When you can’t fall asleep

A Little Story

“Where did the time go that I was afraid of the dark?”, I thought while lying in my bed, “Maybe I should invent some sort of reverse sunglasses which can let you see in the dark. An interesting feature might be that the brightness might be controlled so that you can train yourself gradually to face your fear of the dark” I was honestly very proud of this idea so I turned on the light and wrote it down.

Some minutes later I was wondering, “Was it worth it to write this idea down? I’m probably never going to use it anyway and now I’m even more awake so it would be even more difficult to fall asleep now” I was very tired and really needed to wake up early the next day, but I couldn’t fall asleep. It felt like my two brain hemispheres were fighting for which side to sleep on while ideas were accreting like bugs to a beam of light (link to …). “I want to write down my thoughts while keeping the light off because the light makes me more awake. Maybe, I can invent a pen of light that illuminates my notebook while writing. Or I could grow a bioluminescent Panellus stipticus (fancy term for a mushroom that lights up).” The ideas kept accumulating and I turned on the light again to write them down.

“F*ck, I’m still awake and I need to fall asleep right now. How long have I been laying in my bed without sleeping? I don’t dare to look at my clock because if I do, I’m certain I won’t fall asleep this night at all. I’m blaming you, my silly ideas, why do you keep emerging? Why do you keep me awake? Why do you convince me to turn on the light and right you down? So that you will get immortalized? As a punishment I will erase you, I will burn you!” Of course, I didn’t dare to do that. I’m way too keen on my ideas, they are like my babies. What if I have to write down these ideas? I don’t know.

To write or not to write? That is the question.

Sleeping Problems

Am I the only one having sleeping problems? Probably not. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that I have amnesia or something, but every day I lie awake in my bed for at least 30 minutes and sometimes even an hour. It’s not because I’m anxious or something. It is because the creativity locked in my brain seems to unlock itself right before I want to sleep. My brain seems working at a very fast pace and comes up with a lot of creative ideas. Actually, a lot of the posts and concepts that are listed in this blog come from these late-night ideas.

Because of this, I have a daily dilemma. What do I need to do with these ideas? Should I write them down at that moment? Or should I try to ignore them because they ensure I’m not falling asleep any time soon? These are questions that bother me a lot, so I thought it would be fun to investigate this problem and try to find an answer. This post is the result of this search.

Why you are creative just before falling asleep

Do you know what Dali, Einstein, and Aristotle all had in common? Besides being famous, they all used the transient state between awakeness and sleeping for being creative. How did they do that? Well, they hold an object like a stone or a key in their hand while sitting in a chair, trying to fall asleep. When they would almost fall asleep the object would fall out of their hands and make a noise that would awake them. This is also known as the “dropping the spoon”-method.

In this method, Dali and the others make use of the theta brainwaves which occur while falling asleep. These theta brainwaves are highly associated with flow state and creativity. (I’m probably a bit oversimplifying though). So that’s the reason why you’re so creative before falling into sleep.

So these theta waves are very helpful for our creativity, but the problem is that they occur just before falling asleep. This combined with the fact that sleep cleans up our brain, we often forget these ideas. We even forget that we’ve forgotten these ideas! So to store these ideas, we have to write them down at the moment we have them.

Argument contra writing

In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits he says that the bedroom is only for sleeping. If you want to sleep well, you have to form a strong link in your brain between your bedroom and sleeping. When you do other things in your bedroom, like writing, your brain might get confused. So every time you write when you are in your bed, your brain will associate your bed more with writing and less with sleeping. This might make falling asleep more difficult.

Argument pro writing

A friend of mine, Joris, convinced me that it’s probably better to write these ideas down. I really liked the analogy he made. 

Every day, you have to work a minimum on an important cause and you must keep this habit going. It doesn’t matter if you succeed, as long as you do it daily. However, remember that this minimum is only the foundation that will eventually lead to greater things.

Let’s say that you write down some sentences every day, which requires considerable effort, but at the same time, you ignore the flowing inspiration when it occurs at 1 AM. That’s like gathering branches and tinder for days or even weeks, but when the universe places firestone in front of your feet, you say, “I’ve already done my job today for the fire”. No, at that moment, you should seize the opportunity and harvest the fruits of your preparing, tedious labor. Your daily structure makes the difference for your cause, but the fury of some decisive moments does even more.

So, to write or not to write? I think you should write. Or at least I think I should. If I hadn’t written down my ideas, this post (and the rest of the blog) probably would have never existed.  

Your Turn

Put a notebook and pencil on your nightstand. Don’t be afraid to use them. You’re future creative self will thank you.

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