safestsephiroth  asked:

I'm writing a novel about a character with debilitating sleep problems (I haven't decided on a disorder yet) who consistently ends up unable to sleep before the point of absolute exhaustion. What is a feasible length of time for this to be on a consistent basis while not being completely life-threatening in the short term? (I'm accepting that it'll knock years off her life in the long term.) Also - I've found conflicting answers, do you know a good resource to use to research sleep disorders?

Hey there! Thanks for the question, and sorry for the (extreme) delay. This is currently the oldest ask in my inbox.

Sleep disorders are common, and are problematic, but it sounds like what you’re describing is some pretty gnarly insomnia.  

Your character will have a number of effects to keep in mind. First, decreased performance at whatever task is at hand. Their thinking may become muddled or clouded. They’ll likely “space out”, or may even have bursts of micro-sleep during other parts of the day. (This can be fatal while driving, and exhaustion is as much or more of an impairment to drivers as alcohol is.)

They’ll also have lower reaction time, which contributes to driving injuries or deaths, and may come into play if your character is the actiony type (gunplay, for example, will be impaired, as will their tumbling / climbing abilities).

Sleep is a critical part of a character’s life and livelihood. They may be very tired during the day, make bad decisions, or fall asleep when they shouldn’t. Irritability is also a huge thing. They may gain, or lose, weight. DOverall they’re likely to have some significant issues.

The good news is that, outside of driving fatalities, insomnia is rarely fatal (with the exception of the helpfully-named Fatal Familial Insomnia, which is a genetic (familial) disease in which the victims stop sleeping (insomnia) until they die (fatal). Hooray!

Mayo Clinic has a pretty good overview of regular ol’ insomnia here: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20256961

In terms of your actual question, when it comes to duration, “months” is an extreme but accurate example. I probably averaged three to four hours a night during the weeks in high school, for most of the time; I slept in on weekends and during holidays, so it wasn’t necessarily true insomnia so much as the whole “teenagers stay up late and SHOULD be able to get up late” thing.

I hope this was useful, even a month or two later :)

xoxo, Aunt Scripty

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If You Have Insomnia Watch This.

Mom, my depression is a shape shifter.
One day it is as small as a firefly in the palm of a bear,
The next, it’s the bear.
On those days I play dead until the bear leaves me alone.
I call the bad days: “the Dark Days.”
Mom says, “Try lighting candles.”
When I see a candle, I see the flesh of a church, the flicker of a flame,
Sparks of a memory younger than noon.
I am standing beside her open casket.
It is the moment I learn every person I ever come to know will someday die.
Besides Mom, I’m not afraid of the dark.
Perhaps, that’s part of the problem.
Mom says, “I thought the problem was that you can’t get out of bed.”
I can’t.
Anxiety holds me a hostage inside of my house, inside of my head.
Mom says, “Where did anxiety come from?”
Anxiety is the cousin visiting from out-of-town depression felt obligated to bring to the party.
Mom, I am the party.
Only I am a party I don’t want to be at.
Mom says, “Why don’t you try going to actual parties, see your friends?”
Sure, I make plans. I make plans but I don’t want to go.
I make plans because I know I should want to go. I know sometimes I would have wanted to go.
It’s just not that fun having fun when you don’t want to have fun, Mom.
You see, Mom, each night insomnia sweeps me up in his arms dips me in the kitchen in the small glow of the stove-light.
Insomnia has this romantic way of making the moon feel like perfect company.
Mom says, “Try counting sheep.”
But my mind can only count reasons to stay awake;
So I go for walks; but my stuttering kneecaps clank like silver spoons held in strong arms with loose wrists.
They ring in my ears like clumsy church bells reminding me I am sleepwalking on an ocean of happiness I cannot baptize myself in.
Mom says, “Happy is a decision.”
But my happy is as hollow as a pin pricked egg.
My happy is a high fever that will break.
Mom says I am so good at making something out of nothing and then flat-out asks me if I am afraid of dying.
No.
I am afraid of living.
Mom, I am lonely.
I think I learned that when Dad left how to turn the anger into lonely —
The lonely into busy;
So when I tell you, “I’ve been super busy lately,” I mean I’ve been falling asleep watching Sports Center on the couch
To avoid confronting the empty side of my bed.
But my depression always drags me back to my bed
Until my bones are the forgotten fossils of a skeleton sunken city,
My mouth a bone yard of teeth broken from biting down on themselves.
The hollow auditorium of my chest swoons with echoes of a heartbeat,
But I am a careless tourist here.
I will never truly know everywhere I have been.
Mom still doesn’t understand.
Mom! Can’t you see that neither can I?
—  “Explaining My Depression to My Mother: A Conversation” by Sabrina Benaim