New York Times Blog

On New Year’s Eve, home from a party, around 3 AM, I happened onto a blog on a New York Times Nov. 7 article, “Curing Insomnia Without the Pills.”

599 people had responded to this article, which was one of those well-intentioned articles, “you can sleep without pills, just follow the simple rules,” and I sat there riveted, read through all 599 postings. There was no heat in the room where the internet connection is, I was freezing, bundled up sweaters and coats, and I sat there until 5 AM, reading every single posting. I was amused to come upon the comment, somewhere in the 400s, that if you’ve read this far, you know you’re a real insomniac. Yup!

There were so many voices on this blog that could have been me talking/writing. Here are a few:

I have tried these B-mod techniques, and they are probably good for someone with garden variety insomnia, but not for true sufferers. And it is hard to listen to all this light chatter… and once again have the blame cast on my behaviour problems. It just ain’t so. …

So please ease up on the cheery light approach to a very real, and disabling problem. One size does not fit all.

Great advice and easy to follow if you happen to live in an enclosed contemplative monastery. Any advice for the rest of us?

As a person who suffered for many years and consistently tried all of the “behavioral techniques” listed, I can’t even begin to express how annoying advice from people who don’t really understand the problem can be.

While I wouldn’t ignore the sleep hygiene advice, it is not an adequate answer for most of us. Just once I’d like to hear an honest “There isn’t much we can do.”

the article trivialized the pain, suffering, and potentially lethal consequences created by severe and chronic insomnia.

Don’t tell me to go see any more doctors who can’t get their heads out of the clouds because they think they know what it is I go through… Try and understand what it is a real insomniac goes through and let everyone you know that for people like me…we don’t care if Ambien is addictive… For us it is a small miracle that gives our lives normalcy.

I was amazed to hear so many people saying exactly what I said in the book—or maybe not so amazed, since if I hadn’t thought there were lots of us, I wouldn’t have spent six years writing Insomniac. I was heartened to hear so many sticking up for themselves, saying, enough is enough, we don’t want that same-old advice. To be fair, there were other voices, who said that behavioral modification did work— one guy who’d been to boot camp said he learned there that “it works.” And it does work for some—how many, and what kind of people, and what kind of insomnia they have, nobody knows.

I was also interested to see how many people said they’ve lived with insomnia all their life, had it since childhood—and yet childhood onset insomnia is said to be rare.

I’m always moved, when I read through postings from insomniacs, to see what people live with, how they manage. And also intrigued to find the things they come up with, ways they find of living with it. I recommend this blog—it’s good reading.

I have learned more about sleep from this lively discussion by many obviously experienced and knowledgeable readers then I would have had I gone to a sleep clinic.

I’ll keep this site—will not feel alone with my problem again” wrote a 74 year old woman, four hundredth something.

I got to leave the 600th posting, on the cusp of the new year, and to say Happy New Year.

And P.S., at the party I’d just come home from, I’d consumed nearly a bottle of champagne and several rich desserts. I then stayed up way too late, staring into a computer screen till nearly dawn, and with all that booze and sugar coursing through my system, violating every rule in the book, I dropped off and slept six straight hours, without a pill, something I manage maybe a half dozen times a year. Go figure. Of course, it might as easily have flipped the other way. I guess in a way that’s not very helpful, I’m sort of fatalistic about my sleep. Sometimes the sleep fairy visits, mostly she does not.

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  1. This is a very interesting web site. I have not been here before; it is sure to help people who have trouble sleeping.

