I have, on more than a few occasions, suffered from bouts of insomnia. This, in case you didn’t know, is the infuriating condition where you can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet succour they call sleep. Now, before you go racing ahead to the comments section to leave me your favourite remedy for a peaceful drift to the land of slumber, be warned, I’ve heard them all before and most have merely left me wanting to rip the head off the person “kind” enough to bestow their wisdom upon me. Mind you, having been awake since 02:47am, I’m about ready to decapitate most people who happen to be within arms reach.
There are several different types of insomnia; the sort where you wake up early, the sort where you have trouble getting to sleep and then there’s my sort, the sort where you can drift away to the land of nod with no issue at all but infuriatingly can’t stay there, until the run up to your alarm when you’ll magically fall into a treacly slumber so that your alarm going off 30 minutes later feels like Satan himself is riding through your bedroom, playing that sodding Crazy Frog ring tone at full volume.
If you have never suffered insomnia then you have no idea the excruciating torment of trying to continue functioning on just 3 hours sleep a night. Not just one night, we can all do that after one round of tequilas turns into “just one more” and you know that a bacon sandwich and a cheeky kip under your desk at lunchtime (we’ve all done it right? Just me? Oh) will see you able to face that afternoon board meeting. No, I’m talking about night after night, week after week of the sort of sleep deprivation the Guantanamo Bay prison guards can only dream of inflicting. Allow me to give you a small hint of what joy it is to get all those extra hours in the day you wished for (seriously, stop wishing for those, you really don’t want them).
First of all, the waking up part. You’re not just a little bit awake, you are awake. There’s no nodding back off to sleep, those sheep have been counted, measured, weighed and mentally butchered for Sunday’s roast. You are cursing the day you bought a digital clock for the bedroom because that smug little git is just sat there, blinking its illuminated digits at you, mocking the painfully slow passing of time in the wee small hours of lonely darkness. Well, it was dark when you first woke up but now it’s getting light outside and panic sets in because you know that you have only 1 hour and 42 minutes before your alarm is due to go off and then the battle to get some shut eye is lost forever! Actually, you get pretty sharp on the old mathematics when you can’t sleep. You may have struggled with sums at school but you can work out precisely how many hours, minutes and seconds of sleep are slipping away with pinpoint accuracy.
The seasoned pro will tell you now that the novelty of getting those long procrastinated chores completed at 02:00am (and 03:30am, and 05:17am) soon wears thinner than a cheap toupee. There are only so many blogs that can be written and tiles that can be re-grouted (and parents of newborns who make wonderful midnight pen pals) and none of these things help ease the knowledge that during daylight hours, you’ll be about as capable of writing your own name as an intoxicated toddler with no thumbs.
During the start of your insomnia plague, you can just about hold it together in your day job but then the ‘daynights’ (they really do just roll into one) start taking their toll. Coffee isn’t enough to sustain you through the nine-to-five (you’ve probably tried snorting the coffee grounds, just to be sure), you require so much make-up just to hold your facial features in place that drag queens high five you in the street and while normally a high flying exec, commanding million pound deals, now you’re reduced to tears just because you don’t have the right change for the snack vending machine. All you can look forward to at the end of the day is dragging your broken carcass home to do it all again.
Now, while insomnia is a brute and is a dreadful thing to have to cope with, there is one thing far worse, one thing which only makes your daylight hours even more insufferable and that is people and their “helpful” advice.
Do people honestly think they are going to have been the first to suggest the most common of sleep remedies? Do they actually think that someone in their third week of winning first prize in a zombie-a-like contest wouldn’t have thought to give some of these a little go? You are almost certainly the 17th person to have suggested whatever is about to come out of your mouth today and please do also remember that the tether of one who has seen more nighttime than a back street hooker is incredibly short and you are liable to end up with a biro in your neck (viciously stabbed in and then snapped off so the plastic splinters and the thing can’t be removed. Not that I’ve given it much thought. Much).
Still tempted to dish out your quick fix? Here are a few of the things that were commonly suggested to me during one of my more pronounced bouts of insomnolence and why the people who suggested them are lucky not to be slumped in a ditch with an ink-stained neck.
1. “If you’re tired, why not go home from work and go to bed?” - I’m not even going to point out how counterintuitive this is to balancing a fractured sleep routine, I am going to point out that this person has just told someone who can’t sleep that the solution to their problem is to go to sleep. There are no words.
2. “Try chamomile tea/other herbal remedy” – Listen sweetheart, even ‘Approved By Elephant Poachers’ strength sleeping tablets can’t keep me under, your pretty flowers have no chance! Tried them, peed them out at approximately 03:04am, thanks.
3. “Read a nice book to help you drop off” – This person clearly didn’t listen to me and therefore should be subjected to death by stationary set anyway but what they are suggesting is an aid for GETTING to sleep, not staying sedated until dawn. Also, they clearly read some really dull novels because I’d happily stay up all night to finish a gripping yarn!
4. “Masturbate” - HAHAHAHA, you’re so funny! You’re not funny, you’re being crude and also not listening (and therefore should be Bic biro’d, as agreed above). Another remedy for actually dropping off here. If you’re a boy. I’m not a boy.
5.” Try staying awake.” – Absolutely cretinous piffle. I think the medical society has agreed that the definition of insomnia is the inability to STOP staying awake so trying to avoid any of the few winks of sleep (40 or otherwise) I might be able to snatch is rather less than appealing.
6. “Get up and go for a run.” – Thanks, I hadn’t thought of getting up and using the time productively but perhaps you’d care to survive on 3 hours sleep per night for a fortnight and see how athletic you feel at 04:00am! Just because I’m awake, doesn’t mean I have the energy of a certain battery-powered pink percussionist bunny!
7. “Stop drinking caffeine, I bet it’s all that Diet Coke you drink!” – Unless the manufacturers of Diet Coke have given it some special time-release property, how the hell can I easily get to sleep at 22:30pm only for it to work its stimulating magic at 03:34am? It’s raining geniuses!
It is only natural for people to want to fix each other. It’s either out of a caring nature or a desperate need to show off how vastly superior and knowledgeable we are but please, dear lovely people, sometimes you are not required to fix your fellow humans, especially if they don’t ask for it. In case you’re not certain of when to apply your Medical Degree (what do you mean, you don’t have one? I assumed from your abundant advice in medical matters such as sleep disorders that you had one!), here’s an example of someone who hasn’t slept well and who wants to be fixed:
“I’m very tired because I didn’t sleep well. Do you have any advice?”
Ok? Now, here’s a person who does NOT want to be fixed:
“I’m very tired because I didn’t sleep well.”
See? They didn’t actually solicit any advice. There was no question, no request for top tips and tricks, so please, for the love of Jesus’ Y-fronts, do not offer your tuppence-worth!
Dear people who don’t suffer from sleep deprived nights, your pity is welcome, your advice is not. Some things you just can’t fix so I beg of you, please just put on another pot of coffee, crack open another can of Diet Coke, ditch your lavender oil and stand well back. To those of you who don’t sleep soundly, my comrades in eye bags, my fellow insomniacs… have you tried counting sheep? Kidding!