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What everyone knows about insomnia is that it means you can’t sleep. So people see something like a Lunesta commercial and think, “Oh sometimes I have trouble sleeping. I must be an insomniac.” People think insomnia is lying in bed feeling wide awake, like you have too much energy. That’s what it is. You have too much energy, so you just need to do something like exercise or take a bath or have a bowl of cereal at 2 AM. Your body and brain are clearly not in sync, that’s what it is.
(It’s not. That’s not it at all.)
People think you can catch sleep with melatonin or counting sheep or breathing exercises. You can find “Quick Tips” on Pinterest that teach you how to make fancy teas or link you to special sleepy time playlists. “Tire yourself out,” is what they tell you, like it’s easy! Like you’re not already so, so tired.
“No coffee after 3 PM,” they say.
“Put your pajamas on at eight o’clock,” they say.
Warm milk. New mattress. Buy this, try that, sing yourself a song. Try asking for a cuddle.
None of these things work. They never ever work. Insomnia isn’t feeling too awake. Insomnia is feeling an intense exhaustion that settles beneath your skin and works its way into your bloodstream. It fills you up like an overfilled glass of water, spilling out of you in waves. It settles in the back of your head and sings, screams, how tired you are but how you have to stay up. This is what keeps you awake. It isn’t a restless sleep, because the sleep is easy once it gets there. But only if it gets there. If.
Sleep is like a friend coming to visit on a train. You arrive early to pick them up from the station and then you wait. And you wait. And you wait. And you wait for them until you find yourself questioning if they’re even going to come. If they’re ever going to come. Because sometimes sleep is like that. It forgets about you until you see the sun starting to come up. And you hear birds chirping outside your window. And you just want to cry because you can’t believe this is happening again. If, if, sleep’s train pulls in—it’s three hours late—it runs to you with wide open arms, saying, “I’m so sorry!” You’ve been laying in bed all night, and it’s morning, but sleep is so happy to see you. And you it. But some nights you aren’t so lucky.
(You also can’t nap if you have insomnia. You can sometimes, sure, but falling asleep during the day is just as difficult as night. You didn’t get any sleep last night. It’s written on your face, stained into the skin around your eyes and caught in the tight corners of your mouth that are fighting to keep the yawns in. Because a yawn is a cry for help and a sign of weakness all in one breath. So you try to nap, but now sleep is taking a taxi to grab lunch with you and it’s stuck in traffic.)
If, on those nights, you do fall asleep, pray to God you don’t wake up. If you do, you’re a goner. Because there is no going back. Once you’re awake again you are staying that way. And the cycle repeats itself at 4:58 in the morning. Insomnia is being tired, so tired, that if you could sleep for five minutes, you would be just as grateful than if you could sleep for a year.