Thursday, February 17, 2011

All About Idiopathic Insomnia

Latest Insomnia Post: Insomnia Makes Me Cheesy

Whenever I tell someone that I have idiopathic insomnia, I get one of two responses:
  1. A lecture on improving my sleep hygiene (cut out caffeine, exercise more, follow a set sleep schedule, don't nap, take melatonin, etc. - been there, tried that!)
  2.  "You are an idiopath!" (idiopathic actually means "a disorder with an unknown cause")
I  have never been able to sleep well. Not just now, as an adult - never! Even as a baby, my parents say I was awake constantly. In fourth grade, my teacher, Mr. Carberry, suggested to my mom that she take me to a doctor because I yawned from the moment I entered the classroom until the time I left, every day. He had never seen a student who was as consistently tired as me. My mom brushed off his recommendation, as she knew I went to bed at the same time every night, with plenty of time for a good night's sleep. However, even though I was in bed, my typical night was spent tossing and turning, or simply lying with my eyes closed, completely awake.

It wasn't until I got older that I realized just how different my quality of sleep is. Sexy Nerd falls asleep the instant his head hits the pillow. If he wakes up, it's only a temporary glitch in his slumber, even if he gets up and comes back. It's so unfair! Practically every night, I either never fall asleep or I sleep in short intervals (example: asleep 10pm-11:30pm, asleep again 3am-5am). I've tried Ambien - sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn't. The same goes for Melatonin pills, lavender-filled pillows, Benadryl, chamomile tea, Tylenol PM, sleep masks, soft music, Simply Sleep, and a long list of other things that help most people fall asleep.

Something that kinda, sorta helps a tiny bit, occasionally, is to change where I'm sleeping. I may try to sleep facing the opposite end of the bed, (Sexy Nerd has rolled over to give me a kiss good morning several times, only to be surprised that he is kissing my foot!) on the floor, or on the futon in the guest room. Compared to a person without idiopathic insomnia, I still don't sleep well, but it sometimes makes a difference. Thank goodness Sexy Nerd is a heavy sleeper!

Despite this being a problem I've literally had forever, people are always surprised when I say I didn't sleep well, or at all, the previous night. They are especially surprised, and perhaps a little skeptical, when I have the same answer to their "how did you sleep last night" question, day after day. So, in an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, here is some basic information on idiopathic insomnia, straight from The American Sleep Association:

* It is known that idiopathic insomnia exists without the detectable presence of other sleeping disorders, medical problems, medication or substance use or abuse, any underlying behavioral problems that could cause poor or unfulfilling sleep, and any psychiatric disorders.

* It is not the result of poor sleep hygiene. 

* Idiopathic insomnia often occurs nightly, and may include short sleeping times, numerous nighttime awakenings that cannot be explained, and difficulty falling asleep even when the body feels sufficiently tired to do so. 

* This happens without the presence of any stress that may cause a similar scenario in others, no psychological or neurological disorders, and no medication or substance use.
On the rare night when I do fall asleep quickly and actually stay asleep, it is the most wonderful, fantastic, perfect thing!


  1. This sounds very frustrating! I've had bouts of insomnia, for a few days at a time. And it was very bad when I was pregnant. I feel very sorry for you.

    My girlfriend just went to a sleep clinic and found out she had some weird nighttime anxiety thing. She takes a very low grade anti-anxiety med and she says it doesn't put her to sleep but helps her quiet her mind to sleep. Maybe you've already done a clinic?

    I hope you find something someday that works.

  2. My husband is a light sleeper and he complains about not getting enough sleep. I'm a heavy sleeper- freight train through the bedroom sleeper and I've never been very sympathetic because I've always slept well I don't really understand what it's like. Thanks for sharing this, I'm going to try to be more sympathetic and understanding from now on!

  3. Oh! I know the feeling! Being able to sleep on time and wake up on time is such an achievement I tell you...!

  4. I know the feeling... I fall asleep most nights only to wake up around midnight and be up for hours.. Usually going back to bed around 4 am.. just to get up with the kids and hubby at 5.. and when I do wake in the middle of the night I can't just lay there.. I have to get up and do things.. like laundry, cleaning or crafts.. Hope you get some sleep!

  5. This might sound crazy but I had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for most of life, until I got pregnant. Ever since then I've been able to fall asleep fairly quickly. It may have something to do with the hormones that surge through the body.

  6. My sister seems to suffer from that as well. She had so much trouble in school bc she was always wide awake 24-7

    sorry to hear that love -- I'm an evil monster when I don't sleep -- don't be like me! hehe

    Jenn @ Peas & Crayons

  7. This is really interesting. I, too, am an insomniac and the only thing, save complete exhaustion, that allows me to sleep for more than an hour at a time, is a really restricted calorie diet. It works but I can't always make myself stick to it. This is my first visit to your blog and I really like the posts that I've been able to read so far. I'll be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  8. Wow, this sounds like a very frustrating condition! Thanks for explaining it so well. I hope you find some solutions!

  9. Oh yeah. From a fellow idiopath. It seems like there's nothing worse than being awake because your baby won't go to sleep...then there's being awake when your baby IS asleep, but probably won't be for long. Now at least my kids are old enough to rot their brains watching tv when I'm brain-dead from not sleeping. :)

  10. My husband falls asleep INSTANTLY too. I am so jealous. It takes me FOREVER to fall asleep. I probably drink too much coffee...

  11. You might have that lite sleeper gene

  12. Catakok Denmark

    I live with one who has the diagnose servere idiopathic insomnia with sleep apnea.This is a little strange he does sleep very short momments like 142 min in a ten hour night shattered into 17 short moments, no deep sleep only a mix 1/2 sleep stage, and no rem sleep. In thoes short sleep moments he had apnea up to 23 seconds. We are looking for others because he is the only one in Denmark. They the sleep proffessers had never seen something like this.
    I logged in as an subscriber hope to hear from you.
    Greating Catarina Bornholm Denmark


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