge variety of ways that a person can try to treat insomnia (including everything from drinking herbal teas to adopting a regular fitness routine to taking calcium supplements to getting acupuncture to trying breathing exercises to doing nighttime yoga and more)—it’s all about searching for what works for you, right now.