What to Think About at 3 a.m.

This is the goal. (Photo by Sally Reeder)

If you are an emergency room nurse or a policeman or an airline pilot and are on duty at 3 a.m., this is not for you.  Please stay awake!  However, if you’re one of those people who is supposed to be sleeping at that hour but is flopping around in bed instead, this just might help.

So you’re lying there, vaguely aware of the progress last night’s dinner is making through your alimentary tract.  What’s keeping you awake, though, is not what’s in your gut, it’s what’s in your mind — thoughts.  Specifically, you’re thinking about the wrong things.

Maybe you’re thinking about financial troubles, and that’s understandable.  But do you think the guy at the bank is losing sleep over your loan?  If he’s not, why should you?

Or perhaps your thoughts are focused on trying to recall the words to a song you loved back in 10th grade.  Thank you — we’re all grateful that you’re sacrificing a good night’s sleep to honor Whitney Houston’s lyricist.

A lot of awake-in-the-night is generated by relationship problems, and I know how much they can hurt.  Here’s something to remember, though:  Problems are patient.  They will be waiting for you in the morning.  Besides, even if you come up with the perfect solution at 3 a.m., you won’t be able to remember it by 8.

Another common mistake in the wee hours is thinking about what you have to do tomorrow.  The catch is, if you don’t go to sleep now, the most difficult thing you’ll have to do tomorrow will be trying to stay awake.

About now you’re saying, “Yeah, yeah, tell me something I don’t know.”  (Your irritability is probably due to lack of sleep.)  OK, here’s what I’m getting at.  If what we are thinking is the problem, let’s turn it around and make it the solution.  Just as you would with a toddler in a busy intersection, you have to take your mind by the hand and keep it from going in dangerous directions.  Lead it to sleep-inducing thoughts, like these…

•  Imagine that you have bad seats at a hockey game.  All your mind’s eye can see is players endlessly skating in circles and flailing with their sticks.  Guys skate backward… they bump into walls…  (If you’re Canadian and therefore understand the rules of hockey, imagine you’re at a synchronized-swimming event instead.)

•  Think about shopping with a friend; you’ve been at it for hours.  She says, “Would you hold these bags while I try on this sweater?”  As you mentally stand there in the store, all you want to do is lie down and put your feet up — oh wait, you actually are lying down!  Gosh, it feels good, doesn’t it?

Now imagine she’s saying from the dressing room, “Could you see if they have this in a medium?”  Keep thinking thoughts like that until the comfort of being in bed — and not in that store — overwhelms you.

•  Picture yourself sitting on an airplane next to a stranger who is telling you the plot of a novel he/she is thinking of writing.  None of it makes sense, but you’re trying to be polite and listen.  By the time the would-be author gets to the part about the hero turning into a unicorn, you’ll be snoring.

These are just examples, and they do require some mental effort — which is the point.  If you have other ideas about sure-fire ways to get to sleep, share them with us.  And please don’t say “Reading your blog, Tom.”  Then I won’t be able to sleep.

4 responses to “What to Think About at 3 a.m.

  1. Considering this missive is titled “What to Think About at 3 a.m.”
    … and ends with:
    “If you have other ideas about sure-fire ways to get to sleep, share them with us.  And please don’t say ‘Reading your blog, Tom.’ ”

    … *and* since laughter keeps me alert, I can only conclude that you want to keep us awake.

    if I were a little 5 year old kid again, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “You’re a mean man.”

    But I’m not, therefore you’re not, so thanks for another brilliantly funny posting 😀

    • You’re on to me, David — I want to keep you awake just long enough to get to the end of my blog post. After that… Zzzzzzzzz. Thanks for your comment, and for giving me the benefit of the doubt about being mean!

  2. Sometimes I’m awake at 3 a.m. shaping in my mind the devilishly clever, devastating sentence I’m going to put in a letter to the editor. I find the best way is to get up and write it down. Then it is preserved in all its cunning and I can get to sleep. The next morning, fresh and alert, I can read it, see what a stupid idea it was and tear it to shreds before embarrassing myself publicly. That helps me get to sleep the next night.

    • I used to do something like that too; I even had a pen with a built-in light that I kept beside the bed to jot down my inspirations. Like you, I usually discovered the next day that those middle-of-the-night thoughts not only weren’t brilliant, sometimes they weren’t in any recognizable language. Eventually I threw away the pen.

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