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Sunday 17 June 2012

Insomnia: A Curse or a Privilege?

A few days ago, at 5am, I wrote the post 'Off We Went'. It proceeded a restless night where I couldn't sleep, and couldn't focus my thoughts.

When I tell people I can't sleep, they often make the assumption, "too many thoughts running through your head?' They're right, but it's not worry or anxiety, at least not usually, and it's not creative thoughts either.

Yet it is definitely linked to my creativity. I am very proud of 'Off We Went'. It was written in about five minutes, an instant stream of writing after hours of not sleeping. It's not based on a real experience. It's a story about two people leaving their city surroundings and heading to the British countryside. In truth, I'm not sure I've seen a tree all year. So the story is fictional, and it came from nowhere.

But it wouldn't have been written if I'd fallen asleep. Was I awake because I needed to process that particular idea? Sounds like an over-romanticized thought, I agree; would the brain really keep me up all night to write a fictional piece about British mountains?

Side note: I like the piece but the lack of comments would suggest it didn't connect with my readers. It feels all the more humbling to think that your brain can keep you up a whole night only to provide an idea that isn't very good.

My brain at night is crazy. Chaos. Flies off in different directions... Hunts down things of interest, scripts to write, women to think of, places to go--- but none of them hold, I keep on zipping by---- and then sometimes I land on a thing. A place that gives me a feeling, which becomes the seed of a creative idea. But not always. Sometimes I just don't sleep and the next day I suffer from tiredness and grumpiness.

Should I medicate? I don't think so. I could lose so much. Or I could do it the healthier way, meditate and listen to raindrops, but is that really what I need? Sure, I can be creative in the middle of the day but I'm telling you, the night is unique, the texture of your thoughts and ideas are different.

It's 3.16am

Is it a curse or privilege? I realise it's a bit egotistical to suggest it's a privilege, my late night blogs aren't going to gain me a knighthood from the Queen. But maybe the ideas that reach me at 5.34am are sometimes worthwhile, and people connect to them. That makes it worth it, somehow, although it's hard to feel that when I have to be up at 7.30am.

What is happening when your brain is firing so many seemingly random thoughts through your mind? It's as if the neurons in my brain have awoken and are desperate to make new connections and jolt down new pathways. At least, it's exciting to think of it that way. Kind of takes the pressure off me in terms of creativity. I don't have to force ideas, my brain will just deliver them to me at night after a few hours of random brain activity. A nice thought which I've cobbled together with made up neuroscience. Maybe there's some truth in it.

Or maybe I need to stop writing to you in the middle of the night.


  1. You fret too much over the number of comments, kid. Like so many other bloggers do.

    Insomnia is a blessing to a certain extent, even if there will be a point when it threatens your health.

    I read somewhere in a self-improvement book - it might have been Dale Carnegie - about someone who suffered badly from it. So what did he do? He used the time to read to a lawyer exam.

    Use those sleepness nights well and don't worry too much. Not over insomnia. Not over the number of comments. *hug*

    1. Thanks for your comments, although I think you misunderstand a lot of what I say. I don't fret over the number of comments at all - I was just making a point about creativity/reception, as related to insomnia.

      I don't worry at all about the lack of sleep, apologies if it comes across that way!

    2. I didn't mean to criticise you or anything. It's just that it saddens me to see when bloggers go into deep worries and analyzis over why a certain post didn't get a lot of comments. And sometimes there is no clear reason for it. The amount of comments isn't a good way to measure how much your readers appreciate a post. I've been talking about it a lot lately with new, unexperienced bloggers, trying to make them calm down a bit in their monitoring of statstics in hits and comments since it's not what should be the driving force for their blogging.

      But you're a veteran and you know better than that. Sorry for putting you in the same category!

  2. I opened this page at 3:30am. After reading it, I got up to get a drink and fell asleep shortly after. Lately, I've been getting my real inspiration at night, around 11:30pm and it carries me into 1:30-2:00a.m.

    I have a full-time job that requires me to get going at around 7-8am, but some nights, I don't want to stop what I'm working on, for fear of losing the inspiration and ideas. I totally understand this. I think my best work has been when the rest of the world is sleeping. Do what works for you. I just go with it and I'm always happy I did.

  3. I go through bouts of insomnia and while I try to harness ideas when that happens sometimes the creativity just isn't there. It does help to have those extra hours to think through ideas even though I feel ruined the next day. I enjoyed reading the 'Off We Went' post but this post spoke to me more and gave me more to comment on.

  4. I learned how to hynotize myself and while I tend to sleep in 2-hour blocks, I can knock myself out IF I want. First, visualize a large, boring landscape. A field of wheat, or for me, open ocean. Not stormy. Not windy. The wafting grains of wheat OR waves are all boringly The Same.

    Now, when I start falling asleep naturally, I try to conjure this image. I had to spend weeks to accomplish this.

    But soon it was Pavlovian: instead of Feeling Sleepy-Visualizing This Boring Scene, then I could visualize the boring landscape, and I'd react sleepily.