For over ten years, chronic insomnia had slowly and mercilessly drained life and happiness out of me. The anxiety that it caused often consumed me and negatively impacted nearly every part of my life.
It seemingly put a damper on everything; it tended to mute successes I achieved in my life and amplified my failures.
Living with insomnia was like being chained to a 200-pound dead animal carcass and having to drag it around. (Morbid, I know, but it was really how I felt.) Fortunately, I never gave up hope or trying to find a way to overcome the insomnia.
Throughout my years of suffering from insomnia, I never seriously talked to a doctor about it. I had mentioned briefly to my doctor once that I could not sleep and he simply recommended sleeping pills and had no interest in discussing my problem beyond that.
Sleeping pills to me seemed to only treat the symptoms of my problem and not my underlying anxiety related to sleep. So I never took sleeping pills. (Sleeping pills can be appropriate, in my opinion, as a short-term fix to get through a particularly stressful time in ones life. But I dont regard them as a long-term solution to chronic insomnia because they dont deal with the underlying thoughts and behaviors which primarily cause it.)
The main reason I never aggressively sought professional help was because I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I also feared that chronic insomnia could be a manifestation of a deep psychological problem. In other words, I feared that I may be crazy.
I thought this because I did a lot of research about my problem in the early- to mid-1990s and simply could not find much about it. There were some books on how to sleep better, but nothing really discussed chronic insomnia. So I (very wrongly) thought that I was probably the only person with this problem.
It turns out that its the medical establishment that should feel embarrassed and ashamed. For some strange reason, it has a long history of ignoring insomnia. According to Dr. Gregg Jacobs, author of the 1998 book Say Good Night to Insomnia: Doctors are not trained to treat or diagnose insomnia. Even though it is one of the most frequent health complaints today, doctors receive less than one hour of training on sleep problems during their entire medical education.
Fortunately, however, this has begun to change recently. Nevertheless, the medical establishments general ignorance of insomnia for so long has caused the millions of people, such as myself, to needlessly suffer with it and try to identify solutions on their own the best they can.
After a few years, I had a breakthrough of sorts for myself when I realized something important: Chronic insomnia is a phobia. Specifically, it is a phobia of being unable to sleep or sleep well. It even has a technical name: hypnophobia or somniphobia.
A phobia is a persistent irrational fear of an object or a situation that's generally considered harmless. In other words, a phobia is fear that does not conform to the facts of reality. Chronic insomnia does not conform to reality because there is nothing inherent about attaining sleep that should cause fear.
The source of the phobia can usually be traced back to one or more specific triggering event, usually something traumatic that happened, often but not always at an early age. Sound familiar?
In addition, a phobia is characterized by the following:
As you can see, chronic insomnia has many if not all of the characteristics of a phobia. If you suffer from chronic insomnia, why should this matter to you?
It should matter because it means that you are anything but alone. At least one billion people in the world and, at minimum, 30 million Americans have at least one phobia. People can and do have phobias of just about anything you can think of. For example, people have irrational fears of flying, dentists, spiders, social gatherings, heights, germs, dogs, failure, cemeteries, tall men, the moon, etc.
Further, by knowing that chronic insomnia is a phobia and nothing more, you can rest easy that you are almost certainly are not insane.
Whats more, people with a phobia should not be ashamed for having it since they did not consciously choose it. Rather, the phobia chose them. (However, people with a phobia should feel guilt if they do not seek to conquer the phobia if it interferes with their lives, since overcoming or at least lessening the phobia is usually something in a persons ultimate control.)
In truth, people with chronic insomnia (somniphobia) are different from people with most other phobias in one respect: They have it much worse. Thats because people with most other phobias, such as a fear of flying, can fairly easily avoid what they irrationally fear and, therefore, can live a life largely free of anxiety. But people with chronic insomnia cannot avoid the need for sleep and, therefore, cannot avoid having at least some anxiety as a daily part of their lives. In this sense, chronic insomnia is one of the most serious and debilitating phobias.
Once I realized that, at least in my educated opinion, chronic insomnia is a mere phobia, albeit a serious one, I no longer felt alone, ashamed or crazy. This lifted a great burden off of my shoulders. Most importantly, however, it allowed me to approach treating my insomnia in much the same way other phobias have often been successfully treated for decades, namely by using cognitive-behavior methods.