Freelance Insomnia

I’m sure everyone can remember a time in their life when they have sat awake worrying. As a freelancer, you will probably find yourself doing this a lot. I worry about whether I’ve done everything I should that day, whether I’ve responded to certain emails, and work deadlines that might be in front of me. Freelancing can certainly be a rewarding experience but along with these rewards comes the natural insomnia that can occur.

You’re probably going to think I’m completely crackers, but I’ve been combatting this insomnia pretty well for the last 5 years, due to a little mind trick I was taught. It actually allows your body and mind to shut down and allow you to sleep.

The not so crackers part is that it was actually taught to me by a friend who spent a small fortune on a psychiatrist to help her insomniac son sleep. There were various steps to the programme, one included memorising chess pieces and patterns, I never understood this and so bypassed that particular “remedy”.

The one that interested me is the one I’m about to share with you. Bear with me, it does sound insane and a bit hippy-ish but I’ve always found, it works.

You are to imagine yourself in a small circular room, high above the trees. In the middle of this circular room is a bed, whatever you imagine to be the most comfy bed in the world. You are to imagine the pillows, the duvet and the mattress, how they feel, how they are dressed and the colour of the sheets. Inside the bed is someone that you would normally draw comfort from, such as a girlfriend/boyfriend or wife/husband. If the person you would draw comfort from, wouldn’t necessarily share a bed with you, you are to imagine a chair in the corner of the room, with this person sitting reading a paper, and watching over you.

Around the room are 5 doors, each heavier and thicker than the last. In each door is a lock and a large key. You are to start at door number one, place your thoughts behind the door, shut it and lock the door, imagine the weight of the key and hear the “clunk” of the lock. Same method with doors, 2,3, and 4 – by the time you get to number five, you save this for ‘heavy stuff’, such as debt, health of a family member or anything else that is pretty serious and stopping you from sleeping. You repeat the method above, lock the door and walk towards your super comfy bed and get in.

Each time you want to think about any of the thoughts you locked away, you confront yourself with the image of the locked door, a door you can’t get past until morning, nothing is accessible once you have locked it away.

You’ll find you’ll get better at not accessing the thoughts and instead confronting yourself with the locked door image, it does take practise and you’ll get quicker at “locking” everything away the more you do it.

I almost go through the above process, out of habit now. The room I imagine is just as familiar to me as my actual bedroom. It helps me to compartmentalise my thoughts and tell my brain it’s “ok” to leave it until the morning. It also allows me to sleep better, quicker and be more creative the next day.

If you can get past feeling a bit daft, and the whole process being a little silly, you might just find sleep finds you a little easier.

  • I gotta say…

    This sound so hippy-ish, crazy, simple and kinda absurd… that it’s gotta work!

    I’ve been fighting with insomnia for a very long time now, and all and any help I can get to battle it is very welcome. Thanks for sharing this tip, Sarah! Will let you know how it goes. 🙂

  • What a great article Sarah! I’ll have to remember this one if I ever get insomnia again.

    I once suffered insomnia due to a few family related issues 10+ years ago. I tried several methods similar to tha above and none worked, I eventually caved in and went to the doctor.

    To no surprise he offered prescriptive drugs. As reluctant as I was to take medication I took them. Aviving home with my ‘cure’ I showed them to my flat-mate who was training as a Mental Health Nurse – he took one look at the pills and said I’m only to take them if he’s around…

    I think it was Christmas and I was wrapping presents sat on a futon, I took the required amount of pills 45 mins later feeling very sleepy with my eye lids heavier than they been for years I leaned forward to stand. To my surprise I staggered up and across the room as if I’d had a a night on the town and was drunk as a skunk. Finally making it to my bed, no thanks to my mates help I slept for 11 hours like a baby.

    The doctor said to take the pills one night on, then one off, continuing this patter three times. If my sleeping pattern wasn’t back I have to go back and see him. Luckily for me it worked.

    I’d always recommend seeking methods such as yours before drugs, but if insomnia cuntinues and becomes a huge problem I’d recommend a trip to the doctors.

    I could quite easily sleep standing on a train these days!

    • I find a glass of red wine or two does the trick. Each to their own!

  • John Godwin

    Nice article Sarah, I’m fortunate enough to have not had insomnia, I started freelancing the year our first child was born and I think that helped with the sleeping! In fact as I write this, my lids are closing down for the day!

  • Great post Sarah.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever really suffered with insomnia, but I’ve often not been able sleep because my mind is buzzing with thoughts – particularly if there’s a lot going on with work.

    My way of dealing with this is to write a list – a plan for everything I need to do the next day. That way, if there are any unresolved issues I’ve already got a plan for tackling them the next day. This makes it easier for me to switch off in the evening and at night. It also helps me to address the priorities as soon as I get into the office the next day.

    Hope this helps!

  • Ian Fieldhouse

    I just stick Pzizz Sleep on and I’m out like a light.

  • What a great concept, wish I’d read this last night!

