My Life With Permanent Sleep Problems: A Case Study

What is it like to live with serious sleep problems in the long term? We talked to Dave, in his mid-thirties, who has been dealing with Insomnia for a decade.

Dave’s Sleep Problems

“It started due to another medical problem about 10 years ago, and I don’t know if it’s ever going to get better,” he explains. We are talking in the late afternoon – he has been awake since the previous midnight. “My problem is that once I wake up then I stay awake. I’m a very light sleeper and even the slightest thing wakes me. This tends to be quite inconvenient because I live in a flat with upstairs and downstairs neighbours.”

He has thought about moving, he says, but realistically he knows that he couldn’t afford a detached home, and he doesn’t want to live separately from his family, even though the noise they make can also be a problem.

Like many people with nocturnal awakening type insomnia, Dave is also very sensitive to changes in ambient light. “In summer I tend to wake very early, even though I have thick curtains,” he says. Sometimes he aims to go to sleep while it’s still light because this means he won’t be woken by the light getting brighter, so he has more chance of sleeping for a reasonable amount of time.

Everyday Life

Due to the severity of his problem, Dave finds that ordinary day-to-day activities can be difficult to cope with. “It affects my ability to go out and get work and to socialise,” he says. “I’m doing a distance learning degree and my sleep problem interferes with my studying. It means that I’m tired when I’m trying to work and it’s difficult to plan studying.” This means he always has to start assignments as early as possible to allow time for things going wrong.

“If I’ve been up for a long time and not had much sleep, I end up falling asleep during the day. This can mean that I can’t get to the shops to get groceries and I can’t go out to pubs with my friends if I fall asleep at six o’clock at night. It can also mean having to force myself to stay awake all through the night to get to the morning because I need to do something.”

Ways of Coping

Like most people with chronic insomnia, Dave has been offered Sleeping Pills. Unfortunately, he is one of those people for whom some of them don’t work at all, while others make him sleep for an hour and wake up feeling refreshed, but the effect doesn’t last. He hasn’t had a problem with Sleeping Pill Addiction but the only ones that do work give him severe problems with nausea.

With pills not an option, there isn’t much the doctor can do. “I’ve been offered Counselling but I don’t see much point in that. It would just be to help me feel better about it. A lot of the time I just work around my sleep problems.” He has had to accept that they may not be curable and he is determined to make the best of his life as it is.

So does he have any advice to people dealing with nocturnal awakenings for the first time?

“Give up and get up and do something productive,” he says. “Don’t just lie there.”