How can I help eliminate insomnia and racing thoughts?

Patrick Meister ‏@bhawks4life: how can I help eliminate insomnia and racing thoughts?


In 2004 I got a letter from the IRS. They wanted to talk to me about the years 1997-2003. I was pretty scared. They had a lot of things they wanted to talk about. A LOT.

The first thing I thought when I got that letter was, “oh shit. Tonight is going to suck.”

And I was right. Around two in the morning I woke up and went to my computer. I started googling all sorts of obscure IRS situations. I automatically put myself in the worst category. I assumed I was going to jail. I wondered if my kids would love me if I went to jail. Or what I would do for a living after I got out of jail. I started googling if it was true that if you put three cigarettes in a cup of water overnight and then drank the water in the morning you would die of a heart attack after 60 seconds. That seemed like a good idea to me at the time.

When I finally talked to my accountant the next day he said it was a normal letter. No big deal. We took care of the whole thing. But not before I had another bout of sleepless nights. I even went to a meditation retreat during all of this to try and calm down. I would be sitting there meditating scared to death of going to jail even though intellectually I knew there was no reason to be worried. The entire retreat I kept wondering what everyone there would think of me if I went to jail.

So many times since then I’ve been awake in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts. Would the stock I was fully invested in go up or down the next day? Would she leave me? Or her? Or her? Would my business fail? Would my website work the next day? Would Google buy my company? Uh-oh! Another letter from the IRS. Uh-oh, my daughter is sick. Claudia is sick. I’m sick.

I read all about insomnia.

Insomnia 101: no screen time in the two hours before you go to sleep, no alcohol, no heavy meals, no exercise, no sugar, no coffee at least 10 hours before you go to sleep. Soft voices.

But sometimes that doesn’t help. I’d get to sleep, and then at 2 in the morning I’d wake up as anxious as ever.

I’m sorry you are feeling this way. It’s a horrible feeling. You need to get some sleep, my friend.

The other day my 10 year old came upstairs around three in the morning. I feel so bad for her. She is stuck with my illness. “Daddy,” she whispered to me so Claudia wouldn’t wake up. “Daddy, I can’t sleep. I keep thinking of things.” She’s ten. She’s stuck with some variation of my brain. She’s never going to sleep.

I walked downstairs with her and we sat down and spoke for awhile. She told me she was upset because on her tenth year birthday someone was at her party who was acting bad. Mollie started to cry, “you only turn ten once. She ruined it for me!” I said, “Mollie, that was 8 months ago.” She said, “you don’t understand. You only turn ten once! Now forever it’s ruined!!”

And she was right. Forever and ever, what happened is what happened. The party was ruined. The boss hates you. Your friends betrayed you. The IRS wants to speak to you. Your business didn’t get bought. You go broke. Your girlfriend cheats. Your co-workers suck. But you still have to sleep. None of these things will get better at two in the morning. You have to surrender to that.

And 100 years from now, no buildings will have our names on them. I told her to count sheep and she went back in her room and eventually fell asleep. But I lied to her. Eventually that trick won’t work for her. Meditation is hard when your mind is racing.

Sometimes I do the alien trick. I pretend I landed in my body on a secret mission from the mother ship to make “James Altucher’s” life better and I ask myself, “who am I? Why am I feeling this anxious pain in my chest, or gut, or head. Why is this body’s mind racing? Where am I?” And I try to focus on the small sounds around me. I’m an alien on a mission. I try to place my surroundings this moment and that gradually makes me feel tired and go to sleep. It slows the brain down, while the alien gets acclimated with his new mission.

But I’ll be honest: the first thing that helped me sleep, years ago, was medication. I took a highly addictive medicine to get to sleep. “The first goal is to get you to sleep,” said the psychopharmacologist. And sleep I did. Sometimes for 14 hours a night, the medication was so strong. And I kept upping the dosage until I was taking eight times the amount per day as was initially prescribed.

But I had to get off the addiction or it would take me over. And that was hard.

First try Insomnia 101, then try the Alien technique, then see a doctor. But Insomnia 101 is better than getting addicted to something.

I’ll tell you what I do now if I have to. If I wake up at 2 in the morning (like I did this morning) and I feel “AWAKE” I get up and start working. I don’t try to go back to sleep. And then later in the day I’ll take a nap. I’ll still get eight hours but it will be an abnormal eight hours.

The body is meant to sleep and dream. Else you find yourself time traveling back to your tenth year birthday party, filled with anger and regret. Or it becomes too easy to time travel to an apocalyptic future where you are in jail and nobody loves you. The best technique: practice surrendering to the moment.Even if it means pretending to be an alien that it a long way from home. The best thing you can do to achieve your mission is sleep and solve the problems of your host body in the morning.