Scientists know relatively little about how chronic sleeplessness works or why it disproportionately affects women and people over the age of 65. Roughly 60 million Americans are affected by the sleep disorder each year, and scientists disagree on the best ways to treat it.
Gayle Greene, author of Insomniac, explains how sleepless nights can have a devastating effect on daily routines. She says that chronic insomnia is often mistaken as "a bad night" and that few people realize just how debilitating sleep deprivation can be.
"Sleep is the fuel of life." Green says. "It's nourishing; it's restorative. And when you are deprived of it, you are really deprived of a basic kind of sustenance."
Greene has started a blog called SleepStarved, where people who struggle with insomnia can share their experiences and leave tips about how they coax themselves to sleep.
"I don't manage this beast," Greene writes. "I live with it. I live around it. I bed down with it every night, gingerly, cautiously, careful not to provoke it. I do my best to placate it, domesticate it, dull its claws, avoid its fangs, knowing that at any moment it can pounce on me and tear me to bits."
Dr. Ronald Chervin, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Michigan, and Todd Arnedt, director of the University of Michigan's Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, talk about current research for causes and treatments of insomnia.
"Doctors don't learn about sleep as they go through college," Arnedt says, so sleep disorders often get missed in primary care settings. "It's only after years of struggling that patients finally end up in our specialty clinics, looking for answers, searching for solutions."