Team No Sleep: Is there anything you can do about insomnia?

7 Ways to Achieve Deep Sleep

Probably the only good thing about insomnia is the way it inspires witty, self-aware memes. "Brain: I can see you're trying to sleep, can I offer a selection of your worst memories from the last 10 years?" reads one from Totally Get If You Have Insomnia.

But the humor doesn't diminish the health risk. And the downsides of insomnia just keep accumulating in the medical journals. .

The preliminary results from a June 2019 study indicated natural disaster survivors had disturbed sleep linked to mental health problems, for example. That same month, University of California, Berkeley researchers found a link between disrupted sleep now and developing Alzheimer's pathology proteins later in life. A third study that same month, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute drew this conclusion in the journal Diabetes Care: "Not sticking to a regular bedtime and wakeup schedule–and getting different amounts of sleep each night–can put a person at higher risk for obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, high blood sugar and other metabolic disorders. In fact, for every hour of variability in time to bed and time asleep, a person may have up to a 27% greater chance of experiencing a metabolic abnormality."

It's probably not lost on insomniacs that it's just this type of pronouncement that lengthens the "to worry about at 3 a.m. list," which is pages long.

Is there anything more helpful to know about insomnia? Or ways its sufferers can escape the hamster wheel of tired all day, drag through the evening, go to bed and... eyes wide open. There is a little promising research and a few bits of helpful advice from sleep experts. But if you're counting on science to say, "Take two valerian and call me in the morning," your sleep-deprived self is going to be disappointed. Solving insomnia is more a matter of debunking some misconceptions, including these five myths:

Insomnia myth #1: Sufferers don't sleep because they have better things to do with their time.

Reality: Insomnia, literally Latin for "sleepless," describes people who schedule time to sleep but then can't. "Individuals with insomnia experience difficulty falling or staying asleep, a lack of restorative sleep, and daytime symptoms such as fatigue, trouble concentrating, and mood disturbances," according to the National Sleep Foundation.

If you have no sympathy for people who chose to play D&D to all hours and then were tired at work, that's understandable. Just don't consider them insomniacs–they could have slept if they wanted to.

Insomnia myth #2: Insomnia is rare and no one cares about it.

Reality: It's practically a modern-day epidemic. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that 10 percent of male adults and 20 percent of female adults "have chronic insomnia disorder, which involves difficulty sleeping and daytime symptoms occurring at least three times per week for at least three months." 

As for this ultra-harmful ailment wreaking havoc while everyone ignores it, the AASM for one is trying to make people and policymakers care about insomnia, not as a quirk, but as a medical issue. It held its 6th Annual Insomnia Awareness Day March 11, 2019, for example. It also publicizes findings that scare the people with fat wallets. AASM estimated that insomnia is associated with losses in work performance in the U.S. equal to $63.2 billion each year, for example.

Others working to help Team No Sleep include the behavioral sleep medicine researchers and clinicians who will gather Sept. 12-15 at the first annual SBSM scientific meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. On the agenda: discussing something sleep medicine pros like to call "the high disease burden of insomnia and other sleep disorders."

Insomnia myth #3: You can end insomnia now. Tonight. Just do it!

Reality: Insomnia abides."Most individuals with the condition are vulnerable to recurrent episodes and longitudinal research suggests that nearly 70% of individuals with insomnia continue to experience symptoms a year later, and half still have insomnia up to 3 years later," the NSF asserted. And while insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, sufferers are unlikely to be diagnosed or treated, which can make add ailments like depression, diabetes, hypertension to the sleep disorder.

Insomnia myth #4: Wide-awakers just need to develop better sleep habits

Reality:Better sleep hygiene only helps people with mild or short-term insomnia. So all those efforts to quit drinking caffeine after 3 p.m. or limit screen time should help you sleep better–assuming you don't have insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is the far better choice, according to the AASM Choosing Wisely statement for sleep clinicians.

This sleep solution works on behaviors and thought processes simultaneously. For example, in addition to adopting the stoic habit of rising up out of the bed when you can't sleep, CBT-I would also incorporate a"cognitive strategy" to banish the negative thoughts that you'll never get any sleep again ever. CBT-I is generally designed to work over the course of six to eight individualized sessions. If you mainly lie awake worrying about the times you waved back to someone who was waving to the man behind you, that would be addressed. A recent study also established that just one session of CBT-I is beneficial and makes insomnia less severe.

Insomnia myth #5: Melatonin and other OTC sleep aids can cure insomnia.

Reality: Nope. Some drugs do work for anyone who only needs short-term, quick relief for sleep disturbances, according to AASM clinical practice guidelines. If it's between that and no treatment at all, the AASM suggested suvorexant as a "treatment for sleep maintenance insomnia," for example. However, and this might be an eye opener for anyone who hangs out in the natural supplements aisle, the guidelines gave a firm "no" to clinicians using "the antihistamine diphenhydramine, the hormone melatonin, or the herb valerian to treat insomnia."

And while it doesn't involve a myth, this important message for insomniacs sometimes gets lost amidst the memes and a society that scoffs at sleep: You deserve better. "Sleep should be the most pleasant, relaxing and restorative experience of the day, but sleep disorders are notorious for robbing us of that nightly pleasure," concluded the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep Chair Patti Van Landingham. "People who have chronic insomnia need to seek help so that they can experience the joy of sleep again."