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One Year of Insomnia

Updated October 7, 2019

one_year_of_insomnia

The hopelessness of insomnia can be overbearing. Whether it manifests as sleepless nights or frequent early mornings, symptoms of insomnia can be short or long term. There are five major types of insomnia (plus other minor sleep disorders), but an estimated 10% of men and 20% of women around the nation suffer from chronic insomnia.

Sadly, a dramatic loss of sleep puts our bodies at risk for major health issues, such as heart disease. That’s why finding a community of people who can sympathize and offer advice can empower someone struggling with insomnia to seek help.

We explored a year’s worth of posts from one of Reddit’s fastest-growing communities (known as “subreddits”), r/insomnia, to learn which solutions are most discussed and how insomnia remedies are changing. At 35,000 subscribers strong and growing daily, new members can join and contribute to discussions about insomnia and how they struggle with or succeed in managing its symptoms.

Reddit: A Growing Community for Insomnia Advice

The widespread nature of insomnia is undeniable: 1 in 4 Americans develop this problem annually. Some suffer from a chronic condition, while others deal with temporary insomnia during times of stress or trauma. Like many with medical issues or questions, people dealing with insomnia may turn to online community forums for answers.

Reddit’s popularity has exploded in recent years, and some of its strongest forums have been bolstered by new subscribers: In fact, r/insomnia was in the top 15% of the fastest-growing subreddits in 2019.

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As a matter of fact, the subreddit increased its subscriber count by 50% between January and August of 2019. This rapid growth indicates that people see r/insomnia as a source of authority and a place to engage in productive conversations about insomnia.

People turn to the group to chat, ask for advice, and share successful tactics to combat sleep loss, such as advocating for the use of standing desks. Some users even rally around insomnia-related humor and celebrate each enthusiastic report of a good night’s sleep. Our sleep habits may even be genetic, so alternative solutions that may have worked for others might also work for us.

When Is r/insomnia Most Popular?

One might assume that a forum about insomnia would be populated with posts late at night, around the time that people are losing sleep. However, a deep analysis of r/insomnia’s activity shows overnight hours were not the most common. Instead, noon was the most popular time to post.

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Posting also tended to increase during the middle of the week. Since insomnia is a condition that inhibits people’s natural sleep schedules, the potential for someone’s entire day being thrown off balance is high. And interruptions to a good night’s sleep can have far-reaching consequences on a person’s professional life, especially with the hazards of sleep loss in the workplace and the possible loss of workplace productivity.

The workday can be a major source of stress, which, as discussed previously, can be linked to insomnia. We observed a weekend drop in posts, possibly indicating that the weekend represents a low-stress time where people can catch up on their sleep.

The most popular months for posting were those that signified a change in seasons (October and March).Winter was also a popular season for posts. Changes in light and fluctuations in day length during seasonal transitions have been shown to affect the frequency of sleep; additionally, the winter months are notorious times for conditions such as seasonal affective disorder and insomnia.

Upvoted and Downvoted Treatments

On Reddit, users are free to reward “upvotes” to highly relevant, informative, and overall good posts, while “downvotes” are given to unfair, unhelpful, or uninformative posts. On r/insomnia, the specific remedies we analyzed earned a variety of feedback on the forum.

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Pharmaceutical solutions were upvoted at a higher rate than homeopathic methods, with the former earning an average of 1.4 upvotes more than the latter. While there is a growing distrust in the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to regulate itself properly, traditional remedies like sleeping pills and SSRIs were popular and supported by the community overall.

However, many people are turning to natural alternatives for insomnia management, such as CBD, the most well-liked suggested remedy with an average of 9.6 upvotes. Although its legality and regulation vary by state, relief-seekers nationwide are seeing success with CBD oils and tinctures. Research shows that CBD may stimulate sleep and relieve extreme anxiety, a possible comfort for those who have insomnia.

Popular Remedies on r/insomnia

Since May of 2018, natural health supplements like CBD and melatonin were mentioned more often than conventional medical suggestions, with CBD being mentioned 2.4 times more often than the sedative Ambien.

However, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), another natural method, earned the most mentions on the subreddit with 1,664 posts discussing this remedy.

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CBT harnesses the power of cognitive control, which encourages a heightened awareness of the thoughts that cause us to lose sleep and trains us to replace those thoughts with techniques designed to stimulate healthy sleep habits.

One method that is nested in CBT involves improving overall sleep health, or sleep hygiene, the third-most mentioned remedy topic on r/insomnia. And we may be sabotaging our own sleep cycles by ignoring our sleep hygiene. In fact, bad habits, such as drinking caffeine late in the day or not exercising, can impact our sleep hygiene.

Weighted blankets even earned over 100 more mentions than antidepressants, Ambien, and benzodiazepines combined. Weighted blankets soared in popularity on the subreddit in February of 2019, with a sizable presence in the months following. While their effectiveness is debated, it’s hard to deny the vast anecdotal reports of their affordability and success.

Linking Mental Health and Insomnia

Mental health and insomnia are connected in a very inherent way; in many cases, it’s hard to determine which issue causes the other. Stress, anxiety, and depression can decimate someone’s sleep schedule. When considering r/insomnia posts related to mental health, mentions of anxiety overwhelmingly outnumbered all other topics.

In fact, posts mentioning anxiety exceeded all other mental health mentions combined.

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On r/insomnia, those with mental health issues can bring them up in search of help, and it seems to be a popular method for managing these issues. More than 1,000 posts in a one-year period made reference to anxiety, and nearly 250 talked about panic attacks.

Stress, a major cause of insomnia, was also a popular topic mentioned in this subreddit. Posts referencing stress peaked in late spring, namely March and May. The former also represented a month that saw a higher-than-average post frequency mentioning suicide.

Overcoming Insomnia, One Click at a Time

Managing insomnia can look different for everyone. Those with mild cases can follow simple, executable tips, including meditation and active relaxation, changing their diet before bed, and staying off their phone at night. Others with more severe issues would do better to follow a doctor or specialist’s recommendation to overcome insomnia.

Online communities such as r/insomnia allow users to connect with people dealing with the same struggles. But depending on who you are, easing insomnia might be as simple as changing your sleeping environment. This may mean getting rid of light or noise, cooling the temperature of your home, and having a comfy bed.

Are you thinking about changing your resting space to improve the quality of your sleep? Head over to The Sleep Judge to compare mattress reviews and hear expert opinions on the leading mattress manufacturers to discover which one works best for you.

Methodology

This project analyzed 33,876 primary posts made on the r/insomnia subreddit from May 2018 to April 2019. There were 6,255 unique post authors. We found the most common phrases, and then grouped them into categories for several of our visualizations.

Additionally, we used data from redditmetrics.com to show the subreddit’s growth over time, as well as University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine data to show how many Americans face sleep issues on a regular basis.

Limitations

This study is based on one online insomnia forum. Explorations of others could yield different results. Additionally, the number of mentions of a topic does not indicate support for or against the topic. Always consult with a physician before embarking on any insomnia treatment.

Fair Use Statement

Are you dealing with insomnia? Do you know someone who is having issues that are leading to an extreme loss of sleep? Share this with your communities for noncommercial purposes, online and offline, and let people know about the results of this study and who conducted it. We just ask that you provide a link to this research when citing it so that people can read through all the findings.