25 Famous Women on Insomnia

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Those who are able to cozy up in bed, shut their eyes, and get whisked away to dreamworld for the recommended seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep reap invaluable benefits — including improved mental and physical health. On the flip side, those well-acquainted with the nightmare of being unable to sleep are plagued with seemingly endless negative consequences — from an increased likelihood of heart failure to higher levels of irritability.

Unfortunately, insomnia is a condition more likely to afflict women than men. In an act of solidarity, we’ve gathered some words from famous lady insomniacs — including Amy Poehler, Jenny Lewis, and Maya Angelou — on the thoughts that keep them up all night, their remedies for conquering sleeplessness, and more.

Amy Poehler

“Sleep and I do not have a good relationship. We have never been good friends. I am constantly chasing sleep and then pushing it away. A good night’s sleep is my white whale. Like Ahab, I am also a total drama queen about it. I love to talk about how little sleep I get. I brag about it, as if it is a true indication of how hard I work. But I truly suffer at night. Bedtime is fraught with fear and disappointment. When it is just me alone with my restless body and mind, I feel like the whole world is asleep and gone. It’s very lonely. I am tired of being tired and talking about how tired I am … I now read articles about how great sleep is and how important it is and I cry because I want it so bad and I am so mad at how great everyone else seems to be at it.” —Yes Please, October 2014

Patti Smith

“For a time I did not dream. My ball bearings somewhat rusted, I went round in waking circles, then on horizontal treks, one touchstone after another, nothing actually to touch. Not getting anywhere, I reverted to an old game, one invented long ago as an insomnia counterattack but also useful on long bus rides as a distraction from carsickness … One proceeds by uttering an uninterrupted stream of words beginning with a chosen letter, say, the letter M. Madrigal minuet master monster maestro mayhem mercy mother marshmallow merengue mastiff mischief marigold mind, on and on without stopping, advancing word by word, square by square. How many times have I played this game, always falling short of the swinging tassel, but at the worst winding up in a dream somewhere? And so I played again. I closed my eyes, let my wrist go limp, my hand circling above the keyboard of my Air, then stopped and my finger pointed the way. V. Venus Verdi Violet Vanessa villain vector valor vitamin vestige vortex vault vine virus vial vermin vellum venom veil, suddenly parting as easily as a vaporous curtain signaling the beginning of a dream.” —M Train, October 2015

Indra Nooyi

“They say sleep is a gift that God gives you. That’s one gift I was never given.” —Fortune, May 2012

Margaret Thatcher

“I think I must be the best adrenalin producer in the United Kingdom. I think I must have a super adrenalin producing system. I didn’t feel tired. And the other thing about if you brood and brood and brood is to stick with doing something different. You won’t go to sleep … These days I find it very difficult actually to sleep more than four hours. I might just lay listening to what the news is.” —The Sun, November 1989

Sloane Crosley

“Insomniacs tend to fall into two general categories — those who give up and those who don’t. I don’t. I refuse to admit defeat by turning on the light. I will not try to read or watch a movie, thank you. Productivity is a crutch of the weak. I will lie there as long as it takes, waiting for the birds and the light and sound of garbage trucks on the street below.” —The Independent, June 2011

Arianna Huffington

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in. Sleep, or how little of it we need, has become a symbol of our prowess. We make a fetish of not getting enough sleep, and we boast about how little sleep we get. I once had dinner with a man who bragged to me that he’d gotten only four hours of sleep the night before. I resisted the temptation to tell him that the dinner would have been a lot more interesting if he had gotten five.” —Thrive, March 2014

Joan Didion

“To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.” —“On Self-Respect,” Vogue, 1961

Jenny Lewis

“With anything — a car accident, a broken bone — it happens really quickly and the recovery time takes a lot longer. There was a point where I was a year into not sleeping and I was like, ‘When the fuck is this going to end? When am I going to be able to get to sleep?’ And it would be another year before I would be able to sleep … It was just the perfect storm. It just fucking took me down. I could have been taken down by a feather duster. It was just that moment in my life, in my mid-30s, where it was going to happen … I didn’t really stop to take inventory, which I think you kind of have to at a certain point in your life. You have to reconcile the death of a parent, or the breakup of a relationship or a band, or your relationship with your own mother. I was just running until I stopped.” —Relix, July 2014


