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September 5, 2013
by Ashley Marie

Can’t Sleep? Don’t Just Count Sheep

September 5, 2013 17:05 by Ashley Marie  [About the Author]


It’s 11pm. Now 12am. Now 1am. Now 2am. Now 3am.

And you still haven’t fallen asleep.

During those sleepless hours, you might feel like the whole world is asleep – except you. But you are not alone.

In 2010, it was reported that the demand for sleeping pill prescriptions boosted by 60% in the United States.[1] Moreover, one in three Americans has difficulties falling asleep, and more than 35 million have chronic insomnia.

A Brief History of Insomnia

There is an intriguing relationship between insomnia and historical developments. As outlined by Summers-Bremner, certain events of the human story have contributed to our propensity to become insomniacs.[2] In the 1700s, the European Baroque culture led to a greater appreciation of modern nightlife, thereby interrupting regular sleep patterns. Historians especially point to industrialization as a dominant variable that led groups of society – even cities – to become victims of tiresome, sleepless nights. The developments of gas, electric lighting, the increasing popularity of nighttime entertainment, and evermore-busy schedules have turned our sleep into an utter nightmare. For these reasons, urban cities are especially connected with the rise of insomnia. It is not surprising, then, that the popular Hollywood film, Sleepless in Seattle, takes place in an urban setting.

My Experience with Insomnia

Like you, I too have suffered from insomnia. I am all too familiar with the cycle of fearing that I will not fall asleep, not falling asleep, and then dreading that I will wake without ever having slept.

I have laid down in bed and calculated how many coffees or teas I should have the next day,just to get through the first few hours of the morning. I have also planned out when I can squeeze in a quick 15-minute nap to give me the energy needed to last the rest of the day. And I have felt hopeless by thinking that my insomnia had no cure.  

But following the advice of my counselor, I made a few small changes in my diet, exercise, schedule, and thought patterns. I eventually discovered that I could enjoy the blessing of a restful sleep.

Defining Insomnia

Doctors have defined three main types of insomnia.[3]

Transient Insomnia

The first of these is transient insomnia. This category of insomnia involves troubles sleeping for only a night or two. For example, you might not sleep as well on the night before an exam, or the night before an important meeting, or the night after a heated argument with your loved one.   

Short-Term Insomnia

Secondly, short-term insomnia occurs when you cannot sleep well for a few days or even a few weeks. This could be because you are stressed about work, suffering from relationship issues, or getting over jet lag.

Chronic (or Acute) Insomnia

Thirdly, chronic insomnia involves troubled sleep patterns that last for months or years. Unfortunately, this category of insomnia can lead to or be caused by mental health issues, notably depression and anxiety.

Insomnia and Mental Health Issues


One of the key mental health issues associated with insomnia is depression.[4] Signs of depression include irritability, a short temper, decreased motivation, an inability to concentrate, hopelessness, increased crying, and a lack of fulfillment in things that you would typically enjoy.

Sometimes it is difficult to trace the causal relationship between insomnia and depression. Did your insomnia cause your depression or did your depression cause your insomnia? If you are unsure of the answer, it is a good idea to discuss this with a counselor. Addressing this question can help you identify the root of your insomnia, which can help you along the path to more restful nights.   


In addition to depression, anxiety can also be intimately related to insomnia.[5] Signs of anxiety include an inability to relax, dizziness, nausea, excessive fears, nightmares, and hot or cold sweats.

Anxiety can also lead to a perpetual cycle of feeling anxious about not sleeping and then not sleeping due to your anxiety.

If you struggle with anxiety and insomnia, then cognitive behavioral therapy is a helpful method of treatment. By seeking the help of a mental health professional, you can help identify the root of your anxiety, as well as effective coping techniques.

Seeking Help from a Mental Health Professional

Insomnia can be a lonely experience, but there are mental health professionals who can walk alongside you in your search for a restful sleep.

You know that simply counting sheep does not solve the issue. You also might feel that your insomnia is related to a deeper issue – the most common being either depression or anxiety. If you can’t sleep, then rest assured that there are counselors and therapists who can help you discover techniques, medications, and lifestyle changes that can help you restore your sleep. I’ll let you sleep on that.  

[1] Kornblatt, S. 2010. Restful Insomnia. San Francisco: Red Wheel.

[2] Summers-Bremner, E. 2008. Insomnia: A Cultural History. London: Reaktion Books.

[3] Kornblatt, S. 2010. Restful Insomnia. San Francisco: Red Wheel.

[4] Silberman, S.A. 2008. The Insomnia Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

[5] Ibid.


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