In a culture of quick fixes to stay awake, it is almost assumed that the symptoms of insomnia, that is surviving off the absolute minimal amount of sleep, is an advantage. When others are accomplishing nothing as they sleep, you can get ahead of the game. Slogans like “Red Bull gives you wings, ” and Monster Energy’s “Release the Beast” are polluting our minds that staying up is a “superpower.”
However, the prime time I see the ads for these energy drinks is when it is past 3 a.m., on Hulu, after I’ve accepted the fact I won’t sleep. So, to be clear, just because someone does not sleep does not mean they are productive. Most nights I wish I could use insomnia to my advantage and channel my inner Beyonce to get stuff done. Yet, the difference between Beyonce and me is that insomnia symptoms keep me from getting well rested.
Sleep is the ultimate “superpower” for humans. With sleep comes natural energy, not energy at the cost of accelerated heart beats. When I first started my journey with insomnia, I was around 13 years old and was playing soccer. I was going on 2 days without sleep and decided that 5 Hour Energy would give me the power to get through practice. As a result, at 13 years old I almost had a heart attack as extreme sleep deprivation, large consumptions of caffeine, and exercise does not mesh well together. So to answer the question “what is it like to not be able to sleep?” is simple: it is as mentally exhausting as it is physically exhausting.
You want to be like Queen B (as the slogan goes, “you have the same 24 hours a day as Beyonce”), but your mind is so bogged down that you feel you can’t move. Yet, at the same time, it is racing through thoughts at all speeds, and you don’t feel mentally strong enough to silence them. You wish for sleep, but sleep does not come. The best analogy to describe the symptoms of insomnia is to think of a car stuck in park as the driver stomps on the gas pedal. The wheels are spinning, yet the overall subject is not moving. Smoke forms until the subject finally breaks.
So the next time you see your insomniac of a friend/family member/loved one, try to restrain from saying we need to get sleep. We love that you’re concerned about our well-being, but trust me that sleep is our set destination point, we just got a little turned around. Don’t fret, though, we will get there, and no I will not ask for directions.