The Insomniac’s To Do List

A guide to getting things done at 3 a.m.

googly eyes
By Gina Kelly

By Jody Mace

1. Keep close track of exactly how much sleep you’ll get if you fell asleep right now. Repeat every half hour.

2. Ponder why you said the dumb-ass thing you said today. If you didn’t say a dumb-ass thing today, revisit one you said sixteen years ago, at a job you used to have, to people you don’t know anymore. Consider how badly those people must think of you.

3. Resolve to use this time wisely. Think about cleaning the bathroom but then remember that you hate cleaning the bathroom and, plus, the cleaner is in the other room and you wouldn’t want to wake anyone up. Instead, decide to do some serious writing, unlike the stupid writing you do for a living.

4. Berate yourself for doing stupid writing for a living. Imagine the disgust that the seventeen-year-old you would feel for you if she knew the kind of writing you’d end up doing.

5. Imagine the disappointment your high school English teacher would feel if she knew.

6. Wonder if your high school English teacher would remember you anyway, despite the brilliance you demonstrated in class when you wrote that farce about archetypes. Consider the notion that perhaps you were not as brilliant as you always thought you were and that maybe you were really just a smart-ass.

7. Remember the mean thing that one person in high school did to you that one time. Look that person up on Facebook and feel vindicated that he is recently divorced, not because, obviously, being divorced is evidence of a character flaw, but because clearly in this case his wife left him because he was an asshole who did mean things to people. Haha.

8. Wonder what the fuck that noise was.

9. Entertain an extremely disturbing thought: how many insects are in this house right at this very moment?

10. Become convinced that there is a microscopic bug crawling on your leg. Challenge yourself to not scratch. Dammit.

11. Remember about bedbugs. Google how to check for bedbugs. Feel sick. Seriously disgusted.

12. Read a book.

13. Realize that you’ve lost your attention span for reading. Or maybe it’s your rapidly worsening short vision that’s the problem. In either case, consider that it may be caused by a brain tumor.

14. Google brain tumors and learn that you definitely have one.

15. Think about making a video for your children with all the advice you’d like to leave them, like how to choose a mate, how to set goals and stick with them, how to do the right thing when their friends are doing the wrong thing, and just how to be a kind person. Then remember that they don’t listen to you anyway so fuck it.

16. Instead, plan the music you’d like at your funeral. Start a “Funeral Playlist” on Spotify. Include some Morrissey because every funeral should have some Morrissey songs.

17. Give some serious consideration to how much further you’d be in your career if you hadn’t majored in the wrong thing in college.

18. Compile a list of all the people you know who are younger than you who are more accomplished in a similar career.

19. Fantasize about doing something inappropriate with someone you shouldn’t think about.

20. Resolve to be more patient with your elderly father, even when he tells you about his dispute with the phone company for the hundredth time, or when he answers the door wearing just a carelessly tied bathrobe despite expressly promising on the phone that he would put on pants.

21. Reflect on what a shitty person you are because you know damn well you will not be more patient with your father.

22. Make a list of all the things you’ve been neglecting to do. Make sure to include the oil change that your car is 1,560 miles overdue for and your mammogram.

23. Panic.

24. Find a bottle of expired Ativan and wonder if expired Ativan will just not work or if it will harm you.

25. Do something productive. Plan menus and a shopping list for the week. Start with eggs.

26. Notice that you’re really hungry.

27. Deny yourself food because it’s 3:30 a.m. and people who eat at 3:30 a.m. are either teenagers or have a big problem.

28. Think about your own teenagers and compile a list of all the things that worry you about them. Start with your older one, who’s in college. Is she eating enough? Does your younger one spend too much time texting, playing video games and watching Dr. Who reruns?

29. Move onto things that they don’t do but might do someday, like binge drink, drive recklessly, and smoke crack. If people still smoke crack. Research what the popular drugs are with the kids these days. Feel nostalgic about smoking pot in college.

30. Check your spam folder in case a really good writing assignment ended up there. Read about how you can get a sexy body that sizzles, rock-hard abs, and lose fifteen pounds in four weeks with just one brand new product. Also read a nice message from a hot Ukrainian girl with beautiful eyes who is ready to “correspond to erotic themes.”

31. Consider what the chances are that, in your forties, you’ll actually lose weight and decide that all your exercising has been a waste of time. Think of other people in their forties who are skinny and hate them. I mean, seriously, seriously hate them because they eat whatever they want and don’t exercise and look at them. Assholes.

