Just about everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. Think about the times in your life when, no matter what you tried — warm milk, mellow music, counting sheep –you couldn’t get to sleep.
Now, imagine this happening at least three times a week for 3 months or more. That’s chronic insomnia. For the 10% to 30% of adults who live with this condition, it affects many areas of life. Long-lasting sleep deprivation may lead to health issues ranging from forgetfulness to depression to a higher risk of heart disease.
“The hard thing is you’re basically running on empty all the time,” says Steven Binko, 33, a Milwaukee-based entertainer who was diagnosed with chronic insomnia 15 years ago. “People attribute insomnia with being on a caffeine buzz. It’s not like that. It’s really a restlessness.”
People who live with chronic insomnia say others may not understand how their condition differs from short-term sleeplessness. They say they often get well-meaning but short-sighted suggestions on how to “solve” their sleep problems.
“It’s why I don’t talk about it too much, because I get all sorts of advice every time I do,” says LaShawn Wiltz, 45, a content creator who lives in Decatur, GA. “I’m 45. I think I’ve heard everything.”
Wiltz has been living with chronic sleep maintenance insomnia since high school (that means she has trouble staying asleep). Yet people still regularly suggest things like meditation or a relaxing bedtime routine.
“I’m the queen of routines! I’ve had a nighttime routine forever,” she says.
Medication suggestions aren’t helpful, either, she says. Chances are, a person with long-term insomnia has already tried whatever you’re recommending, whether it’s a sleeping pill or herbal remedy.
Over the years, Wiltz has tried sleeping pills as well as over-the-counter allergy medicines and sleep aids. “But they always made me feel hungover, so I don’t do it anymore,” she says.
Binko, whose bouts with insomnia and chronic fatigue syndrome can leave him without rest for days, has been down the same road.
“I’ve tried everything from Ambien to Tramadol, even just Benadryl and things over the counter, but none of it really creates the sedating effect that I need to go to sleep,” he says.