You’ve done all the right things – exercised, stopped the coffee early, avoided that extra glass of wine with your dinner. You even did some yoga for goodness sake!
Yet still you can’t sleep! Your mind’s still spinning with work.
Your frustration builds until sleep seems an impossibility.
And at this point, it is. Sleep and charged emotional states such as frustration, anger and anxiety are not good bed-fellows. The sleep strategies you put into place earlier in the day are good ones. I’d really recommend you don’t give up on them.
The brain is a powerful machine however, and sometimes you need to take an extra step to power down. Then you can enter the restful state that favours good sleep.
One of my favourite techniques to power down the brain is something you do well ahead of bed time. The best time is late afternoon or early evening. You can use the technique both to close off the day and to deal with any lurking anxieties. This way you clear your mind for good sleep. I call this exercise Thinking Time.
This is how you do it:
- Schedule 30 minutes every day, either late afternoon or early evening (no later than 3 hours before you want to sleep).
- Set a timer for 30 minutes. Take a notepad and pen and write down every concern or worry that is occupying you at the moment. I mean everything, from your to-do list through to all of your worries, anxieties, fears:- the important, the trivial, the weird, the irrational, the paranoid, the worst-case scenarios…Don’t censor yourself. Nobody is going to see this but you. Get them all fully out of your head and onto paper. Write down your thoughts and feelings in as much detail as feels helpful. Add drawings, scribbles, captions, diagrams, if that’s your thing.
- When the timer rings, stop. Put the writing away, out of sight. Stand up and go and do something completely different.
- If at any time later that night you start thinking instead of relaxing and sleeping, firmly tell yourself Now is not the time to be thinking of these things. It can wait until my Thinking Time tomorrow.
You may have to be quite firm with yourself! It’s just the same if you’ve had kids or babysat for a friend. If the toddler demands a toy/story/the Cookie Monster game when they should be asleep, you don’t give into them do you (do you?!). No, you tell them firmly that it’s time for sleep and they must wait until tomorrow!
The science behind Thinking Time: writing and journaling are forms of expressive writing. There’s something about expressing your feelings and thoughts that is highly beneficial. Many research studies have examined the ways in which it helps people deal with stress and trauma. There are a number of theories: writing helps you to organise what may often feel like chaotic, uncontrollable thoughts (especially late at night!) In doing so, you gain perspective and engage in more rational thinking. Facing up to fears can also be liberating and help you to manage difficult emotions. Practised consistently, the Thinking Time exercise will break the cycle of circular rumination that can so often keep you awake at night.
Remember that, if you’ve had a sleeping difficulty for some time now, it will take a bit of perseverance to bring improvements. Why not schedule your Thinking Time for the whole of the coming week? Then do let me know how you get on. Just add your comments or questions below.