What keeps you up at night?

What keeps you up at night?

At about 3am most mornings, I lie awake.  It’s not insomnia but what I call my “contemplation hour.”

Early am appears to be the time when my brain does a recap/analysis of the previous day.  This nocturnal process then spits up all the “open items,” that must be dealt with as if they are knocking furiously at my doorstep at that moment.

When I am in high pressure situations, my 3am hour is consumed with all the things that I must do the next day.  Often, much to the woe of my co-workers (and sometimes my family), this is when I send out my most directive email missives.  Do this.  Research that.  Follow through on this.  All around 3am!

But I am always fair.  As much as I email others, I send myself twice as many requests.  How about this way?  What about this item? I am adept at making lists and being extremely efficient in my pajamas.

These days, as a writer, I find that my 3am hour is chock full of self-proclaimed brilliance.  Paragraphs write themselves.  Characters write their own dialogue.  Stories self-develop.  My early morning burst of messages are a mélange of fertile proposals, nonsensical jargon and inventive concepts.

Either way, I welcome the creativity.  But when my 3am contemplation hour takes a dark turn into “worry hour,” my creative juices are equally engaged, but in the wrong direction.

Tension and anxiety, it seems, are also prolific at 3 am, building imaginary walls and frightful constructs in my mind.  And in the thick of the night, the smallest fear is akin to Aragog, the giant spider in Harry Potter, hungry and lurking in the shadows.

At such times, these are the techniques that I implement (~ at 3:15 am):


The first step is to DETECT that whatever thought I am obsessing about, I am the one obsessing about it. The thought itself has no power.  I hold the power (to change the thought).   Why am I thinking about a snake being in the bedroom in the middle of the night?

Once I recognize that, I can then take the next step to stop the negative thought before it gains greater momentum.


If a thought does not feel good, I need to stop thinking it.  No need to put myself through such misery.  I need to DISRUPT the thought process and decide to stop thinking about it.  I am not going to think about the snake in the house anymore.  I am stopping this train of thought.


Now, think of something else.  Literally imagine turning the page in your mind and getting to a clean white sheet.  What would you rather be thinking about?

It can be anything else.  Go far and wide.  DISTRACT your mind by deserting the old thought completely and moving on.   I’d rather be thinking of a vacation to Paris (not snakes).  

If you are still having trouble letting go of a particular thought, you can also disrupt it by challenging it.  Pick the thought apart.  Think it through to its logical conclusion and determine, what’s the worst that can happen?  This type of analysis usually exposes the ridiculousness of the fear.  What is the likelihood of a snake getting into my bedroom?  I live on the 32nd floor of a high rise in Honolulu!


Now, don’t let yourself go back there.  Stay in Paris.  Move on to Alaska.  Pick anything that will soothe you, make you happy, and shake you out of the misery you are feeling.  This will take practice.  But if you do it enough, you will be able to not only soothe yourself but also benefit from focusing your energy on something that is wanted (Paris?) vs not wanted (snake!).

You can also direct yourself to listen to a podcast or even read a book for a while to take your mind off the item bothering you.  You can also practice gratitude here.  Being thankful for something that already happened, reliving the joy of something, or envisioning the perfect anything.  Guide your energy elsewhere (guided meditation, podcast, reading, gratitude, etc.)


Sometimes, you are not in control of your mind, but rather it is in control of you.  In such cases, where you cannot distract or direct your thoughts, your only recourse is DETOX.  Purge your mind.  Empty your thoughts.

Mediation stops thought.  Guided meditation can provide a combination of directed detox.   This is a powerful technique that not only stops your worrying mind, but also reduces resistance.  Try it. Practice meditation.

If you’re like me, you’ll notice that most fears, as the sun rises, will turn to dust, like evil vampires exposed to bright sunlight.  And we can always deal better with fears after a good night of sleep (and a strong cup of coffee!).