Will Insomnia Win George Clooney an Oscar?

You know the feeling. You’re lying in bed, exhausted.

But your mind just won’t shut off!

Oscar nominated actor George Clooney freely admits that he has problems with insomnia. But, as he told the Hollywood Reporter, he can sometimes use it to his advantage.

One sleepless night, he wrote one of the more memorable dialogs for his film The Ides of March:

I woke and sat down and wrote the whole scene in the kitchen between Ryan [Gosling] and myself: “You want to be president… You can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t f— the interns.”

That dialog is part of the reason Clooney has been nominated for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) for the film. He’s also nominated for Best Actor for his role in the movie The Descendants.

Clooney further goes on to say that although he’s routinely in bed by 10 pm, he has a hard time falling asleep. He wakes up several times during the night, and needs the TV on to fall back asleep:

Turning off the television causes me to think, and once I start that vision roaring, I have a very tough time getting to sleep.

What You Need to Know About Sleep Disorders

The Scope of the Problem:

  • Some 70 million people in the United States have a sleep problem. About 40 million adults suffer from a chronic sleep disorder; an additional 20 – 30 million have intermittent sleep-related problems.
  • Effects of sleep loss on work performance may be costing U.S. employers some $18 billion in lost productivity.
  • America’s adults average 6.9 hours of sleep each night, slightly less than the range of seven to nine hours recommended by many sleep experts.
  • Three-quarters of America’s adults, (75%), said they frequently experience at least one symptom of a sleep problem in the past year.

The End of Sleep

Doctors have described more than 70 sleep disorders. The most common include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.  Let’s concentrate on insomnia.

Almost everyone occasionally suffers from short-term insomnia. Short term, or acute insomnia is often brought on by situations such as stress at work, family pressures, or a traumatic event. Acute insomnia lasts for days or weeks.

About 60 million Americans a year have insomnia frequently or for extended periods of time, which leads to even more serious sleep deficits.

Insomnia tends to increase with age and affects about 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men. It is often the major disabling symptom of an underlying medical disorder.

Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or longer. Most cases of chronic insomnia are secondary, which means they are the symptom or side effect of some other problem. Certain medical conditions, medicines, sleep disorders, and substances can cause secondary insomnia. These include:

  • Depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
  • Conditions that cause chronic (ongoing) pain, such as arthritis and headache disorders
  • Conditions that make it hard to breathe, such as asthma and heart failure
  • An overactive thyroid
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, such as heartburn
  • Sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep-related breathing problems
  • Menopause and hot flashes
  • Side effects from prescribed or OTC medications

Mild insomnia often can be prevented or cured by practicing good sleep habits.

For short-term insomnia, doctors may prescribe sleeping pills. Most sleeping pills stop working after several weeks of nightly use, however, and long-term use can actually interfere with good sleep.

A type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help relieve the anxiety linked to chronic (ongoing) insomnia.

Secondary chronic insomnia is best treated by dealing with  the underlying illness.

For more serious cases of insomnia, researchers are experimenting with light therapy and other ways to alter circadian cycles.

Have you struggled with insomnia? How do you cope with the problem?


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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