Stress and insomnia have a complicated relationship: You go to bed, but you're concerned about something, so it takes a while to fall asleep. You wake up in the middle of the night and immediately start worrying again. When you can't go back to sleep, you start fretting about that too.
The next night, you begin worryingeven before you climb into bedthat you'll have a repeat of the night before. Soon your body begins to retrain itself not to sleep in bed at night and to catastrophize about every little problem instead. What began as a simple inconvenience has mushroomed into a chronic sleep problem.
To break the cycle, sleep experts recommend dealing with worrisome issues during the day, often by writing them down. Joyce Walsleben, PhD, associate professor at New York University School of Medicine, gives these tips.
- Designate a notebook as your worry journal.
- Spend about half an hour with your worry book every afternoon or evening, several hours before bedtime.
- List bothersome issues on the left side of the page.
- Think about what you can do to help resolve these issues and write your plans on the right side of the page.
- Close the book, put it out of sight, and don't think about these issues until the following day.
Registered sleep technologist Lauren Butler, 52who runs a support group at the Sleep Disorders Center at Sebastian River Medical Center in Floridaoffers a twist on the traditional worry book.
"People with insomnia lie in bed and think, think, think," she says. "If they put a notepad by the bed, they can write down all the stuff they're thinking aboutthe grocery list, pay that billso they can release it."