Why you should sleep more (according to a Millennial insomniac)

Insomnia is behind some of the most pressing health concerns facing many Americans today.

It took me a long time to realize that my insomnia was just another thing, in a long list of things, authored by my self-hatred. Rest never felt earned.

Our obsession with over-exertion has reconceived the vital mechanism of a good night’s rest as some kind of reward for productivity.


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Do you think Elon Musk slept when he was re-inventing space travel? Do you think the wheel came to Grog in a dream? Red eyes and twitchy fingers have become the sure marks of any good-hardworking professional.

“Whether caused by stress, illness, medications, or other factors, poor sleep is very common,” says Michael Perlis, the director of the behavioral sleep medicine program.

Roughly one-in-four Americans develop insomnia each year. The correlative factors are pretty varied but stress, anxiety, and depression are principle amongst them. For those with neurological afflictions, or chronic pain, sleepless nights can be successfully mitigated by medications or supplements. But for those of us that owe sleep deprivation to psychological reasons, some serious cognitive work needs to be done.

Arbitrary shortcomings

A day spent side-stepping thoughts seems to aggravate them-like a Mogwai in water. By dusk, they’re barbed and even more determined.

At its worst, nothing can effectively drown out the hum of failure. The “why I did or didn’t do that” takes you hostage-and the outlay is simple: Bath in masochism or face tomorrow in a caffeine-charged haze. It inspires panic. All our cruelest insecurities inch violently close, demanding undivided attention, wielding a sharp and sudden remembrance of all the things we forgot. To us, sleep is submission – a confession of incompetence. 

We need to learn to let ourselves off the hook. Day-by-day that is. Self-awareness is important. As is discipline. But success can’t be properly observed in 24-hour increments. It’s a process. Not a linear one, but one with many-mini failures in mind.

There is simply no other way to live, unfortunately. You have to find a way to be okay with the little defeats that define existence. They’re inevitable. It’s all the more reason to take solace in the evolutionary process designed to help us properly assess thoughts, reenergize our cells, repair somatic damage, dispose of brain waste and vitalize memory.

A study conducted back in 2016 by the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich confirmed sleep to be a contributory element of processing and integrating distressing memories.

The team of researchers organized test subjects into two groups before instructing them to watch traumatic video footage. One group slept in the lab immediately after their viewing while being monitored via an electroencephalograph. The other group was tasked with staying awake.

“Our results reveal that people who slept after the film had fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than those who were awake,” explains the study’s author Birgit Kleim

When the preoccupations that menace sleep aren’t our own creation

“On average, women who experienced one of the traumatic events studied, reported losing an average of 129.7 minutes of sleep each night, nearly half an hour more than their male counterparts.” – Mattress Advisor study

Mattress Advisor conducted a study of over  1,000 men and women to better understand the pernicious relationship between sleep and trauma. The research disclosed that 80% of individuals surveyed suffer from chronic insomnia as a result of experiencing and or witnessing distressing events. Additionally, an overwhelming majority of the respondents consulted for the study, favored lifestyle changes over sleep-aid medication. Maya Siman commented on the findings:

“Around 30% of respondents changed the position or arrangement of their furniture, and 27% installed blackout curtains. Thirty-six percent tried sleeping with the TV on, a change that may do more harm than good. While some background noise may help people fall asleep faster, the blue light and changes in brightness and volume that occur while the TV is on can impact the quality of sleep. Sleeping with the TV on can keep you in the lighter stages of the sleep cycle, preventing your body from experiencing the stages where memories are consolidated and restorative work is done.”

Independent reports have championed certain organic sleep aids as effective for some conditions, but by and large, I think attacks on the mind should be addressed in kind. From personal experience, I can say that the sleep procured from medication saw me falling asleep more consistently at the expense of feeling much less replenished the following day. Good rest survives on healthy mental transmission – a clear understanding of your cognitive needs.

Siman’s project elevates mental solidarity as an important component, saying: “Seeking out a professional for treatment is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s important to fight the stigma, and remember you are not alone. Reaching out and seeking help can be life-saving.”

I spoke with a Brooklyn based performer to get a better sense of the philosophy purported by Siman’s study in motion. Sarah Jane Dillon, who had no previous knowledge of the finding’s indexed above, echoed its sentiment pretty faithfully. Her trauma fueled insomnia, rejected psychiatric comforts. In fact, medicine made things much worse. She states:

“Anxiety and PTSD medication gave me vivid nightmares that were worse than any trauma I experienced. I had Ativan in case of emergency but the benzo effect was similar to alcohol. I would knock out but didn’t feel rested and all of my problems were still there in the morning.

Dillon continues: “I feel talk therapy is the best way to heal from and process trauma. Group therapy is nice because you feel solidarity with fellow survivors who have experienced the fall out from trauma and you feel less alone and hopeful in the healing process.”

Shared experience rallies individuals in the right direction. Dillon supplanted crutches, like alcohol for instance (which she also found to exasperate things) with tools of self-enrichment:

“Making myself a healthy meal, going for a walk in a Botanical Garden, reading poetry, writing jokes or journaling about my experience, practicing mindfulness and meditation, meeting up with a friend who lifts me up when I’m feeling a bit down, painting my fingernails you know stuff I do just for me….”

“In regards to getting better sleep incorporating exercise and chamomile tea before to calm me down helps promote a more restful sleep since intoxication can actually disturb your rem cycle.”

You owe your thoughts engagement

A night of restful, undisturbed sleep isn’t just the product of acknowledging your failures and toxic memories. It’s also important to address them, and everything else that occupies your day. Mindfulness seems to contribute to serenity in every facet of our lives. Being present equips us with tools to better understand the aim of our anxiety and stress.

Insomnia is a perversion of cognitive presence. Little things both positive and negative, politely request our attention throughout our day until neglect morphs them into REM highwaymen. A good rubric for a mind ever in the moment can be found in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

The novel takes place across one day in the poshly energetic life of Clarissa Dalloway. She’s constantly in observance of this and of that. Every muslin gown, every sigh, and every unsaid intention. It’s a novel comprised of musings. The narrative is woven by lax surveillance of surroundings and inner-feelings. Clarrissa’s observations produce this lyrical clarity. Under scrutiny,  inner conflict yields ease and enlightenment.

The fear of our unpleasant thoughts dually shields us from our comforting ones. More than helping us sleep, being present is the most active ingredient in meaningful memories, which enable us to feel like we’re living and not merely existing. On this Dillon adds:

“The best way to squash old traumatic memories is to make new better ones in the life you took back for yourself. Talk to yourself like you were 5 years old again and that kind of self-love and lifting dialogue will get you through the worst of it. Reach out to your friends and plan a trip to Bali. You have so much of your better life to live.”

Phantoms, of your own creation or otherwise, don’t get a say in your wellbeing.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.