Insomnia: Just Because I Am Tired Doesn’t Mean I Can Sleep

I was doing so well

UGH! I was doing so well! I have been maintaining a pretty consistent sleep routine, but last night it was disrupted. Since the time I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), sleep has become more and more of a chore for me. First, it was just the falling asleep thing, but eventually, it also became difficult for me to stay asleep. Most the time it’s because I have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom, but sometimes I’ll just wake up for no reason as if some internal alarm clock had gone off in my head and then it’s back to struggling to actually fall asleep even when I am dead tired. Yeah, that feeling of being tired? That’s not at all an indicator that I am actually ready to go to sleep.

Tired but awake

It is so frustrating to feel completely exhausted and physically burnt out but still not be able to fall asleep. After dealing with this for what feels like an eternity, I have learned that there is a big difference between “going to bed” and “going to sleep”. I almost always go to bed at the same time every night, but sometimes it takes me hours to go to sleep. I’ll be so physically tired that my body will feel limp but somewhere in my brain there is still a little light left on. It feels like every “power switch” in my body has turned off for the night except for the one in my brain that causes me to think about everything from bills to old memories of events and all the possible things I could have done differently.


So I know that for many people with MS (including myself), this is commonly due to the many different medications that we are on like stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Provigil. While I am 100% certain that last night was a consequence of me taking Nuvigil (armodafinil), I often deal with this even if I didn’t take anything. But last night was definitely because of my Nuvigil (which I don’t use every day), and since I knew it was probably going to be hard for me to fall asleep (even though I could barely keep my eyes open) I took a prescription sleep aid to try to overpower whatever Nuvigil might be left over in my system.

An hour later, I was still trying to ignore the deafening sound of my own thoughts, so I got up and stumbled to my little medicine box to add some over-the-counter stuff into the mix. Now when I say stumbled, I mean I stumbled, because I could feel the heaviness of the benzodiazepine I had taken earlier trying to keep my body from moving. So even though I was already physically exhausted when I decided to call it a night, and I had taken a prescription sleep aid (max dose) that had made me feel like I could barely muster the strength to lift my arm, I was still wide-awake. Not enough to function (especially after the benzo) but enough to lie there and just think-think-think.

It's pretty routine

But as I said earlier, sometimes that’s just how it goes, even when I haven’t taken any medication that might cause a sleepless night. While I have definitely gotten better at dealing with my insomnia, it’s still a daily (or nightly) battle, a chore, something that requires work to overcome. It’s really hard to explain to people that while I may always complain about how tired I am, I can never actually sleep. The only way I can pretend to understand it myself is by assuming my body is physically tired but my brain is still wide-awake; they are never on the same page. It takes a lot of planning and preparation, but I do know how to break the cycle and get a little sleep, yet I will always be jealous of people who can lie down and fall asleep within minutes rather than hours. As hard as I try, I just can’t even imagine how that is even possible without the use of some kind of heavy drug used to induce twilight sleep.

Is insomnia a nightly battle for you despite feeling terribly fatigued all day? How do you explain this to people who don’t have MS? Share in the comments below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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