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Sleep? What's that?

Written by Salina Shafi

Edited by Sharon Park and Jocelyn Wang


Hi everyone! This is the second article in our Sleep Medicine Series, where we discuss all things related to sleep, and how it impacts human health. Read on to learn about Insomnia, and to hear from an individual who has experienced Insomnia as a teenager, as they share their experiences.


What is Insomnia?

Insomnia. It sounds like a complicated word that means so many things. So, let’s break the word down. In Latin, In means no and somnia refers to sleep. So, in very basic terms, Insomnia means no sleep. Insomnia can look different depending on the patient and their situation. Symptoms of Insomnia can include having trouble staying asleep as well as having trouble going to sleep. Most adults will need about seven to eight hours of sleep while most teenagers need about eight to ten hours of sleep. It can be difficult to do that when the individual is unable to stay asleep or unable to fall asleep. About 70 million Americans are affected by sleep disorders every year.

Is there a cure for Insomnia?

The simplest answer is yes and no. Because every case of Insomnia looks distinctly different, it can be difficult to create a standard method of treatment. Many people try to improve their Insomnia without professional assistance with the resources they have. This would include creating a night routine, eliminating screens before sleeping, trying meditations, practicing stress-relieving techniques, or changing their place of sleep. There is so much that goes into going to sleep and so many people take it for granted. Medically driven treatments usually start out with a sleep study so that the healthcare provider is able to see exactly what the patient is going through and what would be the best course of treatment. Many Insomnia patients are put on sleep-inducing medication or through cognitive behavioral therapy to better understand their condition.

What does Insomnia look like for a real teenager?

I was able to briefly interview someone that has experienced Insomnia. They have asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of this article, but here are their responses.

Salina: What type of Insomnia did you experience?

Interviewee: I am not sure exactly what it is called, but basically, I would be able to go to sleep just fine, but then I would consistently wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. By the time I barely got back to sleep, I would just have to wake up anyway for school.

Salina: How did that affect your everyday life and activities?

Interviewee: It was awful, it started during the first semester of my junior year and it really disrupted all of the extracurriculars that I was in. I was exhausted every day, even weekends were not an escape. I was falling asleep in class and wasn’t able to really think through things like I used to. I started to feel trapped. Sleeping was supposed to be my time of rest, but just thinking about all of the sleep I wasn’t going to get made me anxious and frustrated.

Salina: That sounds like a really hard thing to cope with, especially during your junior year! You were probably getting ready to take the SAT and submitting college applications?

Interviewee: Yes, I was, I actually almost missed one of the major SAT practice exams offered at my high school because of my weird sleep schedule.

Salina: So that was about a year ago and now you are in your first semester as a senior, what is your Insomnia like now?

Interviewee: It definitely has improved.

Salina: Could you go into the process of how it improved and maybe why it improved?

Interviewee: So, I actually did a mixture of things, so I am not really sure as to what exactly made it better.

Salina: That makes sense, can you walk through some of the things you did?

Interviewee: Yeah, so first thing I did was exclude screens from my night routine completely and actually I created a night routine as well. It was better for me to have a consistent schedule that way. I know that this probably isn’t the way Insomnia is usually cured, or actually I’m not sure. My mom told me that if it got too bad, we could go to the doctor and get some sleep medications, but I didn’t want to get on medication.

Salina: Did you have a specific reason why you didn’t want to get on medication, and you don’t have to answer that, I’m just curious.

Interviewee: This is kind of embarrassing, but I just can’t swallow pills. That’s all. Also, I know that they offer different types of therapy for sleep problems, but I just didn’t have the time. I was overloaded with school, my honor societies, clubs, college applications, and the SAT. I actually didn’t even really realize how stressed and tightly wound I was until I took the SAT and submitted my last college application in the same week. What a relief it was. That week before bed, I started doing some journaling and reflecting and bam I was able to sleep so much better.

Salina: That’s really interesting, I wonder if it was really the stress keeping you up at night.

Interviewee: I guess I’ll never know for sure, but once I let go of all of the stress, I felt so much better, physically and mentally. I started doing more and more self-care things in my night routine. Honestly, maybe it was the stress keeping me up. I don’t know, all I know is that now I strictly follow my night routine just to make sure that I never wake up in the middle of the night again.

Salina: That makes sense, well thank you so much for sharing. I really enjoyed hearing about your Insomnia story.

Interviewee: Yeah, of course. Maybe my story isn’t typical, but I can say that Insomnia really sucks and especially when it becomes a long-term thing. Mine went on for a full semester and then half a semester past that.

Salina: Nonetheless, it was a rough time for you. I remember how hard it was for you to keep up in your classes and with your mental health.

Interviewee: True, at least I’m on the other side of it now!

Not everyone’s story looks like this, but this person’s story shows one example of a condition that millions of people go through. While Insomnia can seriously affect an individual’s life, there are many ways to combat those sleepless nights. Some people go for medication, while others go for therapy. With how medicine and treatment is evolving, there are so many ways to get through insomnia.


Thanks for reading the second article in our Sleep Medicine Series! We hope you learned about how Insomnia can negatively impact health, as well as how people can improve their sleep health by having a healthy nighttime routine.

If you liked this article, check out the first article in our Sleep Medicine series, on how different sleep disorders are diagnosed, linked here. This article dives deep into fascinating technologies that are used to study the effects of sleep on the body, so be sure to check the article out!

Thanks for reading, and until the next article,

Salina and the Writing Committee :)

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