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For Find Out Friday - Is “Sleep Expert” Really a Job?

I have insomnia. 

No, I am not bragging or complaining. 

Ok maybe I want to complain a little bit. Insomnia is one of the most annoying things about living in my body and believe me I have had my share of inconvenient illnesses.

Insomnia is much more than trouble sleeping. 

The Mayo Clinic defines insomnia:

“Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life.”

The record for consecutive days without sleep is eleven and I fear what that person was like at that point. My person best was about three days and they might have been harder on those around me due to my very charming attitude I was walking around with. 

Of course just because you don’t sleep well or at all, your daily obligations and responsibilities go out the window. For me that is usually not even the worst part because once I haven’t slept during the night, napping isn’t much of a possibility either no matter how much time I have on my hands. 

The side effects, for me, of not sleeping are mild but still aggravating. I feel faint, have a dull headache or even full blown migraine, and have an over all feeling of deep tirednesses. But most of all I have a fear that I will never again achieve a deep, truly restful sleep. I suppose I am afraid that sets a precedent that is hard to ignore. 

When you haven’t slept it feels like you could die from it and actually that is possible. After a few days without sleep you can hallucinate, become paranoid, and eventually psychosis will set in. 

During those nights of seemingly endless hours you spend not sleeping, MANY things tumble through your mind. You think about LITERALLY everything. Important stuff, trivial stuff, stressful stuff, and inane stuff. Then you start to circle back to sleep and how annoying it is that you are still awake. Of course that goes hand in hand with “if I fail asleep now I still can get x amount of hours”. That sentence typically doesn’t have a happy ending for insomniacs. 

You would think you could be productive during these hours but I am always hoping to get to sleep that I don’t read or write. I try the lights on or off, same with TV, to see if that makes a difference but mostly the answer is no.

Eventually I get to the point of accepting that sleep will not come and try to make peace with it as best I can.

There is actually a business based on those of us who can’t sleep and the hunger that eventually comes with that - I fact I forgot to mention. Besides boredom it has been hours since you ate and a snack starts to sound like a good idea. That is where “Insomnia Cookies” comes in. It is a shop (actually there are now over one hundred and fifty locations across the country) in NYC that sells a variety of cookies and cakes to those up late at night. They also ship nationwide. FYI - they remain on my to do list (

Just as there are millions of insomniacs there are also millions, about seventy, sleep disorders. The top four are insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. 

Since there are so many sleep disorders, there are many types of jobs in the sleep diagnosing / curing fields. At the top of the list are sleep specialists. They are MDs, doctors, trained in the science behind sleep and usually either neurology, pulmonology, internal medicine, or psychiatry.

Other sleep related jobs include (for details about each see last link below):
  • Sleep scientist;
  • Sleep respiratory therapist;
  • Sleep center manager;
  • Sleep health educator;
  • Sleep technologist;
  • Sleep neurologist;
  • Neuro-diagnostic technologist;
  • Behavioral sleep medicine specialist; and 
  • Dental sleep medicine specialist.

I have never done a sleep study but I have worked closely with my neurologist (headache specialist) to try to get my insomnia under control. I know a lot of fellow migraine sufferers deal with insomnia. I even took Ambien for several years to try to control it. I am off it now but it didn’t work on a regular basis for me. And no, it didn’t make me a racist or eat during the times I did manage to fall asleep. 

Doing the math (totally a figure of speech) it seems that there will be a lot of sleep specialists who suffer from insomnia at least some of the time. In that case, at least they will have compassion for their patients as well as a real desire to find a cure.

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