There are More Insomniacs in America Than You Think

| Thu Jun. 7, 2012 12:26 PM EDT

Austin Frakt writes today that you don't have to be fretfully pacing the house all night to fit the definition of an insomniac. It's a lot simpler than that:

Consistent difficulty in falling or staying asleep that causes problems during the day is all it takes to be an insomniac. That can mean instead of getting, say, 7 hours of sleep each night, one gets only 5 or 6 a handful of nights a week. That can happen, for example, if you devote 7 hours to sleep but it takes you 30 minute to fall asleep and then you wake up in the night and can’t return to sleep for another 30 minutes or more. You’re still getting a lot of sleep, just not quite what you need. The key is that it has to be problematic for daytime function or the cause of distress. There are tons of people who only sleep 5 or 6 (or fewer) hours many nights of every week. But if they’re not upset by it and they function fine, they’re not insomniacs.

On the flip side, many insomniacs actually function very well most days and have nights of decent sleep. I am (was) one of them. It’s not like I was up at all hours every night, which is what I think many people assume insomnia must be. I bet a lot more people are insomniacs than are willing to admit. I also bet a lot of people could sleep better with a little help. Next week, I’ll report on my recovery.

By this definition, I'm pretty clearly an insomniac. Possibly I have been for years, but certainly for the past six months or so. And the past week has been gruesome. It's like having permanent jet lag: I wake up every morning at about 3 am and then toss and turn the rest of the night. Maybe I get an hour or two more sleep, maybe not, and I spend the entire morning bleary-eyed. I'm pretty sure my blogging has remained coherent during this period, but then, I'd hardly be the best judge of that, would I?

I sure wish I knew what's going on. Nothing in particular happened late last year, when this all started, and in the past I've never had any jet lag traveling west. Still having it after a week is ridiculous.

So I, for one, look forward to Austin's report next week. It would be nice not to feel cottonheaded all day long.