    –Stephen Snow

  2. Do you feel that the emotions you felt after reading those posts was cathartic and deeply validating? and that might have had an effect on your sleep? Even if this proved to be a factor how often can one expect that. Well good luck! – Michael

  3. One missing link is: after weeks, months and years of insomnia, wouldn’t you imagine that one would need a period of “catch-up” sleep, before getting back toward “normal.” What is a “sedative pill hangover” the next day in someone who may need 3-4 full days of “catch-up” NREM sleep, not to mention several hours of REM-Stage catch-up as well? As a physician watching my patients’ sleep impairment for forty years, I began using “low-dose” Doxepin (50-75mg) daily at supper, encouraging my patient to sleep ad lib for 3-4 days, then if not successful, would add Thioridazine 50-75mg daily at supper, once again allowing ad lib sleep for several days. Those small doses do not continue to cause daytime sedation, once you get partly “caught-up,” but often seemed to maintain noctural sleep quite well. Some patients had obvious extra dreaming, even hypnopompic hallucinations, and all felt consistently better. My patients have maintained these same doses for years, allowing near normal sleep maintenance, and no escalating dosages. Increasing doses above these “sub-therapeutic” levels does not work because these drugs in usual “psychiatric dosages” 150-200mg Doxepin, and 200-600mg of Thioridazine, severely suppress REM-Stage, which MAY be the Stage insomniacs NEED most urgently. Nudging sleep in the “catch-up” direction, extending sleep maintenence a little so that REM can continue rather than causing the patient to wake-up and interrupt further REM, seemed to me to work in my insomnia/patient group of drug addicts, chronic pain, headaches, irritable bowel, etc., etc.! Remember, you’ve got to catch-up lost sleep before expecting to consistently feel more nearly “normal.” Waddaya think? Ed, MD.

  4. I’m intrigued by the discussion in the book about the hormonal effect and the hypothalamus/thymus connection. A look back at my youth and sleep, I recall waking with ‘sleep hangovers’. My mother had difficulty waking me up for school and I often awoke w/nausea as though drinking all night. In my mid 30’s, I was diagnosed w/grave’s disease and now almost 20 yrs. later and after thyroid irradiation, I’ve never been able to regain effective sleep; without sleep medication, I’m awake about every 1.5 to 2 hours. I work in a building with about 50 women. I’ve informally polled almost everyone there. 2 out of 3 women I’ve asked admit to similar sleep patterns as mine. There’s broad acceptance of this. I’ve heard comments like… “it’s an estrogen problem”; “my mother couldn’t sleep either”; “I’ve always slept like this”; “I’m used to it”; “must be hereditary… my daughter can’t sleep either”… Funny thing is… many of these women have associated health problems: heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, high BP, IBS, Crohns, anxiety/depression… and it seems that no one questions the connection between their health and their sleep. Amazing!

  5. I love this site and am so glad that there is a forum to discuss these topics in a rational way. Unfortunately I FIND THIS SITE VERY DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE! Is it just me? Or is this website visually confusing. For people who don’t sleep well, visual processing is impaired. We need a site with a simple, clear layout and visually friendly fonts. I looked for a way to post this message to the website administrator… but, again… confusing layout… difficult to see who/how to tell the right person.

  6. I love the book which brought me to this site–what a relief to know that there are so many others who are fed up with the medical model and the whole sleep hygiene false panacea. Has anyone else noticed that when you give doctors your list of meds, which includes anti-depressants, they give you that, “Well-of-course-you-can’t-sleep-you’re-depressed” look of patient and smug knowingness? Hey, White Coat! Ever think I might be depressed because I can’t sleep? Ms. Greene, yours was NOT a bitchy book. It was so satisfying on so many levels (and validating). Frustrating to know how little the “experts” know about insomnia. I have always considered myself the expert on my own body, no matter what doctors say. I also do the drug-shuffle thing, since I build resistance to meds very quickly. My mom has Alzheimer’s and I’m fairly terrified that some of these drugs I take might contribute to future memory problems. So do I sleep now, and live life like a normal person? or do I zombie-walk now, in order to prolong the zombie existence? It’s a quality of life issue.

  7. Sign: umsun Hello!!! rcuwwymhyw and 8488ssgfhphzye and 6577I love your site. 🙂 Love design!!! I just came across your blog and wanted to say that Ive really enjoyed browsing your blog posts.

  8. I’ve been a chronic insomniac my whole life. Now they say chronic insomnia increases the chance that I will develop Alzheimer’s. The pressure to sleep gets much worse, which of course means my insomnia gets worse as well. This is a hell of insomnia and worry. Any advice?

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