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I have insomnia -- the "I haven't been able to sleep regularly in 25 years" kind. It's extremely hard to talk about, because most people attach the term to any random night that they had trouble sleeping. "Sorry, I'm kind of loopy today. I had insomnia last night." Mara Wilson can back me up when I say that as a disorder progresses, it becomes increasingly harder to not spin kick someone in the throat when they lay claim to it like some twisted badge of honor. For the 1/3 of you who have actual insomnia, maybe you can show this to your friends the next time they treat it like an annoyance rather than the hope-shredding personal hell it is.

5
"Just Take Some Sleeping Pills!"

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What Normal People Think:

"You can't sleep? Well, there's an easy solution. Just about every store on the planet carries sleep aids -- you don't even need a prescription for them. That's what I do when I'm having a restless night, and it works just fine. Ten bucks: problem solved. You're welcome, pussy."

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"I can't believe I never thought of that! Thank you, Dr. Friend!"

But the Reality Is ...

Sleeping pills don't work. Yes, in some cases they can help, but it's a temporary fix that doesn't last long. Not only does your body eventually build up a tolerance to the medication, but coming off of it can induce even stronger insomnia. It's called the rebound effect, and it's a lot like a playground bully finding your hiding spot, grabbing your underwear, and pulling it around your neck while yelling, "You think you can hide from me?! There is no escape, bitch! I will wedgie your fucking corpse!"

Of course, you could always go the prescription route. What could be safer than medication, closely monitored by a doctor? Not taking any medication at all. According to that link, "Researchers found that people taking prescribed sleep medications were almost five times more likely to die over the 2.5-year study, compared with those who didn't take sleep medication." Given, I don't know the details of the actual deaths. For all we know, those could have been people mainlining Ambien while watching Pink Floyd the Wall.

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"It's like ... the wall wasn't just a physical wall, man. Wild."

But the point is that if you're the one handing out advice to someone who has the disorder, the chances of your "it's obvious to me" solution being 1) something they haven't already tried, or 2) something a doctor hasn't already thought of are pretty close to zero. If the solution were easy, insomnia wouldn't even be a thing. We'd all be sleeping so hard, our beds would have bruises.

4
"It Could Be Worse. At Least It's Not Life-Threatening."

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What Normal People Think:

"You're going to have to pardon me if I don't burst into tears over your little sleep problem. I've had two back surgeries in the last year as a direct result of carrying around this enormous penis. My wife left me because she couldn't handle the constant orgasms, and every time I get a boner, I have to take emergency blood pressure medication. I've got real problems to worry about. Be happy yours only makes you tired and doesn't present an actual threat to your health."

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"I have to wear chaps now because normal pants can't contain it."

But the Reality Is ...

Even outside of the prescription medication problem I mentioned earlier, insomnia can kill your face right off. Is it likely to kill you? No. Thankfully, the fatal form of the disorder (fatal familial insomnia) is so rare, you have a better chance of Christina Hendricks flashing you multiple times in one day than having it.

The real problem comes from the effects of insomnia. Fatigue and even the medication used to treat it can cause auto accidents. It's closely related to sleep apnea, which in basic terms is your body saying "Fuck breathing!" Unchecked insomnia can turn into sleep deprivation, which carries a pretty large arsenal of ways to kick your ass, including diabetes, stroke, and heart failure.

Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
"Dude, he finally fell asleep. Leave him alone!"

The heart problem isn't a small one, either. Studies have found that people who don't get sufficient sleep have a 63 percent higher risk for cardiovascular disease than people who do. It makes sense: Your heart is working its ass off all day, and sleep is the only time it gets to slow down and take a break. If it doesn't ever get one, it's eventually going to throw down its time card and walk out, yelling, "Fuck this whole factory! I'll be at the bar if anyone else wants to walk out with me!"

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3
"At Least Treatment Is Awesome."

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What Normal People Think:

"So you get to do a sleep study? Man, that sounds awesome, taking a couple of days off work to do nothing but sleep. I'd give up one of my own children to do that. And then at the end, they hand you a bottle of kickass drugs that knock you on your ass? Jesus, what are you complaining about? They couldn't make that any more awesome without filling the room with hookers and free money."

Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP!"

But the Reality Is ...

A sleep study means you're lying in bed, still not sleeping. Especially since you know you're being monitored (if you're in a lab setting). Most of the time, though, a sleep study is nothing more than going about your daily routine and keeping a "sleep diary," which sounds like it was made up by a 14-year-old girl.