  • You had me at ‘imagine the most comfy bed in the world’ :D. I’m quite well aware of the insomnia that comes with freelancing. I find eating something light and having a warm drink before bed usually does the trick.

  • Interesting solution. I may give it a go as I’m constantly battling to drop off to sleep after a long day of developing, where I stop physically but my brain doesn’t. However, I think that may be down to the amount of coffee I drink too…

  • I don’t know about all of that but I guess it’s different strokes for different folks – what I will say is this: Writing things down really helps.

    If you go to bed knowing that everything you need to do tomorrow is written down, your mind can relax because it doesn’t need to remember anything (and it knows it won’t forget anything either which relieves that stress) – everything will be there for you in the morning.

    Works for me – I just need to remember to go to bed earlier because it’s getting OUT of bed that I struggle with!

  • I’ve found yoga very helpful in the past. Getting into ‘the zone’ for a class is, mentally, a similar process to clearing your mind and letting your thoughts wash away before dropping off at night.

    (Also good for stretching out after a day/week/month/year chained to the desk!)

  • A method that quite a few people have told me is by reading Qu’ran. This sounds weird but as a Muslim doing what is a good thing will cause a few reactions.

    1. You will find peace in the text.
    2. Doing such a thing will cause the shaitan to tempt you to fall asleep.

    Basically believing in God I believe in the shaitan also, so by taking time out to do good especially at night will cause you to fall asleep as doing the right thing is always hard.

    Again, sounds a bit crazy, but whatever your believes and what works for you I guess.

  • Tom

    Hi Sarah,

    I almost didn’t make it to the meat and potatoes of this post!

    The lead in made me just think you were talking about imagining a scene which, if you think about the details enough, would take your mind off stuff until you fell asleep. A bit like counting sheep.

    I like the idea of locking stuff away though. A key in a heavy lock is something quite easy to envisage and I love the idea of my problems being behind it for the night! My concern would be unlocking them in the morning 😉 do you ever find trouble with this?

    My real concern with this from my point of view (I generally sleep well 6 out of 7 nights so I’m probably not a candidate in the first place) is that those sleepless nights for me are often where my best ideas come from – I wouldn’t want to stop them. I guess there is a subtle difference though between worrying about bills/invoicing etc and inspiration!


  • This is fantastic! I’m definitely going to give this a try the next time I’m tossing and turning due to obsessing over pixel-perfection.

  • Just to add – sometimes my best work happens due to an all-nighter. The peace and quiet, no phone ringing, o kids asking for the 19th cup of juice or a sandwich – ah! bliss!

  • Brilliant, i tried it last night and it worked like a charm!!

    Thanks Sarah! 🙂

  • Sounds like a good method, Sarah. As it’s something one would do in the privacy of one’s head, I can’t see any need to feel silly 🙂

    Steve’s tip of writing stuff down often works for me to. Keep some index cards and a pencil on your bedside table and get stuff out of your brain and onto paper.

    I used to have a glass of whiskey before bed on stressful days, but I read that although alcohol induces sleepiness, it interferes with your sleep patterns. This can mean you miss out on some of the deep sleep, which is the stuff you Really Need.

  • Andy Murphy

    Great post, Sarah! I’ve known several people that have really struggled with insomnia, and one of the most remarkable things is how different the solution for each person has been.

    While one solution never works for a majority of people, the key is to share those solutions anyway…because if even one or two people are helped by it, you’ve done a terrific thing.

  • This is a great post to read! I am definitely going to try your method with the thought of a really comfy bed involved 🙂 Ever since I became a freelancer I struggle most nights to get to sleep due to worry.

    I used to write everything down that needed to be done before I went to bed while I was at University and this used to work for me. But I find myself getting out of bed every 5mins now so that method isn’t quite as effective as it used to be.

    Thanks for sharing this post, will hopefully get some sleep tonight 🙂

  • Read your post and thought of :o)

    Also, if you’re a freelancer, don’t EVER check your emails out of office hours – if you get a bad one it’ll just keep you awake thinking, and 99 times out of 100 there won’t be anything you can do about it until the morning anyway.

  • Ok, that should have been 🙂 …

  • Marc Jones

    The irony of reading this at 2.40am having been up until 3.50am yesterday isn’t lost on me… I’m off to try the suggested mind trick!

  • This technique reminds me of something I learned back in high school about relaxation that has helped me in the past. You should close you eyes with both legs and arms straight out on your back. Imagine a tiny little person, about the height of an index finger is standing on the ends of your feet. Then imagine the mini person is walking along each of your limbs, tapping your feet then your knees telling each part of your body to fall asleep. Eventually reaching your head and disappearing. Kind of an odd thing to imagine I know 🙂 But it makes your body feel heavy and allows your mind to concentrate on the little person rather than the 100 things you need to get done that week or the frustrations had with code earlier in the day. Thanks for sharing your story, even though it’s a little out there, not everything needs to be solved by taking sleep meds haha.