4 Science-Backed Ways to Worry Less at Bedtime
Trouble sleeping? Your thoughts may be getting in the way.
Ever noticed how your brain thinks bedtime is the best time to worry? And once the worries start flooding in, it's hard to switch your mind off.
Here are 4 ways to help you worry less at bedtime.
1. Accept that you are awake.
You can expect to get less sleep under certain circumstances, like when you have a big exam, presentation or interview the next day; when you are planning your wedding; when you have a newborn and when you are dealing with difficult times in your life due to illness or loss.
The best thing to do during these times is to accept that you will probably lose sleep.
Accepting the reality of your situation takes the pressure off trying to get to sleep and may make you feel more relaxed. And it is worth noting that if you can lie in bed in a relaxed state, it can be almost as restorative as sleeping.
2. Contain Your Brain
Worrying is a common occurrence and part of our regular daily (and often nightly) thought processes.
Bedtime is the most inconvenient time to worry for you, but not for your brain. There are no distractions, and you are not multi-tasking, so suddenly, our brain says, "Hmmm, it's nice and quiet, seems like a good time to worry!"
To keep your brain in check, satisfy its need to worry during the day—when and where it suits you most.
Use the following three strategies together to Contain Your Brain:
- Decide the best place for you to worry.
- It should be somewhere you can access every day, most likely a room in your house, but not your bedroom.
- Once you decide where your worry place is, this is the only place you allow yourself to spend significant time processing your worries.
- Set aside a particular time of day to worry (not too close to bedtime).
- Be specific, e.g. 10-10:30am, 5-6:00pm.
- You only worry during your worry time in your worry place.
- Clearly, you will have stressful thoughts in your head at all times of the day and night, so what do you?
- The old-school method was to carry around a pen and notecards and write down your worries whenever they popped up during the day. Then you would put the worry in a container (if you're out, this may be your wallet or handbag, and if you're at home, you may have a specific worry box or jar).
- I recently realised that modern life made this process highly impractical and improbable for most people. That’s where the idea of an app came from, to ensure people get the benefit of this strategy by making it easier to implement it.
- Now you can use the Contain Your Brain app to write down your worries as they occur and keep them safely stored until your worry time.
Your brain can be rest assured (pun intended) that you will attend to your worries during your worry time in your worry place and not when you're trying to sleep!
3. Relaxation exercises for sleep
If you feel stressed during the day, this can impact your sleep at night.
A state of relaxation is incompatible with tension, and there are various ways to achieve a calm mindset before bed like gentle stretching, mindfulness practices, calming music and relaxation exercises.
Relaxation exercises, in particular, are an effective sleeping technique. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Sleep to help you release tension from your body and mind before bed.
4. Refocus your attention from worry to gratitude.
It's clear that negative thoughts can interfere with sleep, but what about positive thoughts?
Turns out gratitude is related to positive sleeping patterns, including decreased time to fall asleep, better sleep quality and duration, and less daytime dysfunction.
Not only will a daily focus on gratitude improve your sleep, but research shows that a grateful mindset can also increase happiness, life satisfaction and resilience, improve overall health, and reduce anxiety and depression.
So add a gratitude journal to your pre-sleep routine. It is as simple as writing down three new things you are grateful for every night.
In the space of only a few weeks, you'll find that your mind becomes more naturally attuned to the positive aspects of your life, making you more resilient to sleep-blocking thoughts and giving you the best chance to have a good night's sleep.
Think well, sleep well.
*Remember that the strategies listed here are not a substitute for medical or psychological treatment. If you have a sleep disorder, please see a mental health professional or sleep specialist. You can use Contain Your Brain as one of the tools to assist you with your sleep. The app also has a feature where you can export your worries if you want to share them with your therapist.