Purple Clover is one of those pages I follow on social media. Their posts are clever and generally spot on. Since I’m a sleep & well-being coach, I particularly notice the posts about this topic. Or I should say, the posts about thinking instead of sleeping.
This one caught my attention a few weeks ago. It’s funny, because it’s true! And it’s funnier for me because often when I get into bed, I start thinking about my clients. Ironically, this can be a time when I have more insights about how I can help them!
Given the comments on the Purple Clover post, it seems that many people are thinking instead of sleeping.
So, how do you stop the mental chatter?
As someone who struggled with her own sleep for a couple of decades, let’s talk about a few things I used to do:
- Get out of bed and actually do the thing that came to mind.
- Turn the light back on, write the thoughts down on a notepad placed on the nightstand for this purpose (or, type the idea into my phone)
- Get annoyed, frustrated, and angry with myself. “It’s 3 a.m. for goodness sake! What’s the matter with you! Get to sleep already!! Stop thinking about that!” (Edited for less-kind language. 🙂 )
- Worry about how the lack of sleep would affect me in the morning. “I have a busy day tomorrow. How in the world am I going to function tomorrow if I don’t sleep??”
Fortunately, I never got into the habit of playing games or checking social media on my phone, nor did I ever get up to watch TV. Many people who struggle with chronic sleeplessness, however, will use their nighttime wakefulness to get some work done on their laptop, scroll through Twitter until their eyes don’t stay open anymore, or they finally crash in front of the TV. (Most sleep experts will advise against this, as the light negatively affects your melatonin production and therefore works against you.)
But being awake that many hours is not only frustrating; it can get boring. What else are you supposed to do?
These days, when I start thinking instead of sleeping, here’s what I do. I invite you to experiment with some of the suggestions below. (Note that none of them require you to move a muscle!)
- Acknowledge the individual thought. Instead of pushing it away, invite it in. (“Oh, that’s right” or “yes, that’s a good idea!”).
- Reassure yourself that if the thought is truly important, you’ll remember it when you wake up. (If you don’t have a great memory, this requires more trust. And, it can work because you take the time to make a fully attentive “mental note.”)
- Show yourself some compassion. You might be up because you’re excited or concerned about something you’re anticipating the next day. You might have had a super busy day and need a little more time to settle yourself. You might have eaten later than usual. (In other words, there’s a good reason!)
- Remind yourself that even if you don’t fall asleep right THIS INSTANT, you will be fine. (It normally takes people between 10-20 minutes.) When it’s longer, I like to remember “next days” where I felt really tired but kicked serious $%&@*! at work regardless. It can help take the pressure off yourself to sleep because let’s face it, pressure doesn’t help!
- Grant yourself permission ahead of time to let some non-urgent/non-important things fall off your “to do list” the next day, so you can have more rest breaks. (If you’ve read the sample chapter of my book called Lifestyle Habits Wrecking Your Sleep, you know that rest is REQUIRED for good sleep the following night.)
Now we’re only talking about the mental stuff here—if you have any physical discomfort (i.e. pain) or generally can’t get comfortable, that’s another part of the puzzle (which often interacts back and forth with the mind stuff). And there are sometimes other barriers too.
Which one of these techniques will you try the next time your bed becomes a magical place? Do you have another technique that works for you when you find yourself thinking instead of sleeping? Let me know in the comments!