A worried, sweating woman lies in bed with the cover pulled up to her chin

Can Scheduling Your Worries Improve Your Sleep?

I bet you’re familiar with the pattern of nodding off on the couch, dragging yourself into bed, laying your head on the pillow, and immediately remembering all the things you have to do tomorrow and all the things you didn’t get done today.

For many of us, it seems our brains wait until we’re in bed to start worrying about everything – making a to-do list, calculating what bills are due, and worrying about that tree that looks like it might fall during the next big storm.

Do you find that your brain wants to solve all of the world’s problems just as your body is getting ready for sleep?

Shut up, Brain!

One way you might have coped with an overactive brain is to try to shut it down. “Shut up, Brain!” Or in the spirit of Bob Newhart playing a therapist on MadTV, “Just stop it!”

Unfortunately, the more that we try to push worries out of our head, the more it backfires. It’s a lot like telling yourself to think of anything EXCEPT a pink elephant; you immediately picture a pink elephant! And the more that you judge or get frustrated with yourself for worrying, the more difficult it is to relax and turn your brain off.

Planning your worries

A counterintuitive technique that works for some people is scheduling “worry time.”

What if you invited worried thoughts into your mind instead of trying to force them out? What if you accepted that worries and anxieties are part of life and you made time for them?

You might find that those worries hold less power over you (and your sleep) once you accept them.

Scheduling 'Worry Time'

The crux of “worry time” is to schedule a time when you will worry or plan each day.

If planning for the next day tends to get in the way of your sleep, you might use your worry time to make a to-do list. If you worry about random stressors, like that rotting tree in the backyard, spend your worry time actively thinking about what could go wrong and how you would handle it.

If there’s something you can do to address the worry (look up the number for a tree removal company; research DIY tree care, etc.), do that during your worry time and jot down what you’ve done.

Instructions for 'Worry Time'

If you’ve been trying to shut worries out of your brain by sheer force, it may be worthwhile to follow these guidelines instead:

  • Schedule 20 minutes of “worry time” daily, ending at least an hour before your regular bedtime so that you have time to wind down.
  • Worry and plan the whole time. Allow yourself to ruminate, worry, plan, and panic for the allotted time.
  • Make a list of any steps you can or have taken to address the situation(s) you’re worried about.
  • When “worry time” ends, acknowledge that it’s time to put those worries away for the day. If they pop back into your head later, remind yourself that you’ll have a full 20 minutes tomorrow to worry about them.
  • Keep a pad and pen near your bed so that you can jot down any new concerns that pop up and save them for tomorrow’s “worry time.” It may be easier to “let go” of new worries if you know you won’t forget them.

Planning to worry may sound weird, but it can’t hurt. If you give it a try, let us know how it goes!

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