several half colored mandala designs, a page of a journal, and an open sharpie marker

Staring at the Ceiling and Other Things I Do When I Can't Sleep...

Last updated: October 2021

It's 2:20 AM, and I got in bed 5 hours ago. I was exhausted and really optimistic about getting some decent sleep tonight. I spent a lot of time outside today, I went for a long walk with my pup, and I crossed several things off my to-do list. I felt productive, satisfied, and relaxed. I fell asleep around 9:45 PM, woke up to use the restroom at 12:30 AM, and well, here I am. Still awake.

For a while, I stared at the ceiling

Err, to be more accurate, I stared at the wall on my side of the bedroom, trying to keep my mind quiet as I drifted back to dreamland. I started thinking about what art or photos I wanted to hang in the blank above my dresser and where I'd buy or create those things from. Then, I found my mind focusing on the last time I really comfortably browsed in-person stores, pre-pandemic, and wondering if life will ever feel like that again.

After about 29 more topics, I got restless. I was still wide awake, and I wanted to get out of my head. So, I picked up my phone. I checked my email, scrolled, played a few rounds of Candy Crush, and made a to-do list.

Is my night over?

And there it was… the feeling that my night was probably over, or my day was just beginning – the feeling that I wasn't going to be able to sleep anymore.

So, I got out of bed.

Note: This wasn't the first time I'd experienced this. It wasn't the first time this year, or even the first time this month. So, I went through my "Insomnia Overnight Plan."

My 'Insomnia Overnight Plan'

Do you have one? A mental list of what you can or what you want to do during the middle of the night when you cannot sleep? I thought it might be helpful if I shared mine with you.


I wrote an article on journaling for insomnia a while ago, and it remains one of the first things I do when I get out of bed on bad nights.


Not sleeping inevitably makes me feel crummy the next day. Extra intake of water and electrolytes offers a slight improvement for that.


Do I want to do something that I enjoy, something that helps me relax, or something that's productive?

  • Insomnia nights often involve coloring. I really enjoy an intricate image (i.e., a mandala) and a package of sharpies. I find it incredibly soothing.
  • TV inevitably becomes an option. Sometimes I watch something I've saved on my DVR. Other times I play my favorite movie as background noise or something I can doze off during.
  • If I have the clarity and desire to be productive, that sometimes looks like loading or unloading the dishwasher, folding clean laundry, or organizing cabinets. Other times, it's more like writing articles, responding to emails, and moderating our forums.

When I feel like sleep may come

The most important thing to note with this list is the minute I feel like I might be able to lay down and actually fall back asleep, I do that. I lay down on the couch, or I go back to the bedroom and curl up with a pillow and a blanket. I don't ignore the feeling that sleep could come because I'm a much higher functioning person when I get some extra rest.

Tell me, what do you do to keep busy, stay calm, or occupy your time while you struggle with insomnia?

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

Have you taken our In America Survey yet?