Senior Carolyn Morris* begins gasping for air. She hyperventilates as she tries to stand up. She tries to look around, but her eyesight is shot. Everything is black.
Unable to sleep, Morris hears clocks ticking. The one in the kitchen. The one by her beside. She stares at the ceiling while she lies in bed. She waits for her 18-year-old body to give in to the exhaustion. She wants to fall asleep. She needs to fall asleep. Her clock glares at her: 4:45 a.m.
She counts polka dots on her wall… 32, 33, 34. The technique has betrayed her. Her eyes are still open. Her mind is working on overdrive. Her heart is pounding from the lack of sleep. She begins sobbing out of frustration as the panic attack dies down.
The clock reads 5:45 a.m. when she finally falls asleep—45 minutes before she has to wake up for class.
Morris suffers insomnia, a sleeping disorder that 30-50 percent of the nation suffer from at one point in life, including many East students, like sophomore Annie Sullivan.
Sullivan has been suffering insomnia since age 12, as a by-product of of her Attention Deficient Disorder.
“With ADD, one thought bounces to the other which bounces to the other, which sucks because I can’t control it,” Sullivan said.
When Sullivan was 12, she suffered through dozens of all-nighters. She tried to read, watch TV, get homework done. None of it helped.
“My brain just won’t shut up,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan fit every symptom of insomnia as a seventh grader, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up often throughout the night, having trouble going back to sleep and feeling tired upon waking.
The lack of sleep agitates Sullivan, so she’ll try to find productive ways to use her six hours of thought. She has been active in drama throughout her life, and will sometimes spend the extra time to rehearse lines for her parts while she lies in be. Though the time is helpful for her when it comes to theater, she says the memorization isn’t worth the hours of sleep lost.
A recent prescription for Ambien, a sleep medication, helps Sullivan, giving her 5-7 hours of sleep a night. But in doing so, it steals her memory.
“I’ll wake up and look at my phone to see I’ve texted my friends weird, uncomfortable things like, ‘Let’s go on a road trip tomorrow,’ or, ‘I can see the bears dancing,” she says.
The Ambien doesn’t work all the time. There are still the nights where Sullivan is left to the silence of thoughts.
Junior Andrew Beasley’s trouble began this year.
At the beginning of this school year, Beasley began to have insomniac-like symptoms, and by the third night in a row of getting two hours of sleep, he knew something was seriously wrong.
“There were a couple nights where I actually didn’t sleep at all,” Beasley said.
Beasley’s first bout with Insomnia may have been attributed to a side-effect of a throat medication. His father, a physician at St. Lukes Hospital, advised his son to abandon the medication, since Beasley was up late on most nights he took it. So he did.
But Beasley’s sleeping troubles didn’t improve after he became interested in lucid dreaming.
A lucid dream is the sensation of being aware that you are dreaming. It usually happens when the dreamer experiences something strange, and then beings to question their reality. Lucid dreaming isn’t a trait you can acquire, though many claim it is possible to learn. Intrigued by the summer blockbuster “Inception,” Beasley was determined to find the secret of lucid dreaming.
He followed “How-to” lists online, wrote his dreams in a “dream book” and wrote “Dream” on his hand every night before he went to bed. His plan: if he realized he was dreaming and looked at his hand and it didn’t have “Dream” written on it, he would know he was dreaming.
This altered Beasley’s sleep cycle to the point he was up all night, and with what sleep he did get, he would wake up tired and fatigued. He sometimes forgets how he got to school.
Waking up in the morning is somewhat of a chore for Morris. Usually no one is home, making it tempting to sleep through first block. This year, the temptation has reached to the point where she has slept through first hour so often, she had to drop her first block class, Pre-Calculus.
Morris has always stayed up late and never thought anything of it, but this year when she was going to bed at times like 4 a.m. every night, she knew it was something out of the norm. Finally, she went to the doctor.
Morris was prescribed Trazodone, a pill that is usually taken as an anti-depressant but is also used to treat insomnia.
At first the medication didn’t work. Morris found herself still up either watching TV or indulging in her “dangerous addiction” to games on her cell phone. After two months on the medicine, it is only now starting to make her drowsy.
“The worst part of insomnia is that you are staying up focusing on anything, you have nothing to focus on,” Morris said. “So your mind is just thinking for five hours and you don’t really realize how much time has passed until you look at a clock. It’s infuriating.”
Morris hears five alarms at 7:15. Four alarms on her phone play songs, the fifth is a plastic watch alarm.
She sits up and stares at the wall, not wanting to get out of bed just yet. Willing her way to the bathroom, she washes her face to wake up.
She gets into her car. She drives to school, listening to Taylor Swift CDs. She arrives at East around 7:30 a.m., making a path toward the East coffee shop.
“[My insomnia] is just a part of who I am,” Morris said. “Its not like when you have a broken leg you wake up every morning and say ‘I have a broken leg.’ You just go about your day. It’s the same thing with insomnia. I just go through my day and see what happens, not complaining about not sleeping. It’s not something worth complaining about.”
Morris enters the coffee shop as Beasley leaves.
Beasley has abandoned the goal of lucid dreaming and is back to a somewhat normal sleeping schedule. He abandoned the “dream book,” and now gets six or seven hours of sleep somewhat regularly. The medication he used for his throat is no longer the pill, but an inhaler with no drowsy symptoms.
Beasley will still have the occasional night where he is up into the late hours, but the fact he has stopped his quest for a lucid dream has put his sleep schedule back into reality.
Beasley glances to his left as he walks out of the coffee shop, Sullivan is at her locker getting ready to go to first hour.
Sullivan’s insomnia has simmered down with her prescription to Ambien and she is back to sleeping during the night, usually getting 5-7 hours of sleep. But sometimes the Ambien is still not enough, and Sullivan will have the occasional all-nighter. She still catches herself spacing off during class and will occasionally sneak a mid-class nap.
Insomniacs are not “medicated” or “crazy.”
“We just can’t sleep,” Morris said.
*name changed to protect identity