A Writer’s Cure for Insomnia

Sometimes it is not the opposite of the thing but the thing itself that is the solution.

I’ve had my fair share of bouts of insomnia. In some ways it marked the end of childhood for me, knowing I could no longer just fall asleep wherever, whenever. 

Insomnia is the writer’s curse. It is a situation common to people who spend their waking hours imagining what-if’s and following their thoughts on long strings to their logical conclusions. It’s the mark of our monkey minds, the late-night conclusion to the state of being totally alert to the world.

Is it any surprise that I know so many writer insomniacs?

Just yesterday, a poet friend of mine posted on Facebook that she had been up to 4 a.m. with insomnia. Did anyone have any solutions? What emerged was a litany of solutions her writer friends had found to tackle their insomnia.

I had my own suggestions, borne out of experience. These are techniques I’ve developed for when sleep doesn’t come easily. They fall into “throwing things at the insomnia” solutions. They are active opposites of insomnia, not trying to fall asleep but trying to do something else that will ease the mind.

My go-to’s for insomnia are:

1. Stretching

Most yoga for sleep videos and experts suggest that calming the entire nervous system is the way in for sleep. The post most likely to get me there is simply sitting with my legs extended and reaching for my toes.

2. Tapping

Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, is pretty helpful. There are scores of videos on YouTube to teach yourself how to do this. You are basically tapping pressure points on your body and speaking to yourself as you do this. I usually only have to go through it about half a dozen times before I get bored and feel like I am ready to go to sleep.

3. No caffeine after 12 pm

This is just a preventative measure. I know that caffeine after noon means no sleep for me, so I am vigilant.

4. Ayurvedic massage oil for vata (especially in fall)

Banyan Botanicals makes a vata oil I especially appreciate. If you are new to ayurveda, you might have to do a little research on what works, but chances are good that if you can’t fall asleep you have what ayurvedics call a “vata imbalance.” I am a living, walking, breathing vata imbalance. This oil for vata constitution is very calming. I should buy stock in this company because I definitely go through this one quickly.

 5. Acupuncture
If insomnia becomes chronic, acupuncture is a great solution. But it takes multiple visits and does cost money, so probably not your first line of relief.

Write it out

Sometimes throwing things at your insomnia doesn’t work, especially if you are avoiding the pill trap.

At this point, there is the deep pleasure and serenity of list-making.

If you are in need of a brain dump, consider devoting one journal’s pages to the purpose alone. Write out all of the things you are afraid of, that are troubling you. Every little detail that is currently consuming you.

Do it in another room, leaving your bedroom to be your sanctuary from all of life’s ills.

Take that Monkey Mind of yours and put it down on the page and let those pages be where your worries reside, not your heart.

Counter writer mind with another writer’s mind. 

It’s an interesting proposition: That the very thing that causes writers to have insomnia could be the thing to cure it: Engaging the mind, just elsewhere.

In other words, what if you could stop your insomnia by exposing yourself to another writer’s thoughts?

Some of the more creative solutions to my poet friend on her Facebook feed involved visualizations. One writer built a cabin in his head, lit a fire, and every time his mind got distracted he would go back to sit next to the fire.

My mom has a somewhat odd thing that works for her: She wins $8 million in a lottery and then usually spends the money in her head. Shopping is relaxing for her. By the time she is down to $4 million she is usually asleep.

Another writer believes strongly that crosswords are the answer. It makes sense — distract the mind. Make that monkey mind feel like play.

But reading something really boring is often my best solution to insomnia.

I’ve got my favorites. For a while, it was Moby Dick, but then I started to get into it, so I had to reach for something else. Now, it’s W.G. Sebald’s Campo Santo (Modern Library Paperbacks). One person’s award-winning essay collection, praised for its digressive sentences and deep exploration of memory’s intermingling with history, is another person’s Ambien.

What’s your Campo Santo? What’s your writer’s cure for insomnia?

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