I have bouts of insomnia throughout the year – but January is when my insomnia game is the strongest. I don’t know if its the pressure of starting a new year off right, or what. But when January comes around, my circadian rhythms decide to pack a bag and go on vacation. Over the years I have come up with a way to deal. It doesn’t involve tossing or turning, or laying in bed waiting for sleep to come, or even watching netflix documentaries.
Here is my list of 15 things you can do to stop stressing about your lack of sleep and have some fun.
- Get some crayons, paper, and maybe a colouring book or two. Go to town. Colouring is a great way to relax and destress – and it engages your brain just enough to help you forget the stuff that is actually keeping you up at night.
- If you aren’t a classical musician, I would suggest listening to some music written before the romantic period. If you are a musician – may I suggest listening to ambient music written by Brian Eno (or someone similar), Music for Airports is my go to work for nights when I can’t sleep. And if I’m still awake, I listen to Keith Jarret’s The Koln Concert. Here is a snippet of him talking about some of the problems that came before the recording. *Not so fun fact- Keith Jarrett has lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – and so he knows insomnia. Why not commiserate together.
- Make art. Try to make art without using any electronics – the light that comes from that equipment is not your friend. Find other means.
- Clean. Get up and sweep floors, wash dishes, scrub your bathtub, make your bed.
- Write mantras in lipstick on all of your mirrors. Use sports quotes – In the past I have used quotes from Wayne Gretzky (but you will need a big mirror – he is wordy), words of wisdom from grandfathers work well, as do bon mots spewed by members of the Algonquin Round Table. This morning I wrote a bunch of hideous lipstick mantras about how failure makes you great – and that its healthy to fail – and then I cleaned my mirrors. Wiping out words about failure made me feel powerful – which is something we don’t often feel-when we can’t sleep. And fear of failure could also be the reason why you are still awake at 3am. *side note – only use lipstick that is so hideous looking that you can’t believe you ever bought it.
- Resign yourself to the fact that sleep isn’t going to happen for you. Get up and start your day.
- My favourite insomnia activity (best done in the spring and summer) is to go outside with your camera every hour on the hour, and take photos of your street – notice how the light changes, if the cars have moved, wave to your neighbours, capture the trees blowing in the wind, or the crows digging for worms.
- Do some yoga. Im new to yoga – but am finding a lot of peace and enjoyment out of sun salutations. A couple of these will totally wake you up – and you will be ready for some coffee.
- Call a far away friend. Just call someone that is several time zones ahead of you. Don’t interrupt someone else’s sleep – that’s a bit rude.
- Read a book. May I suggest opening an actual book made of paper – remember screens are bad. I read 110 books last year, mostly during hours I should have been sleeping. You can find what I read here. Try reading the book backwards – read the last word first and make your way to the front of the book. This will help tire your brain – and you may find yourself back in bed sooner than you think. Hat Tip to Casper for this.
- For me, simple math is hard. And when you are in the throes of Chronic Fatigue – doctors will often ask you to start at 100 and count backwards by subtracting by 7. Try doing these exercises – if you are anything like me, you will give up and fall asleep long before you get the final answer (its 2). Its way better than counting sheep.
- If its safe to do so, go for a walk. A little bit of fresh air and exercise might be just what your body needs. I usually walk just before 5 am, head to Starbucks (because thats the closest place that is open) and walk for about an hour or so- but only if I am restless. I won’t go earlier than that because when streets are too quiet, I find it a bit too scary to stray far from my home.
- Organize a closet. There is a strange clarity that comes at 2am that you don’t get during the rest of the day. Its an optimal time to do a clothing purge. Be quiet though, if there is someone else is sleeping in your bedroom. Best practice would be to weed out a closet in a room where no one is sleeping.
- Make coffee, cinnamon rolls, and bacon. It’s a gentler way to wake up the other person/people in your house, if you are feeling a bit lonely and want someone to talk to. Chances are they would appreciate this method a lot more, than being pestered to wake up by being poked and nagged.
- Practice. Surely you have something going on that needs to be worked on. For me its guitar. But for you in might be a keynote you are preparing, or math problems, or getting ready for baseball season. Whatever you are passionate about find a way to work on your craft. If you can practice full out – great! If you are sharing your space, find a way to practice quietly.
What do you do when you can’t sleep? Do you have an insomnia regime? I know that the usual form is to do something to get you back to sleep. That rarely works for me – so I find ways to distract myself. But I would love to hear your tricks. Please share.