Insomnia is a lonely affair. No one’s up at night to keep you company, no one’s awake to talk on the phone. Apart from anonymous exchanges on the internet, you’re cut off from the warmth of conversation.
Nor can you give yourself fully to things that might otherwise appeal. Mentally and physically at low ebb, you can’t engage and take pleasure in many activities you normally enjoy.
Darkness restricts your ability to see beyond the walls of your home. You don’t get the long view, the familiar distracters. Inevitably you’re thrust inside yourself. And that can be distressing.
“You have these terrible, terrible night thoughts,” the novelist Ella Leffland said in an interview some years ago. “I think when you have insomnia, this is something that you come to understand very well: that you are alone and you are yourself, and nobody’s going to help you get through the darkest hours.”
Lonely by Day
This sense of isolation doesn’t necessarily end with the coming of the day. Trying to talk about persistent insomnia may make you feel misunderstood and lonelier still, as one participant in a focus group explained: “I feel very isolated about, basically, that nobody can conceive what it’s like … they once had a bad night’s sleep and so they ‘know what it’s like’ and they ‘just got over it’ … so it’s something obviously lacking in me.”
Christie, an insomniac I interviewed for my book, had a sympathetic fiancé, but there was no one in her life who really understood her situation. “I still feel like I’m alone with the problem,” she said. “It’s something that I’m going to have to figure out on my own.”
People with chronic insomnia may also turn away from personal contact, isolating themselves even further:
“When I haven’t had enough sleep, I want to be isolated and not have to make a lot of decisions.”
“I don’t contribute in the group chats. I often feel as if I just want to be alone and will disappear during break.
“I feel drowsy, unproductive, grumpy, sometimes tearful and anti-social. I just want to be left alone.”
Insomnia is about more than just poor sleep. Sometimes it’s about isolation, 24/7.