32. Read an article about how lack of sleep can make you gain weight and can also adversely affect your mental health. Freak out about how you will never sleep again and you’ll end up the size of a house and also deranged and when you die they’ll have to take the door off its hinges to carry you out, and they’ll put you in a double-sized coffin and that’s all anybody will think about at the funeral, not the playlist you put together for their enjoyment.

33. Have a sudden, searing realization that one day your dogs will die. Cry. Because dogs are the best thing ever, especially your dogs. The way they look at you with those big eyes and wag their tails so hard their butts slide back and forth on the floor. The way they sigh and lean their bodies against you when you take a nap. My god, why do they have to die?

34. Calculate the very latest you can wake up and still get your son to school on time. Set your alarm.

35. Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think.


JODY MACE is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. Her essays have appeared in O Magazine, Brain, Child, The Washington Post, and many other publications, as well as several anthologies. She publishes the website Charlotte on the Cheap in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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43 thoughts on “The Insomniac’s To Do List

  1. Laugh-until-you-cry (and cry not because you are laughing so hard but because it is so true) – brilliant! Thanks for this Monday morning read!

  2. Hilarious Jen! I could relate to so many of them. I agree, great way to start a Monday morning! Now I’m thinking, can I forward this to people directly?

  3. Love, love, LOVE this. Our thoughts become so much louder and insistent in the dark, don’t they? I used to be up in the wee hours because I needed to get my daughter back to sleep. At nine, she’s much better about sleeping through the night, but I still wake up in the pre-dawn hours and watch my brain run in circles around all kinds of chaos and crisis. It’s so exhausting, you’d think I’d fall right back to sleep, but – no. It’s like having your eyelids glued open.

    Thanks for sharing this piece. I laughed out loud, even though I’m only working on a few hours of sleep. (Oh – and 8AM is the absolute latest I can get up and still have a prayer of getting my daughter to school on time-ish.) 😉

  4. This line was my favorite: Include some Morrissey because every funeral should have some Morrissey songs.

    Brilliant! And I heartily agree! But where to start? Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want is either moot, or a too-late request not to go straight to Hell. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me would just leave everyone in tears because they all feel so damned lousy about their dreams of last night – oh, the list goes on!

    This piece was fabulous!!

    BTW, I wrote letters to my kids with all the advice they will need when I suddenly drop dead. One for my husband too – about how I will haunt him if he marries a mean step-mother.

  5. Ah Jesus.
    I only loved this. I needed my inhaler at number 32. I am jealous that YOU wrote it, and delighted that Cheryl Strayed took me here. Bless the pair of yee………..
    Much love and blessings from Ireland.
    M ((( ^ – ^ )))

  6. Feel very satisfied that you’ve suggested another thing for me to do during those accursed nightly sleepless hours. Thanks to your excellent list, tonight I will be scouring Spotify and Amazon’s mp3 offerings to review all of Morrissey’s music so that I can put together an impeccable playlist for my funeral.

  7. Thanks to Cheryl Strayed I found this. Printing it out and putting next to my bed for ideas I hadn’t thought of yet. Think there’s a 3am club – the trouble is 3am your time is not 3am mine – damn.

  8. OMG. I just laughed til tears. Silent laughter, shaking because thatbus who I am. And to each and every point? YES!!! EXACTLY.

    I do NOT hear insomnia.

  9. Oh good! My own list wasn’t long enough to keep me awake. Now I have no excuses to sleep at all with your additions.


    There is an OTC pain med ad on TV that has a woman tossing and turning. She’s wondering things like “what if the hokey pokey is what it is really all about?” And “why is the word abbreviation so long?” Love that ad.

  10. Jody, this is AWESOME! It’s the first great thing to come from insomnia. sadly, I can’t believe how many of us have brain tumors. Geez.
    I also like to play Solitaire on my phone, but when it congratulates me on playing my 1,000th game, I feel like a complete loser for playing one, thousand. games. of. Solitaire (in the middle of the night).
    Here’s to a good night’s sleep for all of us!

  11. Am just now getting time to settle in and read your piece. Laughing out loud. As others have said, I feel like you have visited the crazy inside my head in the middle of the night! While I’m sorry you can’t sleep, it sure was fun to read about! For the record, I’m almost certain expired Atavan causes brain tumors. As do bed gs, teenagers, and all the other things we obsess over in the middle of the night. But apparently writing and making other people laugh causes them to shrink so you should be fine!

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