Posted by: Kate | March 2, 2009

The Answer to 13-Down is Zzzzzzzz

Most nights, sleep is not an issue for me. Especially now that I don’t need to wake to an alarm clock, I’ll just stay awake until I start to feel tired, go brush teeth and bundle into bed, and I’ll be asleep within moments (this drives my lie-awake-and-listen-to-podcasts husband a little bit crazy).

But every once in a while, I hit a wave of insomnia. More often recently, what with stress and so on. And it becomes a struggle to relax and drift off. Sometimes I lie there and stare at the line between the dark-red wall and the white ceiling, because that’s what I can see with my glasses off, sometimes I’ll close my eyes and fake it ’til I make it, sometimes I’ll give in and get back up for a while. I don’t often turn the light on once Willem is asleep, because he’s a light sleeper, easily roused by sound or light.

But I do have one fail-safe measure, that works in all but the most extreme situations: crossword puzzles. There’s just something about that repeated clue-grid-clue-grid eye movement and the searching-for-synonyms mental processing that triggers a Pavlovian sleepiness in me, and it’s rare for me to be able to work more than five or ten clues before I start to nod off.

I conditioned myself to this, I think, by religiously doing puzzles every single night before bed for a long time. Now, I keep it in reserve for times of desperation, and it works beautifully.

Back in the day – and we’re talking high school days, which were, like, a million years ago, sometimes – I could also rely on the Guinness Book of World Records for a similar soporific effect.  It didn’t need to be the most current edition; just a list of loosely-related facts and figures, and very quickly my brain would get full and go into shutdown mode.  I haven’t tried this in a very long time, but I keep the idea in the back of my head in case I ever run into a serious stretch of insomnia or – God forbid – the crosswords lose their magic.

So, what do you do?  Do you have any tricks to get yourself in the right mental space for quick and easy unconsciousness?

(And thanks to Gretchen for the topic idea…)



  1. “quick and easy unconsciousness” has never been a truth for me. Ever. When my true insomnia hits, I have to get out of bed and accept that I’m not going to sleep. When I’m just having trouble sleeping, I’ll read or try a progressive muscle relaxation kind of thing. Or I wake up A. and make him talk to me. He loves that.

  2. I read “The Art of Thinking Sideways” The typography and layout wreck my vision to the point of having to close the peepers. There’s just a bit too much information to process when it’s late at night.

  3. I have suffered from insomnia of varying degrees for probably 7 or 8 years. During my most desperate quest for sleep I took Ambien several times a week. Once things in my life settled down a bit, I stopped taking it (mostly because the sleep it gave me was not at all restful – it’s very disturbing to close your eyes and wake up 8 hours later having no feeling of the passage of time). I’m still often sleep-deprived. My way of dealing with it now is to either lay awake tossing and turning, or to get up and watch tv in the dark for an hour. I wish I had a more fool proof method. Insomnia is so frustrating.

  4. i read Mental Floss, do crosswords, or read 12,001 things to be miserable about. I used to make lists of things in my head, but inevitably i’d make lists of what i need to do at work the next day, and i’d be more keyed up than before!
    Othertimes I’ll put in a movie I know backwards and forwards (these days it’s Dodgeball, but it used to be 10 things I hate about you) and will usually drift off pretty quickly.

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