This is a tip that someone passed on to me years and years ago - and honestly, is probably the most personally valuable thing I've learned to do - how to cope with waking up in the middle of the night with thoughts rushing round your head, and not being able to drop off again.
Sleep – we all know that without it you can’t function properly – if you're under pressure and stress, it can often mean waking up at 3am with thoughts whirling in your head. You know, you just KNOW that you'll never get back to sleep again, and that tomorrow you'll be wandering around in a daze with your eyes looking like poached eggs. Not pretty. Not good for you. Not good for work.
So - what do I do to combat this? This simple thing I do that makes all the difference – lets me get those thoughts out of my head an into some sort of order – and then get back to sleep again?
Straightforwardly, its getting up for a bit – and writing down whatever is in my head.
I know. It sounds dumb. It sounds like a major effort – and you might think that it would mean that you’ll never get back to sleep again – but counter-intuitively, that’s not how it works.
I find that by writing down whatever is in my head, I clarify my thoughts. Often it turns out that what seems like a big deal in a half sleep state, an impenetrable thicket of jostling concerns – actually boils down to a couple of simple things – like making sure the car gets a service, and a particular job gets finished tomorrow. Once you’ve realised that – and written it down so it is there as a reminder in the morning – you can go back to bed with your mind at rest, and with that whirling thought tornado slowed right down.
Other times you might be having much bigger emotional thought processes going on – about your work – your relationship, your kids at school – ideas for your business – whether to move house – whatever it is, just write it down. This isn’t a Dear Diary kind of thing, a record of your great thoughts for posterity, so you can be regarded as the Samuel Pepys of the 21st Century – although it could be if you wanted it to be. It’s just a means of getting thoughts out of your head. Don’t write them for anyone else to read – don’t even write them for yourself to read necessarily – just write them. The physical act of writing with a pen makes your brain think in a different way.
It allows you to ask yourself open ended questions – why am I feeling like this? And then answer them – because I hate my job, and want to change my life. Maybe. Well, now you know what the problem is – you can start thinking about that instead – ask yourself, What are you going to do about it? – and write that down too.
It doesn’t mean you have to act on it – but you’ll find that it clarifies your thinking amazingly.
You might find that you already have a brilliant idea just waiting to come out – or that the solution to a difficult problem you’ve been trying to resolve for ages becomes startlingly simple. The point is that your brain is constantly running all sorts of sub-conscious thoughts, and often provides all the answers for you – you just need to tap into them.
I find that the middle of the night writing session has allowed me to make big decisions more thoughtfully and definitely, and with less angst. And crucially - it allows me to get back to sleep – and function better the next day.