When I’m given an opportunity to ask people a random personal question, I often choose this one:

What do you think about before you fall asleep?

You’re in bed, you’ve put your book away, you’ve locked your phone. Do you have default thinking-material you reach for at this point, something to help transition you to sleep?

In answer, I usually receive what I consider a comedic cover-up: something like, “all the mistakes I’ve made that day”, or “the futility of life”. While it’s possible that this is indeed all that goes through everyone’s head in bed—yikes!—I doubt it. On very bad days, sure. But what about the good days? What about the most common of days—the average, nothing-to-write-home-about ones?

Perhaps some day I’ll get a different answer. For now, I’ll just offer mine. Here, then, revealed for perhaps the first time, is what I do before I go unconscious: I think up stories. Books, movies, comic-book characters, TV show pilots, biopics. Even made-up nonfiction material: reviews of nonexistent works, passionate defenses of imaginary topics, wedding toasts for fictional people. And here’s the key: these fictions have to be kind of cheesy and not that great.

We’re talking genre material: corny sci-fi, beefy action flicks, eye-rolling detective stories, sappy romance, spy thrillers, superhero fluff, faux Shakespeare. It can’t be very good stuff, really; if it is, I run the risk of getting excited and intellectually involved, which would defeat the purpose of lulling myself to sleep with this mental bubblegum.

When I land on a particularly soporific subject, I latch on to it and usually revisit it for a period of a few weeks (or even months!) I can still remember some of the pillow-candy stories I put myself to sleep with in high school.

You may be wondering if any of it has ever broken out and turned into a real thing, a serious, daytime work. The answer is, sadly, no. But I don’t consider my nighttime imaginings a waste of time. It’s all good brain-exercise, if nothing else. And it sure beats worrying about bills and lost arguments.