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Insomnia – Advice For Non-Sufferers

Jefferson as the old Rip Van Winkle, 1896

Rip Van Winkle; Long time sleep addict and smug git

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!

About prettyfeetpoptoe

I live in London and have both my own legs so I am fortunate enough to get out and about on occasion. I form many views on the things that I see and do and love nothing better than a session of linguistic gymnastics in order to share these views.

46 responses »

  1. Thanks. I nearly nodded off during this!! 🙂 When I was ill one of the most debilitating things was the lack of sleep. But it’s impossible to get people who haven’t suffered to understand.

  2. Might I suggest a tshirt with ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead on the back’ ?

  3. Diego Serrano

    M, don’t fucking start swinging at me, ok? I know you won’t like this answer.
    I learned years ago to simply not fight it anymore, embracing it, using the quiet time to read, write, ponder, whatever.
    Being a girl, I get the whole, not wanting bags under your eyes, but that’s the result of gravity. Simply lay down and read, write, whatever.
    No bags.
    Now you’re ready to be even more mental than ever, learning how to exist on four hours nightly 🙂
    Here’s a happy thought.
    The olympics are in 100 days. I’m leaving now before you take that swing.

  4. Rich Crete

    Once, when I didn’t know what to select in the restaurant, I asked my insomnolence to help and he suggested a nice Medoc to accompany my medium rare ribeye. Wait….have I possibly misused a word here?

  5. missy amber

    Pop Fish Game!!!!!! You know it makes sense. Won’t help you sleep, not productive at all, but rendered infinitely more funny by insomniac insanity. Fact.
    (Please don’t Bic me – you know I love you.)

  6. Being of the older generation, menopause and post menopause cause insomnia. I know exactly what you mean by when you wake up, you’re awake. I hate that! When you think you’re about to actually fall asleep, it’s usually about the time you normally wake up. It sucks! I feel your pain. It’s actually a lack of a certain hormone.

    • Sorry, my touch pad is very sensitive. Anyway it’s melatonin. Being that I’m not a pill popper, I won’t take meds. So I put some nice music on, prop myself up in bed (no lights on) and just listen to the music trying not to think about anything. I look at it this way-at least I’m resting.

      • I use the same rationale, at least if I’m lying still, some of my body gets a break!

        It’s the ‘not thinking about anything’ part I struggle with. My brain fizzing is what wakes me up. Stupid brain. Only cure for that is a bullet!

  7. I have no problem at all getting to sleep, but, like you, I have a lot of problems getting BACK to sleep. No remedies, no cures, no helpful advice. I am amazed, though, at how many times I wake up at 3:17am, which just happens to be the number of my house 😉

    • That’s a handy yet freaky number to wake up at. My personal favourite is 03:44, which is apparently the most common time to wake up. I like to think that I’m part of some club and that across the country there are thousands of other people hating their clocks as much as I am.

  8. John Haslett

    Nothing freaking works. Yawn! Yawn! Yawn!

  9. This is probably not the time to mention that I sleep really well. I thought not. sorry.

    • We can soon change this. I can give you such terrible nightmares that you’ll wake up screaming every night. Don’t believe me? THERE ARE NO MORE CUPPYCAKES EVER!!!

      My work here is done. 😉

      • cruel…very cruel. I will spend my nights pulling the wings off of flies in your honor. Curses! (I must have an old twinkie somewhere in my pantry…)

  10. You got freshly pressed. Whilst I liked your original post, I wanted to make sure it was legit, and not just a fluke of brilliant writing, so I ended up here (After much searching and thorough reading of your blog, as you undoubtedly have noticed).

    My favourite part of my first serious bout of insomnia, before I realised it would become a lifelong partner more faithful than a Stepford Wife, was the sleeping pills. They were AWESOME. And then they were outlawed.

    I also advocate masturbation. If Insomnia is faithful to me, I will be faithful to him/her/it/them, bring on some good vibrations! – PS I’m female.

    • Aren’t those sleeping pills addictive? I am a lifelong insomniac (had forever) and I’ve always hesitated to go on those pills. Also, keep in mind, masturbation doesn’t always work, like any other remedy, sometimes it just makes you more awake, it’s really really dependent on your body chemistry.

      • It is ultimately a cost-benefit analysis. A lot of medication is addictive and dangerous, heck, a lot of OTC cold and flu medications (at least out here) have addictive properties. The pills I was on were sedatives, put you to sleep and expect your fatigue and sleeping pattern to keep you asleep. It’s a short course that is meant to train your sleeping pattern back into sleeping in a particular cycle, then wean you off the pills. But talk to your doctor about all this, I am not a trained medical professional.

