(This article, written by Dr. Carr, was originally published at thecaregiverspace.org)
As a busy adult, you may find that once it’s finally time for you to call it a day, you’re asleep before your head hits the pillow. If that’s the case, you don’t need to read any further.
But if, like many, you find that on some nights, even though you’re exhausted, your mind keeps going and won’t let you fall asleep, you’re not alone. When your day is filled with caring for someone and your focus is on a constant stream of demands and tasks to be done, there may not be time left for worrying or dwelling on upsetting thoughts. But when you’re finally alone in a quiet, dark room, those thoughts may finally have a chance to emerge, and linger.
Here a few ideas that may help keep anxiety and worrisome thoughts from robbing you of some hard-earned rest:
If you can manage it, a quick warm shower or bath can be calming, both physically and mentally.
It raises your body temperature and the natural fall back to your normal temp when you get out signals your body to sleep. Plus, water is symbolically cleansing, allowing you to close your eyes and imagine your worry washing or floating away and disappearing down the drain.
Try one-minute journaling.
Putting something, almost anything, down on paper each night in a notebook kept bedside has been shown to help put one’s mind at ease, without taking up too much rare and precious downtime. If a worry keeps bouncing around in your thoughts, write it down in a sentence or two to get in on the paper and out of your head. Alternatively, many folks this helpful: write one, just one, specific thing from the day which you are grateful for. It can be as big as the support of a loving friend or as small as the comfort of a well-brewed cup of tea. You don’t have to come up with the thing you’re MOST grateful for, as long as it’s A thing. It needn’t be profound, and it’s ok to have some repeats over time, as long as you’re specific in whatever it is you’re grateful for that day.
Switch out the TV or computer for a book, recorded book or podcast.
Screens may seem like a good distraction, yet most of us have become so used to watching them while doing something else that our minds can have a way of drifting to the same unhappy thoughts we were hoping to avoid. Reading creates more distraction by requiring more of our attention, and listening to a calm but engaging voice recording as can be found with many recorded books or podcasts of radio programs like This American Life (a personal favorite) has the benefit of allowing us to have the nurturing experience of closing our eyes and maybe even falling asleep while someone tells us a story. If you’re using a digital recording you can often set a timer so that it shuts off on its own after 30 minutes or at the end of one episode, and you can always skip back the next night to wherever you drifted off the night before.
Follow some form of set routine before bed, even if it’s very short.
Doing the same sequence of activity each night helps train your brain to fall asleep more easily. For example the tips above would combine to make a nice routine: take a quick shower; get in bed for one-minute journaling; fluff your pillow, turn on a podcast and turn off the light. Or pick any simple routine that works for you.
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