Lee Crutchley is an artist and author from England. He's also a troubled sleeper whose noisy mind keeps him up at night. So, inspired by his own late-night wakefulness, Crutchley created the "The Nocturnal Journal," a guided journal for insomniacs and night owls to use when they can't drift off.
The 97-page "creative workbook" is a tool for self-discovery and psychological cleansing in the same vein as the adult coloring books, mindfulness journals and other tomes of self-care that have given traditional self-help books a run for their money. Flip through the pages of "The Nocturnal Journal" and you'll find whimsical, monochromatic illustrations and writing prompts, such as "write a resume that consists only of your failures and rejections" and "write a letter of thanks to someone who rejected you." And, of course, there's plenty of blank space to record whatever weird thoughts and worries come to you when sleep won't.
I talked to Crutchley about his book, his battle with sleep routines and his take on mindfulness. "The Nocturnal Journal" comes out on September 5.
What inspired you to write "The Nocturnal Journal"?
It was just completely personal. I’ve never, ever been good at sleep. But I never worried about it too much because I was always creative during those times at night when I couldn't sleep and really enjoyed spending time on my own. But, when I was writing the last book that I did, "How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad)," which was about depression and mental health, I realized that whenever I had a really bad period, it was directly linked to an extended period when I wasn’t sleeping very well. So I just started trying to think of ways for myself to actually get sleep.
That’s interesting because, in the book’s introduction, you say that "this book won't help you sleep better, or even at all." But it came out of your own efforts to get better sleep.
Well, with [that introduction], it's more about me not wanting to promise too much. That’s kind of a theme of my books — not wanting to say they fix you. A lot of [improving sleep] comes from you personally. So, if the book helps people sleep better, that’s great, but I don’t want to promise it will.
How do you intend for readers to use the book?
The first thing that helped me [sleep] was doing a thing called Morning Pages, but I did it at night. With Morning Pages, basically the first thing you do after you wake up is write three pages. You write whatever comes to you without censoring yourself. It's meant to clear you out for the day. So I started doing it at night because my head was just so full, and that's what was preventing me from sleeping ...Then I got to the stage where I felt like I was just writing the same things every night, so I would sort of seek out different [writing prompts], like on the internet, you can find those “10 questions to ask yourself when you want to work out where you're going,” or something.
And that’s how I fell into the book ... I hope people just sort of dip into it, as and when they need to. A lot of people, when they can’t sleep, will look at Twitter or something like that, and that’s kind of the problem, so this is an alternative to your phone almost. Rather than pick up your phone, you pick up the book and just do an exercise or two.
How long, in your mind, should it take someone to get through the whole journal?
I don't think I have any time limit in mind. From previous experience, with my last book, some people just did it all in one sitting. And some people only did 10 pages in a year. And I think it's very personal to how you’re finding the book when you’re working through it. I guess I would have it so that you’d do one or two exercises a night. So, then, it would take about a month to finish it? But I also think people might also read through the book and then just go back and seek out their favorite exercises when they feel the need.
Do you have a favorite page?
My favorite page is actually this one that says to "stare into the into the abyss for a few minutes and see what stares back." It’s sort of my take on mindfulness. Because I used to do mindfulness and I kind of liked it, but I still felt as if I was doing it wrong. I know the whole thing with mindfulness is, like, no, you’re not doing it wrong, don’t worry about that. So, with this page, I thought that just sitting and being on your own, with your own thoughts, for five minutes, well that’s something you definitely can’t get wrong. And it's really interesting to see what comes out of that.
So that page is your take on mindfulness. Were there philosophical or psychological concepts underlying other exercises in the book?
Well, [because of my last book], I researched ways to sleep better and and I found it all so clinical and hard to engage with. So I tried to cherry-pick some of my favorite things, like mindfulness, and bring them down to earth, so that it's easier for people to engage with [the concepts] and not feel like they’re being taught by a doctor.
So you said that you used to be really creative at night when you couldn’t sleep, but then realized that not sleeping affected your mental health. Do you see a conflict between bursts of late-night creativity and overall mental well-being?
Definitely. I think that I’ve sort of worked out that a period of a few days when I’m not sleeping well is really great for my work. But then, after I have those few days of being really creative, I come to a cliff and sort of drop off the edge. And if you don't manage to start sleeping better again, well, for me, I just crumble. It’s not fun.
After finishing the book, are there any questions — about sleep or nighttime creativity — that are still lingering on your mind?
I guess the one thing that I find really difficult to get past is that I just don't do well with routines. I read all this stuff about having a sleep routine, and finding what works for you. And then you’re [supposed to be] sort of fixed. But I find that something will work for a week or two, and then the next week, the same thing will just wake me up. Like, I'll read before I go to bed, and for a week that's great and I'll go to sleep. But then the next week, I read and it just brings me alive. And I guess I'd like to know if that’s what most people experience, if sleep routines are kind of a myth?
In your mind, what should someone do with the journal after they've finished it?
What I like to do with anything that I do is go back over it. I'm forever looking back at stuff and trying to pick ideas out of things, or see problems or what’s spinning around in my head, and if it’s still the same. And that’s what I imagine people to do. But I also imagine that some people will just want to throw it away, or hide it, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed