I'm a worrier, but bedtime is when I used to worry the most. I'd lie awake and think about everything I had to do the next day. Once I fretted my way through that list, it was on to worrying about anything that could possibly go wrong during the nighttime hours. One of the kids could get sick. Someone might break into the house. Was that thunder? What if it wakes the baby?
After exhausting my worries about at least a half-dozen hypothetical problems, I'd spend another half hour replaying something that happened that day and obsessing about how I could've handled it differently. This comprehensive worrying routine could take up to an hour or more every night. Meanwhile, I'd hope against hope that my brain would just shut off so I'd be able to fall asleep. I eventually would, but I'd wake up several times throughout the night to resume worrying, just in case I didn't get enough in earlier. All of this added up to a really awful night's sleep.
That was what a typical night looked like for me until recently, when I decided that if I was ever going to get a restful night's sleep again in this lifetime, I had to designate my bedroom as a worry-free zone. Note that I'm not saying I stopped worrying. The difference is I force myself to do all the worrying I have to do outside of the bedroom. I will literally quarantine myself to the sofa in the family room, and just sit there until I have gone through my worrying checklist.
"I decided that if I was ever going to get a restful night's sleep again in this lifetime, I had to designate my bedroom as a worry-free zone."
It helps to talk through the anxieties that used to keep me up. Good thing my husband is a saint! He'll listen as I recount how another mom told me her child got the tummy bug, and since our daughter played with her daughter last week, now I'm panicked that the illness will make its way into our house. I'll relay the news piece I saw about the burglary in a nearby neighborhood. I'll brood over how impatiently I reacted to our little one's meltdown that afternoon. I'll tell him how I'm afraid I can't meet an upcoming work deadline. Phew!
If my husband isn't available, sometimes I write down my worries. But again, this is a practice that only takes place outside of my bedroom. Once I'm in there, I can rest assured I have thought through everything I need to. I've gone over my to-do list, overthought this or that, obsessed about what could go wrong, and so on. I tell myself that now, it's time to go to bed. Just knowing I already spent the appropriate amount of time worrying has somehow given my psyche the freedom it needed to switch itself off for the night. On the occasion that I do have a worry that comes up, I'll remind myself that I already met my quota for the day. And I can always resume worrying in the morning.
I find that most nights, this hack really works, and I'm falling asleep much more quickly — usually within minutes. I also sleep more soundly and wake up less. When I do wake up, I fall back to sleep without as much difficulty. I wake up in the morning feeling more well-rested and somehow lighter. There has even been another unanticipated benefit to setting aside specific time before bed to worry: I'm not worrying as much during the day. It's almost as if I needed to build worry time into my schedule to experience a happier, less anxiety-filled life. When worrying gets its own time slot, it doesn't bleed into other times of the day when I'm enjoying activities like playing with my kids, exercising, or working.
I'd advise anyone who tends to have an overactive mind at night to try declaring the bedroom a worry-free zone. Set aside that specific time to get your worries off your chest before your head hits the pillow. You may just set a positive cycle in motion to get a better night's sleep and enjoy less stress during the day.