After months of lying awake at night unable to catch more than the occasional brief, restless wink, concerned that he might have sleep apnea or some sort of mild epileptic disorder, Matthew Cooper visited his doctor, only to learn that he was suffering from a condition called existential insomnia.
"It's something we're seeing more and more these days," said Dr. Maxwell Baker. "It's not new, exactly; we've seen accounts of it from ancient Greek philosophers, and from a number of eighteenth-century German philosophers like Hegel. But there's been a marked upswing in occurrence since about 2016, especially in the U.S. Hard to say what the specific cause is, though."
What is existential insomnia, exactly?
"I'd describe it as a deep soul weariness coupled with the obsessive thought that things as they are, are simply not okay," said Dr. Baker. "It's usually accompanied by a sense that some sort of major action is urgently called for, with a parallel feeling of paralysis and despair as to ever determining exactly what it is that so desperately needs to be done."
The doctor shook his head sympathetically. "In other words, it's a mental and emotional cluster fuck. Pardon my language."
Dr. Baker went on to explain that while there are certain behavioral strategies that can help with existential insomnia, like exercising intensively, getting involved in superficial short-term sexual relationships, and becoming zealous about a professional sports team, it's really prescription opiates that are the best long-term solution for people like Matthew.
"I feel good that I'm helping people with my prescription pad, every day," said Dr..Baker, who noted that, while he's never himself experienced existential insomnia, he is passionate about the importance of quality sleep.
Ameliorative treatments aside, is there any known cure for existential insomnia?
Dr. Baker chuckled sadly at the question. "Only one - death. That's a cure for just about everything, in my book. But it's really a last resort."