“Actually, one of my assistants just found one of my journals from 1991. I’m complaining the same way about not being able to sleep in 1991 as I am right now. Like, some things never change … [The insomnia started] unconsciously, probably when my mother died. And sleep’s never been an easy thing for me … If I can get six hours, I can get through the day. But because I want to have a career and also be an attentive mother, I tend to take a lot of breaks and deal with my kids, and then go back to work. In the recording studio, I never finish before 2 a.m., and then I have to get up at 7 a.m. for my kids. So there’s a lot of sleep deprivation … You start to go crazy if you don’t sleep. But I definitely don’t understand people who sleep 12 hours a day. I see that as the supreme indulgence, people sleeping until noon. How dare they? I never did that when I was a teenager…” —Rolling Stone, March 2015

Roxane Gay

“Insomnia is a frustrating thing. I wish I understood the why of it. I’ve tried all sorts of things — going to bed early, shrouding myself in absolute darkness, Nyquil, Benadryl, melatonin, wine, exercise, counting, reading, listening to music, having my back rubbed, dancing in a figure eight while pounding my chest, prayer, deep thinking, drum circles, whatever. No matter what I try, it is really hard for me to fall asleep and stay asleep not to mention my ridiculous hyper realistic, violent dream problem. My dreams are like movies only there’s no popcorn or Jujubes … I’ve learned how to function pretty well on very little sleep and I generally get a lot done with all the extra hours I’m afforded by this issue. The saddest thing is that I quite love sleep. I think sleep is fantastic. I love my bed. I love crawling into the warm space in my bed. I love my blankets. I am looking for the kind of pillows they have in hotels. I’m not having success with this and it has been an expensive experiment but still, sleep is amazing and I would enjoy more of it. Insomnia is lonely. I think that’s what frustrates me most. Eventually everyone falls asleep, as well they should, and you’re left alone with yourself and when you’re sick of yourself, alas.” —her site, March 2010

Jennifer Aniston

“My one key tip [for battling insomnia] … is to sleep with my phone at least five feet away from me. That’s helped me tremendously. And I also do a quick meditation before I get into bed, even if it’s just for five minutes. There are also some yoga poses that I’ve found to be quite helpful in relaxing my mind, even if it’s just a simple downward dog and some stretching. But the biggest thing is the electronics shutdown, ideally an hour before I turn off the lights. It’s really a big deal.” —The Huffington Post, April 2016

Rachel McAdams

“[My local grocer and I] were chatting and I said I was having a really hard time sleeping and he said, ‘Well, um, I’ve got something for you’ … so he takes me to the back and he pulls out this little bottle with no label. It’s full of this dark green substance and he lifts [the lid] and says, ‘Take a whiff of that.’ And it’s like, well it’s, it’s marijuana … I take the tiniest teaspoon, brush my teeth, and by the time I’m getting into bed, I’m like, My brain, what’s happening? I was not thinking normal, human thoughts. I was hallucinating. I was totally hallucinating and I’m just lying there like cursing him, ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’ And then I started to hear opera. And then for like five hours I heard opera, this guy singing opera in my head. I was going crazy.” —Jimmy Kimmel Live, April 2013

Erica Jong

“As a seasoned insomniac, I knew sometimes the way to beat sleeplessness was to outwit it: to pretend you didn’t care about sleeping. Then sometimes sleep became piqued, like a rejected lover, and crept up to try to seduce you.” —Fear of Flying, 1973

Mary Karr

“Grandma’s death gave me my first serious case of insomnia. When I lay in bed next to Lecia’s solid, sleeping form, that picture of Grandma’s pale arm with the ants would rear up behind my closed eyes. With it came a low humming in my head — a sound like a crazy cello player sawing the same note over and over, or like a zillion bees coming up out of the ground … If I kept my eyes open, the humming stopped. If they fell closed, even for a second, that humming would swamp over every good thought I’d ever had. Nights, I lay awake with my eyes burning. What I was protecting myself against on these vigils was, in fact, my own skull, which must be the textbook definition of early-onset Nervous if ever there was one.” —The Liars’ Club: A Memoir, 1995

Carrie Brownstein

“My sleep difficulties will never end now that I discovered I can sing ‘insomnia’ to the tune of The Kinks’ ‘Victoria’ from about 3 AM on.” —her Twitter, November 2013

