July 11, 2021

How to Manage Worries So You Can Sleep Better Tonight

We’ve all got something to worry about at one point or another. Whether it be about that exam you’re taking tomorrow, your child’s health and well-being, or that daunting to-do list you have written out for tomorrow, worrying is a part of being human.

Sometimes, worry can seem to take over our lives. We find our brain going a million miles a minute trying to work through our days to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We find ourselves up all night with our thoughts, wishing we could silence them for just a few hours of shut eye. 

Planning a deliberate worry time may just help you finally get some shut eye at night. I know, scheduling your worry doesn’t sound like something you can just force your brain to do, but you can by practicing just a few simple steps every single day.

How Can Planned Worry Help Me Sleep Better?

Tired body, but active mind?

Planned worry is a great cognitive or thinking strategy drawn from sleep therapy, formally known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. People who struggle to get to sleep often find themselves up all night with their thoughts racing with worries and ideas. One of the reasons people struggle to shut their minds off at night is because they have subconsciously conditioned their brains to release all of its worries when it is the time they plan to fall asleep.

The phenomenon called classical conditioning in which we subconsciously learn to associate to things with each other, even though they are not related. In the case of worry, we have unconsciously trained ourselves to associate our bed and nighttime as a cue to start worrying, planning, and thinking.

Planned worry allows us to train our brains to associate a better time of the day with the time to be worried and to work through problems. It teaches our brain that there is a better time to think, worry, and plan while acknowledging that we can’t control what thoughts pop into our minds, but we can choose how we respond to them.

How to Schedule Your Worry

Training your brain to have a designated time to worry will take practice and patience. Once the brain begins to get the hang of its new worry cues, it will begin to allow itself to shut off when we need it to and allow us to finally catch that much needed shut eye. 

Step One: Schedule a Time Dedicated to Worrying. Pick a time during the day that you can dedicate to releasing all of your worries. The time should be consistent, because we are training our brain to worry at this time rather than to worry all throughout the night. You don’t need a lot of time to dedicate to your worrying. A worrying time ranging between 5 to 15 minutes should suffice. If you struggle to stay consistent with your worry time, set yourself a cue, like an alarm,  to help remember.

Step Two: Let the Worries Flow Without Judgement. Grab a journal or open the notes app on your phone and let it all out. Brain dump everything that is weighing on your mind from that phone call you need to make, that million dollar idea, to worries about the end of the world, just let it all out. 

Step Three: Categorize Your Actionable Problems and Your Hypothetical Worries. Once all of your worries are written out in front of you, take the time to figure out which ones are just the what ifs and which ones necessitate the worrying. 

Step Four: Write Down a Small Action for Your Actionable Problems. In this step, take the time to write down a small action you can do to work toward solving the problem. Make this step specific and concrete so you can check it off your mind’s to-do list.

Your goal here is to identify the next, smallest actionable step to address a worry. The task may not solve the problem entirely, but will help you move towards finding a resolution, ultimately easing the pressure of having to hold on to that thought.

Here are some examples:

The Worry: I’ve got that huge presentation tomorrow for work. I don’t feel prepared. What if I do a terrible job?

The Next Smallest Step: Do another try run tomorrow at 10 AM. Focus specifically on content of the 2nd and 3rd slides. I feel least confident about those.

The Worry: I feel really lonely. Is this the way it’s going to be forever?

The Plan: I’m going to call my sister tomorrow at 5 pm to check in. I’ve made a note to talk my therapist about these feelings next week.

The Idea: I’ve got this great idea for a revolutionary design of underpants!

The Plan: Do a quick sketch and discuss with the design team tomorrow at 10 AM OR let go of this thought as I have no intention of ever designing underpants.

Step Five: Plan to Do Your Small Action. Whether you prefer to write a to-do list, set reminders on your computer, or ask Alexa or Google to remind you; find a way to set a reminder for yourself to do the task tomorrow at a specific time. This will allow your brain to stop worrying about forgetting about that task.

Planned worrying is a great intervention from sleep therapy that can help worry-prone minds get some much-needed shut eye. It will take practice and consistently, but eventually you will find yourself finally able to quiet all of those thoughts and worries that are keeping you up at night.

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