Often I hear clients complain about their short nights. And it happens to me too, waking up at 4, to find myself unable to turn to my other side and have another deep sleep for an extra 2-3 hours.
The most common reason is an inability to stop thinking about...whatever it is you can't stop thinking about: something with the children or another beloved one, a work project, 100 things you may not forget, your commitments, unpaid bills, a health issue, the future,...
Often, my clients already tried the usual recommendations for heading into dreamland, such as turning off electronics, meditating, body scans, breathing exercises, warm evening bath and relaxing tea, wearing a sleep mask, reading for 10 minutes, booking their massage as late as possible...
Often it helps, or, it did so in the past, but if your nervous system is overloaded, it might be time to try one more fix. According to neuroscience, writing out a to-do list before you go to bed might be just what you need to finally drift off.
Why the method works
The ability to get to sleep depends to a large degree on your body's ability to switch from your sympathetic nervous system- the one that tells you to be alert - to your parasympathetic nervous system, which tells you to rest and recuperate. Techniques like meditation and deep breathing are often very helpful in facilitating this transition, but stress can disturb this thoroughly, as it activates your body's fight-or-flight response and keeps the sympathetic nervous system engaged. Subsequently, your brain does not want to shut down.
There's something about the physical act of writing. Writing something on paper tends to offload the nervous system, as when it is on paper you don't need to think about it anymore. It's there, out of your head, ready for another look – and for action- when you wake up.
But next to these to do's and ‘I may not forgets', writing down can instantly sooth anxiety – another big sleep-disturber. Writing down your worries can make them less big — almost as if you are transferring them out of your head and onto the paper.
Overcome Your Own Expectations
Maybe you already tried it - planning tasks and making to-do lists, but you always ended up with more anxiety and frustration because you couldn't accomplish them. You can change that, by changing your belief that you are not productive.
According to research on positive neuroplasticity, we have the power to rewire our neurons, and consequently change the way we think and behave.
How can you do that? Create a to-do list that's extremely easy to accomplish — something that's impossible to fail. Then, make sure you accomplish those tasks. It doesn't matter if they seem small. What's important is that you will be re-learning the feeling of accomplishment, which will push your anxiety and frustration away.
Gradually, productivity can become a pleasure (again).
But it's not only about those to-do lists, accomplishment and productivity, I really believe in the power of writing down, about giving your nervous system the ability to slow down, to stop with the constant pop-ups, about giving your body the ability to switch from alertness to rest.
Maybe you can give it (another) try...