Janet Mock

“In the last three weeks, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night. Nearly every night … These voices, not the ones from the street, but the ones inside of me ramble on and on about the decisions I’ve made. The ones that I can’t take back. They laugh at me about telling my story, about trying to be a leader, about my highty-flighty, self-helpy intentions, about my audacity to add more to our ongoing conversation as human beings — and most importantly about being a leader. Who do you think you are? they laugh at me while I lay awake staring at Marty. You’re going to regret this! … But a few nights ago, after a string of these sleepless nights, I had a mini-revelation, a breakthrough of sorts. On this particular night, when the voices woke me, I let myself accept the doubt, the fear, the anxiety. I recognized them. I even said hello to each. But I did not validate them this time. I did not let them take over my thoughts, leading me to a trail of additional questions and fears … I refused to fret, I tuned out the anxiety and tuned into my dreams. I haven’t awaken since.” —her site, April 2011

Jennifer Garner

“When I can’t sleep — and I am not someone who typically has that problem, but I really have in the last year — and I need something to switch my brain off, it has been Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. God bless those girls. I used to think I would never watch television on my phone, but there I am, because I am sleeping next to my daughter. I’m happy to have her; she’s happy to have me.” —Vanity Fair, February 2016

Joni Mitchell

“My nocturnalism comes from years of being stalked here … I’m the night watchman. A lot of my insomnia comes from — I can’t sleep until it’s light outside. I am scared of the dark, but I’m so used to being scared of the dark that I don’t even notice it. You know what I mean? I’m not sitting in a fearful state, but it has affected my sleep patterns.” —Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, 1982

Maya Angelou

“There are some nights when

sleep plays coy,

aloof and disdainful.

And all the wiles

that I employ to win

its service to my side

are useless as wounded pride,

and much more painful.”

—“Insomniac,” Shaker Why Don’t You Sing?, 1983

Mindy Kaling

“In my thirties, I gained a sense of calm that came from professional stability and, although this is not backed by science, a general slowing of my metabolism, which is why I can gain seven pounds from eating one heavy dinner. As calm as I might be, still, about once a month, I wake up at 4 AM and lie in the dark worrying about the same handful of things.” —Why Not Me?, September 2015

Fran Lebowitz

“I myself don’t dream because I never sleep … I haven’t slept since I was 17. I’m up all night whether I’m home or not. I used to be out all night. But I don’t do that anymore. I’m way past the out-all-night age. People can call me at three in the morning without any fear that they would wake me up …Let’s face it, I am not a highly-functioning person.” —WWD, November 2010

Martha Stewart

“The worst thing you can do when you can’t sleep is to start stressing about the fact that you’re awake and unable to fall back asleep. Such thoughts only stimulate your brain, delaying sleep onset that much more. I will usually lie still and focus on my breathing. For the occasional insomnia, I enjoy combining several herbs for a relaxing bedtime beverage.” —USA Today, July 2013

Hillary Rodham Clinton

“I did [learn to sleep on command], but I was so tired all the time, I was perpetually in a sleep deficit, so it was kind of easy for me. I would just go, ‘Oh my god, I have ten minutes — bang.’ Because what used to happen — you know, jet lag is really serious when you’re flying through time zones around the world — and so I would have to get off and go be ready to go a public event, to meet with the president, prime minister, leader of the country, and I’d be standing up there and I’d be digging my fingernails into my palm to keep myself awake because I’d be standing on the stage wherever I was, [and] everybody I traveled with would be sitting there knocked out, and I’m looking at them. They’re all asleep; I’m having to answer questions on behalf of our country. So, it was so hard … But seriously, you need to get into a routine, which is hard.” —The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, January 2016

Demi Lovato

“I didn’t really realize I was sick. I thought that writing seven songs in one night was normal. I thought that staying up until 5:30 in the morning is normal. Last night, I stayed up until five in the morning. I just couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing and it’s an ongoing thing and I still learn how to cope with it.” —MTV’s Demi Lovato: Stay Strong, March 2012

Betty White

“I don’t seem to require a lot of sleep. I just — if I get four, five good hours, I’m fine. But sleeping is sort of dull. There’s a lot of other good stuff that you can do without just lying down and closing your eyes.” —Piers Morgan Tonight, April 2012

25 Famous Women on Insomnia