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Finding Solutions for Insomnia

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How to Talk About Your Insomnia with Friends

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Insomnia can impact every aspect of your life, but it can be hard to explain to people who don’t struggle to fall or stay asleep. Describing specific ways your insomnia affects you, identifying the type of insomnia you have, and including others in your quest for a solution can help you feel supported and understood.

African American woman in conversation with friend on couch
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Whether it’s trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, insomnia can interfere with job performance, relationships, and simple day-to-day functioning. People close to you may notice you often seem tired during the day or have difficulty concentrating. Your usual positive nature may show cracks of irritability and anxiety. But explaining the impact of insomnia to someone who has never struggled with this common sleep disorder can be challenging.

However, helping your friends, relatives, and coworkers understand your sleep struggles may make them more sympathetic and patient as you try to solve your slumber difficulties.

Describing insomnia

In simple terms, insomnia is the inability to get sufficient restful sleep. But it can take different forms. For example, it may take you a long time to fall asleep or you may nod off without a problem, but then wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall back to sleep. And some people with insomnia wake up much earlier than planned and are unable to get any additional sleep before starting their day.

Describing your particular symptoms to the people around you may help them realize that resolving your brand of insomnia isn’t a simple matter of going to bed earlier or setting your alarm later.

You may also find it helpful to identify the type of insomnia robbing you of sleep. The two main kinds of insomnia are acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is a short-term condition usually triggered by stress, an upsetting event, or physical pain resulting from a recent injury or surgery. Regardless of the cause, acute insomnia is temporary.

By contrast, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines chronic insomnia as sleep problems that occur at least three times a week and persist for at least three months. Among the common causes of chronic insomnia are:

  • sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome
  • mood disorders, including depression and anxiety
  • chronic illness, such as arthritis, respiratory diseases, and heart failure

If you know the likely cause of your insomnia, consider sharing that connection with others. They may know you have an arthritic knee, for example, or that you have taken on major new responsibilities at work, but they may not associate those factors with insomnia.

Sharing your quest for a solution

Rather than deny or ignore insomnia’s effects on your quality of life, acknowledge them. Let others know you understand how insomnia impacts your mood or how insomnia affects your job. You can also point out that you are well aware of the health implications of poor sleep. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, insomnia is associated with diabetes, heart disease, depression, and other serious medical problems.

Then, explain how you’re attempting to restore your healthy sleep patterns. Share what you’ve tried before, even if it didn’t work. You also may find it helpful to ask others for their support in helping you manage your insomnia battle.

For many people incurring a sleep deficit, a brief daytime nap can help them recoup their losses. If you explain that a nap can make a big difference, the people close to you may help accommodate that feature of your daily schedule by not calling you during naptime or otherwise acknowledging your need for some peace and quiet. But even greater adjustments may be necessary. Frequent travel across time zones and shift work are factors for insomnia, according to the National Institutes of Health, so occupational changes may be needed to restore healthy sleep patterns and protect your health.

Explaining insomnia’s impact to friends, family, and coworkers can have other benefits. Sharing a struggle with others can often help lighten that burden in your own life. If you’re moving slower than usual these days, you can relax a little knowing that the people closest to you know the reason. Also, having an open and honest discussion of your insomnia provides an opportunity to gain resources; someone may have a strategy that will help or know a sleep specialist who might have the answer for you.

If you don’t receive quite the understanding you’d hoped for in explaining your insomnia problems, be prepared to try again. For people who fall asleep and rest peacefully all night, the concept of not being able to do that might be hard to grasp. But you know the struggle is real. As you search for solutions, try to find some allies along the way.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 31
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Insomnia. (2021). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/insomnia
  2. Sateia, M. J., et al. (2017). Clinical practice guideline for the pharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia in adults: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine clinical practice guideline. https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.6470
  3. Sleep and sleep disorders. (2020).https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html