In my mid-twenties, I had a really hard time falling asleep. Remember Paranormal Activity where the little girl just stands by her parents’ bed for hours? I reminded myself of this girl, when, on more than one occasion after hearing strange noises, I walked downstairs in the pitch dark, stood in a corner with my hair in front of my face, and just listened. I'm sure I looked terrifying.
Now that we are all living in a literal Contagion movie, I’m sure even the best sleepers are having difficulty turning off their brains. So, I figured it was the best time to share with you all one of my proudest inventions, my sleeping aid, which I’m going to call Nocturnal World Building.
This is something I've wanted to write about for a long time, but I wasn't sure how, because there’s a lot to it, and my history with it is complex--I often get caught up in explaining what inspired it or how it inspired other projects. Ask me if you want, but this entry will be about YOU!
I’ve finally been able to articulate a step-by-step process for Nocturnal World Building that can be used for anybody, even kids, so LET’S GET INTO IT!
GOAL: Create a mental space that reflects a perfect universe—tailored only to you—in order to lull yourself to sleep.
STEP ONE: The Transition
You are about to travel to another dimension. It can look exactly like this one if you want; you don’t have to be an alien or anything. You get to keep the life you have now, but you will also have another one, one so pleasant that it will knock you out. Pick something you like from your room to be your focus/transitional object. I look at a lamp that I like, then close my eyes and imagine the lamp in my fake room and build a scenery around it. Another way to transition is to imagine that your room is literally lifting off like a spaceship, taking you to this other planet. You don’t have to feel bad about leaving anyone from your real life, because you’re also totally safe with them on Earth, and they are going to their own fun places, too. Tell yourself that your body will alert you if you need to come back to Earth, so just don’t worry about it, and go.
STEP TWO: Choose your event
What is an activity or event that would bring you comfort? Is it swimming in a lake? Is it practicing for the school musical? Is it playing volleyball on a perfect beach? Is it just eating a really good lunch? Pick something. Don’t worry about your age matching up with said activity, and don't overthink it. Sometimes, I just imagine being a passenger in a car, looking out at my perfect town. Literally any event to start building scenery around will do.
STEP THREE: Choose who you are
Obviously, you are in this world, but what version of you? What do you like about yourself that you want to keep? What about yourself would you rather discard? Is there something you can’t actually do in real life? Well, you can do it now! (Fake Brigette can SING, you guys!) Do you want a different name? A different haircut? How old do you want to be? (I’m constantly changing my age.) Just go with whatever feels best intuitively in the moment.
STEP FOUR: Choose your aesthetic
How do you wish everything looked? What kind of style do you like? How do you wish everyone dressed? How is your home decorated? What kind of weather is your favorite? What kind of landscape? For me, style is a mixture of everything 1960’s to 1980’s. Most interiors are like the 1950’s. We get all seasons, but winter is the shortest. I’m surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
STEP FIVE: Focus on details
If you’re outside, what kind of nature surrounds you? If you’re in a building, what does it look like? What color are the walls? Is there wallpaper? What pictures hang on the walls? How is your hair fixed? What are you wearing? What shoes do you have on? You will spend many evenings just designing yourself as well as your various spaces—lots of mental styling and architecture. For example, something in my world is that people believe in order to do good intellectual work, you literally need to be on a higher plane, so all desks in home offices are in perches or lofts that you have to climb stairs to get to. Also, what about cars? The Little Tikes toy cars that I used to put my dolls in are the cars we drive.
This is probably where you will fall asleep. If not, keep going.
STEP SIX: Choose your rules for the universe
What is true and not true? What exists and doesn’t exist? Is God real? Is karma real? Do bad guys exist, or no? Does chocolate cake give you glowing skin? This will change and expand a lot, so just pick a few basics to start. Remember, this is on another planet, so do whatever you want. For example, some of my truths include that Santa is real. He gives everyone one nice homemade present, even the adults. My favorite truth is that Coca-Cola is good for you, full of vitamins, and you are encouraged to drink it at every meal. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight, and it doesn’t give you anxiety or anything. Just Coca-Cola, 24/7, all the time, and life is great.
STEP SEVEN: Choose your cast
This is going to sound weird, but I suggest that the people you surround yourself with be totally made up. In real life, relationships are complex, and that complexity can be too stimulating when trying to relax. If no one is real, then there’s no conflict, and you don’t have any responsibilities or failures to contend with. (If you have a totally chill, soothing relationship with someone and you want them there, then fine, whatever, I won’t fight you.) Celebrities are fine. Do you wish your aunt is Beyonce, and she takes you on epic shopping trips? Call her in! Create shadowy-versions of people to fulfil whatever emotional need you have at the moment. Give them names. You’ll notice that a lot of fake people are mixtures of real people, probably the best parts of who you actually have in waking life, and that’s nice.
1) You can ONLY world-build when you are trying to fall asleep. Your brain needs to associate this particular imaginative space with falling asleep, so don’t daydream about it at the DMV or while you’re driving or anything while you’re awake—only when you are in bed, eyes closed. If you get little ideas while awake, make a mental note (or literally write it down), then tuck it away, and return to it at night.
2) Pick a new activity or set of activities for your character every month. For example, in January, I imagine my family on my fake dad’s side all take a train to this beautiful place that looks like Switzerland. The train is spacious, and all the seats turn into beds. (This past January, I never got off the train—I always fell asleep first.) Since March is my least favorite month in real life, I decided this is when the very famous children’s musical theatre group that I’m a part of goes on tour. We travel around on a tour bus for two weeks. Before April, I often fell asleep decorating our matching jackets.
3) Don’t imagine anything that will wake you up more. No intense battles or hot and heavy romances, people! You’re trying to put yourself to sleep, so you want to imagine very pleasant and very normal, everyday things in deep detail. Minor dramas are fine, but think Disney Channel dramas, not NCIS.
4) BE STRICT. Don’t let the mind wander from this mental space once you choose to enter! If you do, keep redirecting with your transition. Boom! Blast off from this place –again and again until you actually do. I often tell myself, “Okay, LEAVE.” Eventually, it will work.
What all this looks like for you may be different from what it looks like for me. It also doesn’t necessarily matter if you do those steps in order. Just remember that whatever comforts you exists, and whatever upsets you does not exist. That’s basically the gist. And if tempted to think, “Shouldn’t I make my perfect life happen instead of imagining it?” or “Shouldn’t I be try to be happy with who I really am?” remember, you are literally trying to knock yourself out with this activity, not stimulate your brain by “life-coaching” yourself. Self-improvement is for the waking hours!
Okay, TRY IT, AND LET ME KNOW HOW IT GOES! I especially want to know any rules for your universe. I would love to see how details of everyone’s different world compares!