And those kickass drugs? Those are kind of a last resort or emergency effort. Most of the time, insomnia is treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can involve denying you sleep. That's right, the treatment for insomnia is more insomnia. That sounds insane, but it makes sense when you understand the ridiculous cycle that the disorder puts a person in. You may sleep for two hours, and then wake up at 2 a.m. as if you're totally fine. You go about your day until mid-morning, when you find it catching up to you, and now you're as tired at 9 a.m. as most people are at midnight. If you have a normal job, you're just fucked. If you don't have one or you work from home, you can get a nap. Since you can't do that all day, you set your alarm for two hours and lie down. Four hours after that, you're dead tired again. You give in to it because you know you're not going to be able to fall asleep at a normal human time, so you take it when you can get it. Kind of like sex for a single person, only with sleep.

Chris Clinton/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"I've got a king-size bed at home. I'll be back after I go use that for a few hours."

Your body gets used to sleeping in little bursts, and retraining it to not be a sporadic asshole is next to impossible without help. Meanwhile, anyone who knows about your nap schedule is looking at you like you're the laziest piece of shit in the world, and there is no way to make them understand what's actually going on. So instead, all you can do is shout, "Get off my back, Mom! I am an adult! You never loved me!"

2
"I Wish I Had Insomnia. I'd Get So Much Stuff Done."

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What Normal People Think:

"Man, if I couldn't sleep, I'd take advantage of that so hard. I could clean my house or catch up on all the TV shows I miss while working. I could finally write that Scrubs fan-fic I've been putting off for the past decade. For that matter, I could take on a second job and double my income. I would become a GOD! Bow before me, mortal!"

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"I slay my insomnia with productivity!"

But the Reality Is ...

Insomnia is not a blessing in disguise. It is a curse right out in the open, all up in your grill. The most common misconception I encounter is people thinking the disorder is the inability to get tired. The truth is the opposite: You're constantly tired ... you just can't shut down. So when you wake up at a time when everyone else is cold-sweat dreaming about murdering their families, the last thing on your mind is being productive.

Instead, you find yourself flinging off the covers in a fit of violent cursing and then doing anything at all that seems even remotely relaxing ... which usually involves vacantly staring at a computer monitor or TV screen until time vaporizes and the sun suddenly appears. The rest of your day is spent dodging cheerful voices and praying to demons for a moment's relief from the nausea and stomach cramps that come from downing coffee and Red Bull.

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"May have been a little poop in that one. Yeah, definitely some poop there."

But at no point are you more productive. If anything, you're less productive, because when you finally have to get up and actually do something, you're too tired to focus. Your physical movements and reaction times are lethargic, so any job or chore that takes some skill is done at half speed. And instead of having your mind on the task at hand, all you can think is "I would bend my own grandmother over and punch her directly in her asshole in exchange for just one night of uninterrupted rest."

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1
"Well, at Least There Are No Weird Side Effects."

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What Normal People Think:

"You're tired. Boo hoo. Deal with it. My wife is an ER nurse and only gets about four hours of sleep a night. She survives just fine. My uncle had to have chemo -- he lost all of his hair and spent a couple of weeks vomiting every time he even smelled food. My cousin had a kidney treatment that made her pee bright green. Do you have any idea how badly that ruined her golden shower parties? The biggest side effect you deal with is looking like you just capped off a bong."

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"Bring on the work, bitches! I'm ready to throw down!"

But the Reality Is ...

Exploding head syndrome. I have this, and it sucks about 30 pants' worth of sweaty, floppy balls.

Imagine falling into bed, so tired your body has started vetoing movement commands from your brain. You're not even sure if you removed your clothes, but you don't care. You can feel yourself rapidly drifting away, and at this point, you wouldn't even care if you never woke up again. You just need relief, and it is coming. Then, just as you finally nod off, a bolt of lightning goes off inside your head, sending what feels like a literal explosion of electricity through your whole body. It's not a sound, but it's loud. You can hear it inside your head. You can feel the shock in every muscle. You're jolted awake, but you quickly start drifting again. A few minutes later -- same thing.

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"I better have acquired some fucking powers out of this."

This can go on for hours, and there is no way to get past it. There is no treatment. It's just there, and you are at its mercy. Exploding head syndrome is rare, so not many of you have to worry about it, but I deal with this shit at least a few times a week. That's on top of what every other insomniac goes through: nausea, cramping, loss of concentration, memory problems, dizziness, and hatred for all sound-producing creatures that make their homes near bedroom windows.

Nobody is asking you to feel sorry for insomniacs. We want your pity about as much as we want your advice. We just want you to understand, the next time you have a single sleepless night and tell us how you suffered from insomnia, why our hands are steadily curling into fists.


John is an editor and columnist right here at Cracked, with a new article every Thursday. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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