A good night's story

The other day someone mentioned on Facebook that they were having trouble getting to sleep. They were going through the whole “lying in bed tossing and turning, thoughts going around in circles” thing.

My suggestion was this:

Before going to bed, tell yourself a story. It doesn’t have to be a long story, and it doesn’t have to be a great one. But it should have one thing: a satisfying resolution. You can write the story out, or speak it to yourself, that doesn’t matter. And it can be a story about pretty much anything, but it’s best if it’s not a story about you (because then the temptation will be to narrate whatever’s bothering you right now and may be the cause of your insomnia, which probably won’t help).

What I do is tell myself a traditional-style tale. “There once was a boy who set out to find the princess of the moon, for he heard she was very beautiful…” That sort of thing. I don’t have a plot in mind when I start. I just let the story unfold, out of all the traditional elements I’ve absorbed from other stories all my life. Encounters, mishaps, magical objects, threats … I don’t worry about whether it’s a good story that anyone else would want to hear. I just tell it, with one idea in mind: that eventually it will have to resolve into a satisfying ending.

If you’re not a writer or someone who tells stories, you’re probably thinking there’s no way you can do this. Actually, in my view, we’ve all got Story deep within us. We’re all storytellers. When we were little someone told us stories, and we continue to watch countless stories unfold on TV and in movies and books all our lives.

If you honestly don’t think you can tell yourself a story, or you’re just too tired to try at the end of the day, then trying reading a traditional tale (out loud is best) or watching a show with a satisfying resolution. Or you could even ask someone else to tell you a story.

The reasoning behind this insomnia cure (which has worked for me many times) is that the mind craves stories, and it craves resolution. Usually the reason we can’t get to sleep is that we feel there’s still something unfinished, something we haven’t completed, even if sometimes we don’t consciously acknowledge what that unfinished thing is. Instead of lying there ruminating over the day past and the day to come, give your mind the satisfaction of a story that has an ending.

This is why little kids beg for a story at the end of the day. They want to be taken on a journey from somewhere to somewhere. At the end of a rich, chaotic, busy day of being a kid, full of the usual random bombardment of experience and sensation, they want the world to fall into a neat orderly pattern that wraps it all up. And adults are really no different.

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