“It’s people our age and older,” she said. “We’re the ones who can’t sleep.”
Statistics do show that the incidence of insomnia increases with age. Yet new research suggests it is more common among Americans aged 20-39 years than is generally believed. In a study released in July by the Harvard School of Public Health, 42 percent of the nearly 2,400 young adults surveyed reported having insomnia.
Other highlights of the survey are these:
- More young women reported having insomnia than young men.
- More young people born in the United States had insomnia than their foreign-born counterparts.
- Trouble sleeping was significantly associated with low health-related quality of life.
Am I surprised by these findings? Not at all. By the time I hit my 20s, I had a longstanding membership in the insomnia club.
The nights of two young women I interviewed sound frustrating and difficult:
Aziza, 24, a violinist: “I can tell whether or not I will be able to fall asleep. There are nights that I don’t even bother getting into bed. I just stay up reading all night and watch the sun rise. It is very frustrating but there is really nothing I can do. . . .When bouts of insomnia hit, I either fall asleep very early in the morning or more commonly I don’t sleep at all.
“My father is also an insomniac. He averages about four hours of sleep a night. . . . He wears a chain around his neck with Egyptian charms. I could hear the charms clinking around all night as he paced the house and smoked cigarettes, worrying about patients. I could hear him because I was up, too.”
Christie, 26, a bank teller: “Falling asleep is the problem—I have a hard time getting there.
“Once I didn’t sleep for more than a week. I would lay there with my eyes open. I’d break down and start crying because it’s really, really tough. . . . After nine days of not sleeping, I called my church and spoke with a preacher, and he prayed with me over the phone.
“I get depressed and I do feel lonely. Though my fiancé is very supportive and sympathetic, I still feel like I’m alone with the problem, like it’s something I’m going to have to figure out on my own.”
Insomnia may be more common among older adults, but it can be just as big a burden when it strikes the young.
How old were you when you started having trouble with sleep?