Six years, three months, and two days. That’s how long I had been fighting the sleep disorder called insomnia. And so far, I could still not see myself winning against it.
I was 19 years old when I moved across the country to study medicine at UCLA back then and promised my parents that I would not come home until I already got MD attached to my name. I wanted them to feel proud of me, so I genuinely worked hard to get fantastic marks throughout the semester.
As soon as the classes started, I often woke up at 5 A.M. to prepare for the lectures that I had to attend. Trying to become a doctor was not all about memorizing medical terminologies at all – I realized that immediately. You must analyze every aspect of the human body to ensure that you could handle the advanced subjects in the coming years. Of course, other non-major classes required attention, too.
Since I had always been a meticulous student, I aimed to study from 6 P.M. up to 10 P.M. This timeframe would have allowed me to spend more or less an hour on at least four subject matters every night. However, I failed to account for the fact that most college students like me needed part-time jobs to continue my education, so I had no choice but to push the study schedule three hours later. The setback meant that I could only get five hours of sleep every school night.
The first few days of following this routine were hellish, considering I was used to sleeping for eight hours my entire life. I became irritable and impatient with the customers at the coffee shop where I was working, to the extent that the manager placed me on kitchen duty. My classmates became a little aloof since I snapped at one of them just because they needed to borrow a pen. It also felt like five-pound dumbbells were tied on my eyelids, pulling them close all the time. Worse, the more schoolwork I had to do, the more I needed to pull an all-nighter.
Experiencing Symptoms Of Insomnia
Before the semester ended, I became used to getting very little sleep or none at all. I boasted about it to my friends because I thought that it made me invincible. I even said, “If I could keep it up until my residency and licensure exam, my dream of becoming a full-pledge doctor would be in the bag.”
When summer break came, my parents surprised me with a trip to Paris, France. We flew on the last day of my finals, and I still thankful for developing the ability to function with almost no sleep. Even if we had a long flight, I remained wide awake, but I charged it to high adrenaline because I was about to revisit my favorite city.
As soon as we landed, my parents wanted to sleep in, complaining about jetlag. I also felt jetlagged, but my body refused to stay idle. In the end, I roamed around the streets of Paris in my lonesome, taking as many selfies as I could with the Eiffel Tower behind me. I only went back to the hotel when my parents called and told me they already ordered our dinner.
After not sleeping throughout a whole flight and walking for hours, I was beat. I thought I would pass out when my back hit the cozy mattress, knowing I could use some sleep at that point. It was the first time that I could sleep in for a while and wake up to a beautiful Paris morning. Unfortunately, no matter how exhausted I was, I could not force myself to sleep immediately. The sun was already rising before my lids got heavy. As a result, it did not feel as I got no rest when my parents woke me up.
I experienced similar symptoms every night during the month-long trip, to the extent that I could not enjoy Paris at that time. It also persisted even when I was already spending the rest of the summer break at my parents’ house, practically doing nothing. I did not let my parents know about it until I was two weeks away from going back to UCLA and still had the same sleep dilemma.
We found a sleep doctor in town on the same day and confirmed that I most likely had insomnia. It entirely made sense because my mentally and physically strenuous activities halted when the semester ended, but my sleeplessness did not.
I tried several things to counter my insomnia after that. I practiced yoga and meditation (as the sleep doctor recommended) since my schedule was always too chaotic to induce sleep. I let go of my part-time job so that I could finish my schoolwork early. Furthermore, I focused on having a social life, hoping that having fun would do the job. The only thing that worked was the sleeping pills that the doctors prescribed to me, but I often halved the drugs so that I won’t get used to taking them.
My battle against insomnia is not over yet. Hopefully, yours will never start.