The biggest barrier for people to get a good night’s sleep is worrying/anxiety. It can be a vicious cycle. You are tired, but as night time rolls around you and things quiet down for the evening and you are alone with your thoughts, ruminating and worrying begin.
The Why: Bedtime becomes a great time to worry because you finally have given yourself time to relax. All day long your attention was focused on something else. Did I pick up all the kids, what is for dinner, or clearing your inbox of 300 emails. Alone on your pillow with silence, all of the days activities, the past ,and the future all come to the surface. You go from being tired and ready to crash to being completely awake and tossing and turning.
Cortisol at night
Why does this happen? Here is a quick review of the biology that is going on inside of you. At night your pineal gland in the middle of your brain releases melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleepiness. When you start to worry or panic, your brain is receiving that as a threat. It doesn’t know that the threat is just in your head and not really a bear in your bed. So it unloads a shot of adrenaline and cortisol to prime your body for flight or fight. This is engaging your sympathetic nervous system. For rest and digest you want your parasympathetic nervous system going.
Back to the cortisol that is now going through your body. Cortisol and melatonin are like water and oil. They don’t mix. When one is released the other is stopped. How are you supposed to get sleepy if the hormone that makes you feel sleepy has suddenly been turned off and switched to a hormone that promotes wakefulness and alertness?
For some people creating, a worry time has proven effective at reducing the severity of the worrying and anxiety at night.
Try This: If you tend to be one of those sleepers who has their mind race as soon as you hit the pillow, try this technique for a week.
Find yourself a notebook or journal. Something that you can write in.
Set aside 5-10 minutes or more if you have it during the day. Try to avoid doing this before bed because you will have carryover into bed, which defeats the purpose of this exercise.
For these 5-10 minutes worry away. Let yourself worry about whatever it is that is bothering you. Write it down and try and write down solutions or ways to deal with it.
After the timeframe, close up the notebook and tell your brain “I am all done worrying for today”. This may sound silly, but it can work. By telling yourself and your brain its ok, you are allowing your brain to relax.
The purpose of writing it down is so that it is out of your brain. You no longer have to spend energy trying to remember it or ruminate over it.
After you close your notebook, take a few deep breaths in through your nose and then out through your mouth.
The purpose of the worry time, is to provide a time and framework for you to worry. This makes you in control instead of at the mercy of your anxiety. One of the biggest drivers of worrying/anxiety is the lack of control of something. Also, it shifts the association of worrying out of the bedroom and into another room. If you always worry when you go to bed, your brain starts to build connections. It will start to associate the bed with time to worry instead of time to sleep.