Quieting the Thoughts That Keep Me Awake at Night

If you’ve ever heard a home security alarm get triggered, you know that sound is so loud that it’s disorienting. It’s meant to confuse and scare the intruder.

And that’s what mine did to me when it went off at 3:45 AM and I was home alone. I leaped out of bed and fell into a glass cabinet. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, but it resulted in an ambulance ride and stitches in my chin.

Worrying at bedtime

Two months later, the faulty motion sensor has been replaced and my face is almost healed, but I still worry most nights before bed. As I set the alarm and get in bed, I start thinking about what could go wrong.

What if the alarm goes off again? What if I fall again in the middle of the night? What if I get a fine from the police department for multiple false alarms? What if it’s not a false alarm and an intruder is really in the house? If I can’t stop ruminating, I can’t fall asleep. I lay in bed waiting for the alarm to start screaming.

Using cognitive therapy techniques

Ruminating like this can trigger a bout of insomnia for me, so I try to interrupt these thoughts as quickly as possible. I’ve started using cognitive techniques to realistically evaluate these worries and have gotten into a bit of a routine as I get into bed:

I weigh my options

If I set the alarm before bed, as usual, I may feel anxious about it going off in the night. If I don’t set the alarm, I’m very likely to feel anxious and vulnerable to an intruder or fire. When I weigh those options, I always prefer the first to the second. Actively making the choice leads me to feel more in control and less anxious, which makes it easier to fall asleep.

I focus on what I have done to prevent this from happening again

In other words, what problem solving have I already done? I’ve gotten the motion sensor replaced, I’ve had the entire system tested, and I’ve moved some furniture around so that I’m less likely to trip if I get up in the middle of the night. All of these steps have made it less likely that the situation will repeat itself.

I realistically evaluate the worst-case scenario(s)

I have two of them. In the first, there’s another false alarm and I get hurt while responding to it. In the second, the alarm goes off for a legitimate reason and I’m in danger. But I learned a couple of months ago that the police and/or fire department will respond within a matter of minutes either way (and yes, I realize how fortunate I am to be able to write that). If either scenario happens, I’m likely to be safe.

I list my coping resources

Even if the worst-case scenario happens, could I deal with it? I’ve already learned that I can cope with a false alarm, even if it means suffering a minor injury and major embarrassment. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but I can deal with it. It would be much harder to cope with a legitimate danger, but I have coped with danger before and could get through it again.

Less anxiety at night

Working through these steps reduces my anxiety and makes it easier to fall asleep. Although the examples are specific to my experience, these cognitive techniques may help you address worries that keep you up at night.

Have you found ways to manage anxiety-producing thoughts? Please share what works for you in the comments.

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