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Mental Health Entry: Adventures in Insomnia

I have encountered a lot of people that claim to have insomnia. Some of them do, but most do not. The thing is, most people don’t know what it is to be an insomniac. Most of those people that have had an episode of insomnia have really only been sleepy. They will stay up… Doing things. Television, writing, listening to music, reading… When you do things that keep your mind active, in spite of what your body is telling you (lay down and sleep!) you can’t sleep. This is just a matter of biology. 

Before I continue, I am not belittling anyone’s experiences with exhaustion, whether or not is self-inflicted. I have worked myself into exhaustion before… I have read all night, knowing that I needed sleep for the next day… but it’s not insomnia. 
The Mayo Clinic defines insomnia as:

“Insomnia is a disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or both. With insomnia, you usually awaken feeling unrefreshed, which takes a toll on your ability to function during the day. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life.

How much sleep is enough varies from person to person. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night. Many adults experience insomnia at some point, but some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia.”

While this is accurate, it doesn’t even begin to cover how it feels.

You’ve been up for a whole day, right? Remember how, after 24 hours, you feel like someone had beaten you very evenly with a concrete filled wiffle ball bat for a week? That’s just the beginning.

After a couple days… It kind of gets better. Without Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the human body begins to break down. The first thing you will notice is your memory seems to be an issue. Even though the mechanisms are not completely understood, studies have shown that REM sleep is an important part of memory building. REM sleep is necessary to consolidate your memories – transferring the memories of the day into long term memories and making them more permanent. Without sleep, you forget things.

In my case, I seem to lose connection to my vocabulary. 1-4 days in, and I will be talking and completely lose  the ability to make a coherent sentence… Mainly because I will forget words. The thing is… it’s not like I forget complex, deep or big words… I for get words like spoon, brush, and paint.

Then… your libido starts to flag… For some, this is not an issue, but it can be a real problem in some relationships. In the case of my relationship, it can be a REAL issues. I am hypersexual, and so is she… SO… when my libido wanes, it causes tension and stress that wouldn’t be there… which then leads to more sleepless nights.

As you continue, insomnia triggers depression. This is a fact for anyone… It will cause a depressive episode in those with normal brain chemistry… it can be devastating to someone with bipolar disorder. The depression will be longer, deeper and more intense. Which can really suck if you are sleepless because of a manic episode in the beginning of the insomnia phase (which does happen). Sometimes, this can cause a mixed bipolar episode… I don’t need to tell you… those suck.. Or maybe I do need to tell you… well… they suck.

Insomnia/lack of sleep will age your skin. In the short term, it makes you look like hell… in the long time, it can and will, literally, age you early.

Extended lack of sleep, in 30% (+/-7%) of cases leads to weight gain… That’s right… You can get fat from it. There is a link between sleep and the peptides that control appetite. There are two of them that regulate it all… Ghrelin and leptin. Grehlin makes you hungry. Leptin makes you feel full. When you are tired, you ned up with a lack of leptin and elevated ghrelin levels. Further data suggests that not only does lack of sleep appears to stimulate appetite, but really makes you crave high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods. So, proper sleep should be a part of a proper exercise regimen.

Lastly… chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders effect your overall health… Your risk for certain conditions increases… conditions such as:

  • Heart Disease
  • Heart Attack
  • Heart Failure
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
A British research program called “The Whitehall 2 Study”, researchers looked at the effects of sleep paterns affected mortality rates. They studied more than 10,000 over two decades. The study showed that sleeping 5 or fewer hours a night nearly doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
I know I started this with a statement that most people don’t actually have insomnia, but this is serious. If you are laying in bed for hours a night and are unable to sleep… see a doctor. This is a SERIOUS health risk. There are medications for it… and you may need them. In rats, forced insomnia has resulted in death after 28 days. Fatal familial insomnia has killed people after several months with no sleep at all. 
I speak from experience… Today is my 6th day of only managing to get a maximum of 1 hours of sleep. That one hour is not so bad. I have had bouts of complete sleeplessness. My record is 17 days without sleep. I was hallucinating… and I was found sitting in my bathtub with the shower running… fully clothed and weeping because I was unable to sleep, eat or think. 
While there are a couple INCREDIBLY rare cases in which people have gone YEARS without sleep and suffered no ill effects from it, it is unlikely that you are one of those people… so, if you have been unable to sleep for more than 4 days… Seek help.
Images in this issue SHAMELESSLY stolen from the following sources:

4 thoughts on “Mental Health Entry: Adventures in Insomnia”

  1. Good post, Kris. I suffer it too, but it seems to get better, then get serious as hell, then get better. It’s like being on a sleep roller coaster. Since I’ve had so many health problems recently, it was really bad. The insomnia on top of the memory scramble from the propofol when I was in the cold coma was a very interesting (in a not at all fun way) experience. I couldn’t remember my kids’ birthdays and a whole lot of things you would think a person couldn’t forget. Because I have a young baby at home though, they wouldn’t medicate me for it. Now, I just have to lay awake and hope for two hour… four if I’m lucky and have been laying in bed trying for forever.

    1. Yeah… I am in the process of getting an appointment with my doctor in an attempt to get some meds for it. cause it is… well… I suspect it is slowly killing me. Even if I pass out from exhaustion and am out for 2-3 days…I still feel like crap.

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