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Don’t Let Worry Keep You Awake

7 Simple Tips to a Worry-Free Night

Many people have trouble getting to sleep at night and a common theme seems to be worrying and focusing on fears and concerns. 

Do you go to bed each night feeling like you are at the mercy of your worrisome thoughts?  You don't have to, there are some simple techniques that you can use to put you in charge and help you to a better night’s sleep.  

I will go over seven of them, here. 

  1. Keep a Good Thought: The absolute best way to keep unwanted, distressing thoughts from wandering in and taking over your mind while you lie there helplessly trying to fall asleep is to have a definite, strong, positive thought already there in your mind. 

    Don’t leave this to chance; plan out what you are going to think about and focus your thoughts in the desired direction.  It might be a good idea to look at a picture or other representation of your good strong thought before you turn off the lights. 

    Maybe you are planning a trip to the Greek Isles or Alaska; try looking at a picture of those scenic locations and visualize what you will do when you are there. If you are a proud grandparent, look at a picture of your adorable grandchildren or some of their artwork or writing.  Select something that you are looking forward to, even if it is just a walk in the park, and visualize your enjoyment in being there.

  2. Good Reading for Good Sleep: Another excellent technique that results in many good and inspiring thoughts is to read something positive and uplifting just before you turn out the lights at night. 

    The last ten to twenty minutes before going to sleep can be golden moments for establishing your frame of mind for a good night’s sleep and giving you a positive outlook that just may carry over into a better morning, too.

    The idea of what constitutes positive and uplifting reading may vary from person to person, but I suggest that stories about serial killers or agents of doom from beyond the stars may not be the best selection.  I do, however, recommend As A Man Thinketh (or As A Woman Thinketh,) How to Win Friends and Influence People, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, and The Power of Positive Thinking. 

    If you don’t enjoy reading try an audio version (CD or tape) of one of these excellent and inspiring books, or copy them to your iPod.

    Reading from (or listening to) the same positive book again first thing in the morning may be another good idea to start the day right.  It doesn’t have to take long- even five minutes of positive input may make a great difference in your outlook all day.

  3. Don’t watch TV, especially the “News”:  A news report used to inform people of important events that occurred.  These days “news” shows are all about things guaranteed to upset and concern people, things that will sell and attract viewers.  It is not so much “news” as “bads.”  This is absolutely the worst thing you can expose yourself to right before bedtime (indeed, at any time,) if worry tends to keep you awake. 

    Try this simple experiment: avoid all TV and internet news, newspapers, and magazines for one month.  Don’t even listen to the news on the radio; try one of those satellite radio stations with no commercials or news interruptions.  Then see how you feel at the end of that month.  I’ll bet you are more relaxed and less stressed. The world will probably seem a friendlier and safer place, too.

  4. Write it Down: Keep a note pad and pencil at your bedside.  When you start to worry about something real that you need to take care of write it down along with the time that you will handle it the next day (if it is that urgent.)  Now that you have written down the problem and the commitment to deal with it there is no longer any need to dwell on it.

    You may even find it useful to spend about fifteen minutes before you get into bed focusing on your worries and trying to come up with things that you are legitimately concerned about.  Don’t let your bed become your worry spot.  Sit at the kitchen or dining room table and pour your heart out on paper for fifteen minutes. 

    Now, don’t look for problems that don’t exist, but force yourself to get your concerns out of your mind and down on paper.  This exercise may help you to see your monster problems shrink to moderate-sized issues that you can deal with. You may also notice that many of “your worries” are not really yours at all.  Read on. . .

  5. Respect Other People Enough To Allow Them To Worry About Their Own Problems: Note that above I emphasized that the problem you write down should be something real and something that you need to handle.  Too many of us worry about things that are none of our business (whether your sister is going to marry that awful guy, whether your adult daughter is gaining weight, whether your grandson is ever going to get a good job, etc.)

    Keep your mind on your own problems and think of creative and concrete ways to solve them, and let other people take care of their own lives. Actually, insist that they do so.

    Many of us also worry about things over which we have no control.  A good dose of the Serenity Prayer is in order when that sort of worry gets going.  You don’t have to be religious to gain a new perspective from the wisdom in this simple prayer. Think of it as an aid to meditation or reorienting your outlook. You have probably heard it or read it before, but it bears repeating:

    God, grant me the Serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change,
    the Courage to change the things I can,
    and the Wisdom to know the difference.
  6. Reject the “Awfulizing”: Some people have a tendency to do what may be called “awful-izing.”  They dwell on the worst possible outcomes for any situation and fearfully focus on the possibility for terrible things to happen, or mentally replay some terrible thing they saw on TV or read about in the newspaper.

    When troublesome thoughts intrude, acknowledge that you are awfulizing, then simply tell that part of your mind “thanks for sharing, now go away!”  Say this with strength and really mean it, then focus your full attention on a good, positive thought. 

    You can use one of those that you prepared per the suggestion in Tip #1. It does help to prepare some good subjects to think about.  Here are some more suggestions: If you have a hobby, try envisioning a new project: a song you want to learn, a fishing fly to tie, a pattern to sew or make in stained glass. 

    Figure out a way to fix something around the house, plan your next workout at the gym, or imagine yourself leveling up in a game.  Whatever it is, make sure that it is something clear and real that you feel positive about, so that you have something solid and good to focus on that can occupy your mind just long enough for you drift off to sleep.  Now, don’t get up and start to do the project, just envision it in clear and precise detail.

  7. Try to stay awake:  This last tip that may sound rather silly, but actually has some sound study behind it. Trying to stay awake can actually have the opposite effect and result in falling asleep.

    If you also find yourself bothered by anxious thoughts during the day consider this: Tip #1 or Tip #2 would work equally well to prevent a case of the worries before they get started at any time of the day.  If worry strikes, reach for a positive or inspirational book, or find a picture or other positive reminder and focus on a strong, positive thought and exclude those troublesome images.

Well, there you have it, 7 techniques to transform hours of fretting and anguish into a relaxing period of positive thought and peaceful contemplation before you drift off to a good night’s sleep.  A little bit of preparation can put you in charge of your nightly experience, rather than leaving you at the mercy of pointless, and futile worry.  Be sure to try these tips for a worry-free night.

Bio: Guinevere Mee is a former attorney (I’m so glad that’s over!) and the mother of two teenaged boys, one of whom used to stay awake worrying.  She is now a much happier freelance writer, home school teacher, cookbook author, stained glass enthusiast, etc.