Like Frodo in the Ring trilogy, we Toronto dwellers are constantly fighting problems that come up like orcs. They show up so fast and so many that it can get overwhelming. Right when we are supposed to be getting a good night sleep, these monster problems keep appearing in our minds, making us restless and anxious and completely disturbing our capacity for sleep. While I don’t wield the magical skills that Gandalf has, I can offer you very practical and effective techniques to improve your chances for maximizing your sleep and conquer your problems.
The Bedtime Worry Movie
For us problem solvers, the issues starts right after we get in bed. When our mind quiets down from the daily obligations and goes over the loose ends of the day, the movie starts. The mind makes a “movie” of catastrophes that end taking over your awareness. Then it takes over our sleep. There are two things that in that distraction we do not see.
First, worrying is not an effective way to solve problems. It is a dead-end street. Spending valuable sleeping-time worrying only deprives us from the sleep we need to be in shape to think clearly. If instead of worrying, we would get some sleep, the next day our minds would be in perfect shape to think of ways to fix what needs to be fixed. What else are we missing?
The second thing is that at night, when everything is quiet, and nothing is open, and no action can be taken, it is not an optimal time for solving problems. The best time is when we can take-action and do something about it. That time is during the waking hours. A best solution would involve dealing with these two blind spots.
The One Simple Hack to Rule Them All
So there is a simple hack: take time before sleep to do a “mind dump” of all your problems and identify small steps you can take to move forward. This involves setting a time before sleep, before you start to wind down and turn screens off (they alter sleep patterns). At that time, take a sheet of paper and draw a line in the middle.
Now, pick a side of the sheet, and write down, for 5 minutes, a list of all the worry related things that you can fish out of your mind. You can use the other side if your list is very long. After 5 minutes, fill the other column with the first step you would need to take to solve each one of the problems.
Make sure the steps are small. Like Frodo getting to Mordor, a long journey starts with a small step. Big unattainable steps don’t ever work for busy people. Why? Because we are busy. You need something you can insert in your day that is small and easy.
Now, to make sure the problem get tackled, you need to get your schedule out, and schedule the 5 top tasks in the new few days. There! You took the first step!
Now that you have actually taken action (scheduling something at a reasonable time) give yourself permission to sleep soundly. Make a pact with yourself that even if you come up with the cure for cancer in your sleep, you will refuse to stay awake. You can practice a short relaxation exercise, too.
Bedtime Breathing Technique
Using belly breaths, focus on the sensations of breathing, then extend your exhale by two counts longer than the inhale. That will help your body relax. Relax any tensions with each exhale. Let go of any thoughts with each exhale. Don’t judge what you are doing, or yourself. Just relax, let yourself become heavy and drift off…
Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.