George Galioto blamed his sleepless nights on his schedule. He often worked two jobs, putting in long hours at bars and restaurants where his shifts ended long past midnight. He also juggled work and school, studying late into the evenings.

“I wasn’t even attempting to go to sleep until well after midnight and sometimes not until 3 a.m.,” he says. “For the longest time, I thought it was due to that lifestyle that I’d programmed my body away from a regular circadian rhythm.”

Even when it was time to go to bed, Galioto, now 49, almost never felt tired. His mind didn’t register the need for sleep, he says, so it was a struggle to shut down. He tried several over-the-counter sleep aids. They did the trick — but only for a little while.

“I tried all sorts of medications,” he says. “They worked for a month or so and then the effects faded.”

Galioto was awake until the wee hours on most nights. He says he got as little as 4 hours of sleep per night. He got used to operating on very little sleep. But eventually, the sleepless nights started to take their toll.

“I just kept going and never shut down … until I got to a breaking point,” he recalls.

An estimated 25% of adults in the United States say they don’t get enough sleep, tossing and turning at least 15 days of each month. “Short sleepers,” or those who sleep less than the recommended 6 hours per night, are at higher risk for several health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Losing sleep can weaken your immune system, making you more likely to catch colds, the flu, and other infections. It can make you less effective at work or school.

Sleeplessness is also linked to poor family health and problems with personal relationships. This is a side effect that Galioto experienced firsthand.

“During my first years of marriage, a lot of the issues we experienced as a young couple were amplified by my lack of sleep,” he says. “It triggered a lot of stress and there were certain situations where I made things worse because I wasn’t sleeping.”

Galioto knew his poor sleep was causing problems. But he felt the odds were stacked against him. His schedule was erratic, and over-the-counter sleep medications weren’t effective for him.

It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with ADHD and had a conversation with his doctor about his sleep habits, that he learned he also had chronic insomnia. (That’s defined as  trouble falling asleep or staying asleep on 3 or more nights a week for more than 3 months.)

This diagnosis came after he’d suffered through more than a decade of sleepless nights.

Learning that his inability to sleep was a medical condition, and not a personal fault, proved pivotal for Galioto. “It was such a relief,” he recalls. “I felt like, now that we know what this is, maybe we’ll be able to fix it.”

A diagnosis meant that his doctor could prescribe a treatment regimen. Galioto started taking medication for his insomnia. It helped to counteract the stimulant effects of his ADHD medications, which made his heart race and created more intense periods of wakefulness.

His doctor also suggested light therapy, in which you’re exposed to artificial light for a set amount of time each day, to help Galioto reset his sleep/wake cycle.

Galioto says his family also felt a sense of relief when they learned about his diagnosis.

“My family learned that I was irritable because I wasn’t sleeping,” Galioto says. “It became more of an open topic rather than something that was hidden. We had conversations about it and that helped the rest of the family to deal with it.”

Along with medication, Galioto also worked to establish better sleep habits, such as:

  • Setting an alarm to remind him to go to bed
  • Reading a book or watching television to help wind down
  • Sticking to his medication regimen to promote a normal sleep/wake cycle

“I have a process and going through those steps helps,” he says.

Galioto says he still struggles to get 6 hours of sleep a night. But knowing that there’s a reason for his sleeplessness, along with his medications and a doctor-recommended list of good sleep habits, makes him rest a little easier.