The life of a student insomniac

How does insomnia manifest itself, and how does it impact the day to day life of a student?

Illustration by Bil Badger Walsh

It is 4am as I am writing this. Most people have drifted into a sweet slumber but being a nocturnal creature means I am wide-eyed and very much awake. For most people, when they hear the word insomnia they think of the popular coffee chain, but for me it is something I struggle with nearly everyday.

I truly envy those who can swiftly retreat into the land of dreams,and the common question ‘Did you get a good night’s sleep?’ has become a delicate subject. Coffee – which I am aware doesn’t help the condition – has become a necessity or else I struggle to make it through a lecture, along with a powerful concealer for the purple bags always flowering underneath my eyes, rendering me zombie-like.

Most people in college are fascinated when the conversation arises that I am an insomniac. I often get remarks like “Wow you must get so much done in the 24-hour library”. I wish this was true, but in the early hours of the morning, though awake I am trapped in a hazy state. With my concentration evaporated I am incapable of using brain power and instead just stare at the ceiling languidly. Often restlessness evolves into boredom and I could find myself baking cookies at 2 am, which my family or flatmates appreciate in the morning.

However, this is the pinnacle of my productivity at night. Morning tutorials are a challenge – I find myself incapable of speech and articulation, slurring some comment or muddling up words in a sentence, as exhaustion engulfs me. I have had some humorous encounters in my half-functioning state; once walking into a tree much to the entertainment of onlookers.

Insomnia is an often misunderstood condition as it varies from person to person. People assume I never sleep, which isn’t true. I do sleep, it justs takes time and is broken and truncated. There can be weeks where it improves, but these are short lived. Whilst I appreciate people’s concern when they recommend lavender oil, avoiding technology at night and a soothing cup of chamomile tea, it is not something that can be easily fixed.  I have tried a lot of things over the years from avoiding caffeine, to intense exercise, to hot baths before bed and mindfulness . Some have helped but nothing has cured it.  

Beyond the bleary eyes, however, there are some positives to my abnormal sleeping pattern. I can stay out late on nights out, if a friend needs me at 2am I am pretty much guaranteed to be ready to help. Watching the dawn break and listening to the birds begin their morning chant is beautiful and reminds me of the renewal each day brings. Although the silence can be deafening in its solitude, some nights it can peaceful.