Not many people can boast of a career in Hollywood that spans across two decades, but actor Taye Diggs can. Beyond being a household name in Hollywood, he’s also a human being with real struggles, just like the rest of us. One he exclusively opened up to ESSENCE about is his battle with insomnia, something 70 million Americans struggle with annually. He currently has a partnership with Idorsia Pharmaceuticals and he’s talking about the importance of getting adequate help and treatment for the condition.
The Best Man actor’s issues with insomnia started over a decade ago when his son Walker was born. As a new dad, he would watch the clock so he knew when to wake up and attend to his son. However, the lack of sleep didn’t stop when his son moved on from the newborn stage. It persisted for years to come, with him resting anywhere from just four hours to zero every night.
“I split custody of him with his mother, so every minute I spend with him is valued. When he started coming to me and saying that I was acting different or, I was kind of lethargic, or just not myself, that’s when I realized that I needed to see somebody cause I immediately linked it to my lack of sleep,” Diggs says.
Aside from affecting his interactions with his son, the side effects of not catching enough Zzzs were bleeding into other areas of his life, too.
“My patience level was shortened,” he says. “I wasn’t as quick when it came to work. It would take me longer to memorize my lines. I’m an actor. I’ve been blessed with all of these opportunities, but to go to work and to not really enjoy yourself because you’re too tired, that’s a red flag.”
Other common symptoms of insomnia include irritability, depression, anxiety, difficulty focusing, and daytime tiredness.
The next step for Diggs was speaking to a doctor who gave him medication options and went over the risks and benefits of each. This, however, wasn’t an easy process for him because of the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the sleep disorder.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to come to terms with the idea that you need help, and help from a doctor,” he says.
He was able to overcome that hurdle and it led to him trying QUVIVIQ, which marked a turning point in his sleep journey; this after trying natural methods like yoga and meditation to no avail. The medication both helped the Critics’ Choice Movie Award winner fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and wake up more alert.
Using medication to sleep isn’t uncommon for Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around nine million use some type of prescription sleep aid or medication to help with insomnia or other sleep issues.
“Once I did that, it’s like a door opened up and I was able to kind of experience everything differently—who I was at work, how I was with my son, [and] who I was in my relationship,” he says. “It was a little bit embarrassing just to realize how long I had been going, just getting by, without a certain amount of sleep and not really giving it the importance that sleep needs to be given. So that’s kind of the message I want to get out there. People take for granted how important letting your body rest is. Sometimes you need a little help in making sure you get the proper sleep that’s needed.”
This is a timely topic considering society’s glorification of overworking, hustling and sacrificing sleep in the process. Diggs also touches on this way of thinking and explains the effects it had on him.
“I was doing an interview earlier today where this young lady mentioned how in this atmosphere, people are kind of proud of the fact that they can hustle without any sleep at all. I can say from experience that it did not work for me. Even though I was getting by, it was excruciating,” he says.
“None of that was cool,” he adds. “Just getting by is not why I do what I do. When I’m at 100%, that’s when it’s fun.”
Diggs believes getting adequate sleep is a form of self-care, and how you care for yourself can positively or negatively affect those around you. “Thankfully, I had my son to remind me of that,” he says.
Speaking of which, now that the emerging TikTok sensation is getting better sleep thanks to the medication he’s taking, he’s able to give fatherhood and his career 100 percent. This includes current projects he’s working on such as the hit CW series All American, and the Best Man limited series coming to streaming service Peacock.
When asked how he feels about being able to maintain a career for over two decades, he recounted what it was like to back on set with the original cast of The Best Man for the first time in years and how special of a moment that was for him.
“We just looked around at each other and kind of acknowledged the fact that we all started out together in the first Best Man, we were all kind of beginning our careers and all these years later, we’re still here and we gave ourselves credit for that,” he says.
After keeping the Black community entertained for over 20 years, Diggs isn’t done yet and has a legacy he wants to leave.
“I just want to continue to do good work that affects people.”