When I ask “how long does it take you to fall asleep,” I often get “OMG! If I could just shut my brain off I’d be fine!” If you’re one of those people who solve the problems of the world as your trying to fall asleep, or at 3 am, then this is for you.
Dedicated worry time is a strategy that I’ve used since I started Naturopathic Medical School back in 2000. While it may seem counterintuitive to worry on purpose, it can actually be an incredibly useful tool. I liken it to training the dog. As the adult in the relationship, I get to decide what the rules are. Same goes for my brain. I get to decide what and when we’ll think about certain things.
Now, if you’ve had a dog without training you can appreciate that it doesn’t always feel like you get to decide. “They just don’t listen!!”. Your brain may feel the same way – like it’s in charge instead of you. Over time, both the dog and your brain can be trained to follow your schedule. At first it will take constant reminders and it will feel exhausting. But persistence and patience pays off.
Here’s how you train your to brain to worry at 7pm instead of 3 am:
- Choose a worry time. Preferably this will be at least two hours before bed. We want to make sure that any stress response that gets triggered has time to settle down and cortisol has a half life of about an hour. Since cortisol interferes with melatonin production, we don’t want to cause a spike right before bed.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Worry. I mean it. Worry about everything that you can’t get out of your head when trying to fall/fall back to sleep. The kids, work, politics, that thing you said to that friend in grade 5…all of it – write it all down. Or if you just cannot journal, do it verbally – dictation or voice notes on your phone work great for this.
- When the timer goes off, stop. Take a deep breath and then move your body – dance, walk, stretch – what ever suits you.
- Every time your brain tries to address these worries out side of your worry time, you say – Nope, we do that after supper not at bedtime.
Over time it’s like the dog jumping on the bed. You kick them off. They come back. Rinse and repeat. As long as you don’t let them stay, they do eventually learn to stay off of the bed. Your brain will try to keep worrying outside of this time. But if you keep redirecting it, it will eventually get easier and less intrusive.
The next extension of this is to decide exactly what you’ll think about instead, but I’ll save that for another post.
Catherine Darley is an ND in Seattle with sleep focused practice. She’s the one that named this strategy “Putting Your Thoughts To Bed”. I love it. Such a cool visual. Tuck them into your notebook and then carry on with your evening.
Not sure how to tuck your thoughts in for the night? Let’s chat.