Sleep Disorders

27 September 2019

10 things you should never say to someone who suffers from insomnia

Health24 writer Marelize Wilke has been struggling to sleep since she can remember. Here are things people say that simply make it worse.

For me, sleep isn’t something that ever happened easily. I still remember myself as a seven-year-old, staring at my Disney alarm clock on my bedside table, realising that it’s midnight.

As I grew older, social media, stress and screens became more prominent in my life – and obviously I try to avoid these as much as I can before bedtime to help me switch off.

The cold, hard truth is that a large number of South Africans struggle to get quality sleep. This doesn't just involve the occasional restless nightinsomnia is a sleep disorder that makes you struggle to fall asleep every night.

People like to give unsolicited advice. And even if they have the best of intentions, when you're trying to power through the day running on empty, that's the last thing you need.

Here are some of the things people say that can truly grind an insomniac’s gears:

1. 'Shame! Why couldn’t you sleep?'

I wish I knew. I TRULY wish I knew. I did everything right – I ate the right types of food to aid sleep, I avoided anything stimulating, I even did a couple of yoga stretches and read my book. I don’t know!

2. 'Have you tried XYZ? So-and-so used XYZ and that helped'

Whether it’s a herbal remedy, tea, warm milk, or a sleeping tablet prescribed by my doctor, chances are I have probably already tried it. Finding something to help aid falling sleep isn’t that easy. It’s usually trial and error, and I try to avoid medications as I don’t want to suffer groggy after-effects the next day.

3. 'I hope you get some sleep tonight – go to bed early!'

If only you knew how much anxiety bedtime brings – the tossing and turning that starts as soon as I hit the switch on my bedside lamp, the repeated wake-ups during the early hours of the morning – believe you me, going to bed early just prolongs the misery.

4.  'Exercise may help – do you exercise?'

Yes, you are right. Exercise can help aid quality sleep. But I can run an entire marathon and still struggle to fall asleep that night. True story!

5. 'How is the temperature of your room/the firmness of your mattress/the thread count of your sheets etc.?'

I invested in a wonderful new queen size bed a year ago. I religiously dust and vacuum my bedroom to keep it free of allergens that may trigger symptoms and keep me awake at night.

6. 'Maybe you should lock your cats out of the room.'

I don't even own cats...

7. 'It’s because you drink coffee.'

As caffeine is a stimulant that can wreak havoc with your sleep cycle, I restrict my intake at two cups a day, and usually well before 13:00 in the afternoon. Actually, without those two cups of morning coffee, I shudder to think what kind of person I'd be throughout the day.

8. 'Simply try to switch off/meditate'

While this is great advice, and the power of meditation has been proven time and again, it’s easier said than done.

9. 'Don’t ever do work on your bed'

I know, I know, but it’s so comfortable!

10. 'I also couldn’t sleep last night'

I understand that empathising comes from a good place. But talking about a situational or occasional bad night almost sounds like you are trying to make light of insomnia. Doing things like leaving the stove on, almost causing a car accident, making a costly mistake at work, tripping and injuring yourself are once-off occurrences that don't form a pattern.

On a serious note

Chronic insomnia can severely affect the quality of your life and health. Discuss your condition with your manager and take advantage of flexi hours, if it's an option.

DISCLAIMER:This post is meant to be read tongue-in-cheek and is a light-hearted attempt to explain insomnia. If you do struggle to sleep, remember that every case is different and that it takes time to find the right solution. Consult your doctor for more advice. 

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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