By Michelle Gunnin
In the quiet, my mind races. I wish it were not so. Quiet is made for soaking. For listening. Instead, the thoughts clamor for attention. The cares rise up and scream. Stresses fill every sleeping space. Negotiating with them is futile. Attempting to banish them only incites more. The only way to silence them is to give them a voice. To capture them in list-form serves as their prison. My bullets hold them back and contain them in one place. In the wee hours, they resist arrest. They fight to stay at the forefront. I wrestle and toss incessantly. I try to avoid the inevitable rising by using stillness as a weapon — to no avail.
My resignation to remain horizontal changes to a decision to rise. But how far…all the way up, or just part way? If the screams turn to sentences, it will be all the way up. Lights on, computer in lap, coffee next to my chair. If they remain random thoughts, I can get away with a flashlight and the notepad and pencil on the nightstand.
Tonight, it is a coffee and chair morning (My body says it is night, my mind argues that it is morning. I appease them by allowing it to be both.) Before dawn, I am grasping for the ideas with a burdened heart and a racing mind. There are so many. How to choose and piece together something coherent is the question. Nothing in my desk-top-writing-idea file wants to be spotlighted. My rational ideas all go into hiding. They block the door and refuse to come out. The frustration of having sleeplessness and writer’s block, at the same time, is mind-numbing.
The thoughts that drove me to my chair are howling in amusement. Their laughter at my predicament is fuel for me to push forward, despite the foreboding that nothing will be accomplished. I pace in front of the coffee pot for another cup, trying to buy myself some time; knowing that if I push through there could be a golden nugget to dig up. Or not.
Is it possible to go in so many directions at once that there is an enormous crash? One which results in so much noise my brain cannot string together any words at all? It can only stammer. Bills to be paid. Taxes. Job. (The usual suspects.) Then there are more. Car trouble. Insurance. Assisted living. Children. Work. Clients. Schools. Office. Computer programs. Passwords. Laundry. Cleaning. And as if to disguise themselves, the fun words sashay into the cacophony. Trips. Weddings. Children. Hiking. Friends. In my head, there is a crescendo. It stretches well past what I thought possible, rising-up, louder and louder and louder, until it finally drops off completely, to silence. The quiet I long for…the soaking quiet. The stillness before the dawn. Here, I wait. I listen. The songbirds are tuning up. The possibility of going back into my warm cocoon and nestling in, next to my gently snoring husband, is gone. The day is already born. I sit in silence and wait for a word. Just one. One, which will flow out onto the page and explain itself to me. I long for an inspirational word, but today it does not come. Today I smirk because the word I get is…INSOMNIA.
I wrote the above piece in the wee hours of the morning. I believe many of us, as writers, experience insomnia. Our creative minds do not wish to sleep! I have always said, when I am sleeping is the only time I am still enough to be inspired! Some of my best ideas come in that space between asleep and awake, if I can just capture them. I have no trouble falling asleep. My issue is staying asleep. At 3:00 a.m., my eyes just pop open and my mind churns. Here are some thoughts on what to do when insomnia visits.
- Make a bullet list. I keep a pad and pencil beside my bed. If I can write down those to-do-list things which dance through my head at night, the anxiety which I am trying to forget subsides. This sometimes allows me to get back to sleep.
- Put sticky notes next to your computer. This is like making a list in the night, but it’s more preventative. If I know I have several things to do the next day, I make a sticky note and put it beside my computer before bed. That way, I know when I get up, I already have a reminder of what needs to be done.
- Exercise your body. To relieve stress, it is necessary to move your body. A hike, going to the gym, a walk at lunch, a workout before or after work — all can help release tension which prevents sleep. Wear yourself out!
- Drink hot tea in the evening. Sleepytime tea is my favorite. Chamomile is also good. It soothes and helps me to relax. Something about that warm liquid is comforting.
- Read before bedtime. Sometimes reading a novel or some other book can take your mind off your own troubles. I keep several books on my bedside table, and each night I read a couple of chapters until my eyes get heavy, before turning out the light. Just make sure whatever book you are reading isn’t an adrenaline producing one!
- Try not to panic. The cycle that flows through your brain can be brutal. If you have a stressful situation coming up, like a job interview or a performance review, you know you need to get some rest. When insomnia hits, the last thing you do is rest. Yet, you know you should be sleeping, and your performance will suffer if you don’t!
- Talk it out. Call a friend. Chat with your spouse. Visit with your parents. Sometimes we hold onto our stress without realizing it. Getting it out by vocalizing it can be enough to remove it from your thoughts.
- Set a regular bedtime. I have heard this can help, but I cannot do it! I know on weeks I have attempted to be more consistent, it seems I sleep better. I think. However, I haven’t done it enough to be sure.
- Make it productive time. I have learned that on some nights, I just cannot sleep no matter how many sheep I count. I may as well get up and make it productive time. However, I don’t get up and clean house or pay bills. I use my time for writing since I hardly have time during the day to write. I have found a quiet sleepy house is conducive to formulating ideas.
- Keep a writing file. On my desktop, I have a file of writing ideas. It’s my go-to when I’m stuck. I can pull and develop ideas from that list when I don’t have a specific piece or deadline I am working on. On insomnia nights, often, I pull from the file to occupy my brain.
Creative brains are difficult to shut off, and insomnia can be the result. Trying some of these ideas might help to alleviate the issue, or at least learn to view it as productive writing time. If nothing else, you will realize you are not alone!
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