        You DO realise that a lot of my comment was meant as tongue-in-cheek humour, right? Not meant to be taken too seriously, a bit of a giggle to the main post. You’re kinda killing the funny, here…

        • Now now, play nice children. I can see we’re all a little over-tired. 😉

          Sleeping pills did nothing to me, my insomnia sees them as nothing but a mere challenge to be laughed at at 03:31. I trie mixing them with wine once (highly not at all recommended) and while I can’t remember a thing, a friend who was staying with me found the resulting behaviour highly amusing.

          Sleep tight!

  11. This is a great article. I’m not an insomniac. Never have been. I’d have to kill myself. I’ll offer no advice. I was born a deep sleeper, how do you give advice for that? I tried to tell my friend once, who is an insomniac, just to look for the little blue men behind her eyelids. She looked at me like I have five heads. I tried.

    • Little blue men? That would at least give me something different to think about at 04:28! But yes, you’re not getting any sympathy from me for your heavy deep delicioius sleep. Grrr.


      • Believe me, I would never ask for sympathy from, or offer advice to an insomniac. I value my life. You do have my sympathy, though. I’d be a stark raving bitch if I couldn’t sleep, and would end up not-sleeping in prison due to my homicidal rampage. Kudos for staying out of prison!

  12. Fellow Eye Bag Brigade Sergeant! The (insert nasty word here) woman I work with left work one day because her plane got in late the night before from her weekend away and being a “slight insomniac” she was too tired for work and went home.

    I was glad she wasn’t there. I would have biro’d her in the face.

    My suggestion, would be to get the phone numbers of all those lovely people who tried to help you during your Sleep Boot Camp, and call them everytime you wake up during the night.
    2.35am RING
    3.44am RIING
    4.57am RIIIIING!

    You know, share the love as they tried to do with their oh-so helpful “suggestions”.

    • I think I like you… There is a wonderful chicken in my area, which either has insomnia or a terrible clock,who tends to crow at these times…perhaps we could all collaborate?

      • I think I like you too! I think this is a brilliant idea. AND maybe we could record the crowing of this chicken, and at work when the people we have “shared” with are looking worse for wear, with nice eye bags growing, we could walk past and play the chicken. You know, then they could have a PTSD-like flashback!

        • Biros, chickens and 02:00am phone calls? I’m liking you people, I’m liking you a lot.

          • *Movie Voice*

            And so the Insomniaxe were formed. An elite group of sleep deprived vigilante heroes, armed with livestock, mobile phones with private caller ID’s and biros, defending those who are too cranky and sleep deprived to defend themselves, and bringing down the foe that is The Advice Giver.

            *cue theme music*

        • Depending on how we play things out, we could institute something along the lines of Pavlov’s dogs with the chicken, have them breakdown into hysterics at the sound of chicken.

          Certainly a fowl thing to do, but nonetheless eggsactly what they deserve…

  13. Oooh god I wanted to kill people! I had all kinds of insomnia, nearly went insane all summer long. I was in organic chemistry at the time, and after while I decided that I might as well stay up every night, so I partied a lot. Have you tried that? Drinking will make you not care how tired you and if you are hungover enough the next day, you won’t even notice it. Haha. nothing works when you are that tired, and anyone who tells you to slow down on the coffee has never had insomnia (not the real kind that makes you go insane).

    • Anyone who has never suffered insomnia had better not event start a sentence with “have you tried…” especially when it’s followed by a dose of advice on caffeine control. Biros all round! 🙂

  14. Wow reading your blog was so refreshing…I have redone my kitchen so many times that my hubby of soon to be three yrs in Sept is afraid to walk through the house in the morning…I have repainted rooms over night with him sleeping in them…I am worse when I am suddenly off my hormone medication thanks to insurance on occasion but even on it if I lay in bed I watch the clock and feel useless… the is great but gets so boring and does not make me sleepy just makes me still feel useless…I am running out of rooms to rearrange and paint…so did appreciate your post and teas and foods and herbal suggestions have all been tried here….what a joke….caffeine control???? Gave it up for four years and had the worst insomnia and migraines at the end that I had ever had in my life….you would have thought they would have came in the beginning…with withdrawal…nope…keep me posted if you do find a solution…am feeling like dumbo am all ears….

    • I’m kind of thinking that if our insomnia gets bad enough, we’ll stay awake through our ultimate final dirt nap. Imagine that, insomnia giving you eternal mortality! I’m not sure if that’s exciting or a thing of terror! Still, we’d all have the most wonderfully painted kitchens. 😉

  15. I love you! I found this googling for advice from actual sufferers not “experts” who have never lost a wink of sleep in their life. Whilst it didn’t fix my problem it helped me develop some rather appealing responses for these not at all helpful titbits form sleep disorder experts. Don’t ever say the words “sleep hygiene” to me or I too will be reverting to the bic.


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