I lay awake too many nights worrying! I am finding that I am not the only one who suffers from this problem. My worry can be a relationship that isn’t working, my finances or any other issue. Why do we tend to worry at night when we should be sleeping? How could I shut off my brain? Is there a direct link to our stress level?
Dear Worry Wart,
Worry is largely a matter of thinking about things at the wrong time. For example, when you’re lying in bed. Discipline your mind to minimize worry by writing down a list of things you need to do or whatever is heavy on your mind. This habit relieves the brain as if you have put something in a secured drawer of a cabinet that you can later retrieve easily.
It requires much ongoing effort to turn off your brain at night especially. There is less stimulation to distract you at night verses daytime. Use this time of brain activity to your advantage and cycle through the thought just once. Then you decide to write it down with a tablet by your bedside or add to your cell phone of things to do or worry about tomorrow. Things to talk about or wear the next day can even be jotted down.
The obvious – alcohol and coffee – for most will disrupt getting to sleep, staying asleep or calming the brain. Eating too closely to bedtime, or very late at night, not only disrupts your biological clock and interferes with sleep, but may lead to weight gain as well.
As with any symptom, an important question to ask is, “When did my sleep difficulty start?” Does the sleep problem come and go with the occurrence and disappearance of stress, or does it persist through your life? That is, is it situational?
For example, are you frequently anxious whether or not you are under unusual stress? Is it hard for you to “wind down” at the end of the day? Are you frequently infuriated? Or do you feel depressed? If you feel “blue” much of the time, your problem may be a mood disorder, like depression, more than a problem with stress or worry.
Spend some time “winding down.” A person with insomnia needs a “buffer zone,” a period of time to allow the brain to wind down so that the sleep systems can take over. Watching television is all right in the evening. However, an hour before bed, I recommend reading or listening to music.
Insomnia is painful for people. Worry is about compartmentalizing your thoughts. Controlling your thoughts will actually keep worry away.
Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.