The Mighty Logo

How I Learned to Cope With Insomnia

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Insomnia: A sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and not be able to get back to sleep.

When I first read that definition, I was floored. Finally, I had a name for what I had been facing for almost a year. The discovery brought relief, but unfortunately, I still needed to overcome it. But I did, and I hope my experience can help others who experience the same thing.

It wasn’t my first time struggling with something like this. Ever since I moved to my boarding school on Jeju Island, South Korea at the tender age of 13, I’ve struggled with anxiety and homesickness. But during middle school, it wasn’t as much of an issue. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful roommate who supported me, made me laugh, and helped ease my fears about being so far away from home. However, things took a turn for the worse when I reached high school.

When 10th grade rolled around, my school dropped a bombshell: We would all be required to live in single rooms, without the roommates who had lived with us for the last five years. I was devastated. True, my roommate and best friend would still be in the same building, but it wasn’t the same as having her beside me whenever I felt anxious, homesick, or scared. Suddenly, I was doing a lot more things on my own, from laundry, to cooking, to studying. While a lot of people would be thrilled at getting a room to themselves, to me, it felt more like a prison.

This isolation took a toll on my sleep schedule. Anxious about my performance in school, I would stay up until four in the morning staring at words in my textbooks. When I finally did lie down to sleep, I wasn’t able to — my ears would ring with a horrible, deafening sound, as though my head was about to explode all over my room.

Soon enough, this pattern began to repeat itself every night, to the point where I was barely sleeping more than an hour at a time. Desperate, I began taking sleeping pills prescribed by my doctor, which did help me get a little more sleep, but left me feeling foggy and disoriented. Before long, my dad took them away from me, reasoning they were only making me sicker, and I was back to square one. Without proper sleep, everything seemed to snowball. My grades began dropping, I began isolating even more from my friends, and my anxiety spiked, leaving me jittery and depressed during the waking hours.

Finally one night, as I was lying in bed, watching the clock tick toward yet another full night of no sleep, I began to sob. Why was this happening? I just wanted to go to sleep! Why couldn’t I go to sleep?

In a moment of desperation, I threw open my laptop and frantically Googled my symptoms. In what felt like a miracle, I stumbled upon an article on insomnia and its symptoms, and a light was switched on. I quickly began writing down the symptoms and what I could do to alleviate them. Oddly enough, I didn’t sleep again that night, but it was because I was researching how to cure my insomnia.

First, the biggest cause for me was stress. I had been struggling with a lot of anxiety over my grades, my family, and I had no one to talk to late at night all alone in my dorm. Therefore, I started stepping out of the isolation chamber I had cocooned myself in for all those months. I started hanging out with my former roommate more often, joining my friends for badminton games, and going on evening walks with my friends.

Another cause of insomnia is poor sleep habits. Reflecting on my daily routine, every day, I took long naps after school, as I wasn’t able to sleep during the night. This caused me to go to bed at midnight, continuing to have less sleep than needed and making myself tired the next day, forming a vicious cycle that just kept on going. It took a while to break these habits, but eventually, I was able to get my sleep schedule under control. Irregular bedtime schedules, naps, an uncomfortable sleep environment, watching smartphones, or eating before bed are all factors that disturb our sleep cycle.

According to my research, the risk of insomnia is greater if you are a woman, under a lot of stress, don’t have a regular sleep schedule, or have issues with mental or physical health. Therefore, I hope people acknowledge the signs of insomnia that may appear to anyone and know the fact it can be surmounted through time and effort. When I was going through it, I never imagined I would be able to break this cycle. But I did, and it led to not only a better sleep schedule, but a better and more balanced life.

Getty image by Alona Kryvoruchko

Originally published: November 10, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home