Image licensed from Shutterstock // Fizkes
Just over two years ago, I blew $491 on a sound frequency machine because the sales letter promised to cure me of insomnia. I didn’t believe the claim, but I was desperate so I bought it.
Like the dozens of other products, services, techniques, and snake-oil solutions I tried, this contraption failed me.
For most of my adult life, I’d avoid talking about my insomnia with other people. I know they meant well with their suggestions, but I tired of hearing, “Oh, did you try…”
After a few deep breaths, I’d smile and nod. Yes, of course, you moron. I tried melatonin, valerian root, and meditation. I’ve seen sleep specialists. And yeah, I know about sleep hygiene too. Got any other internet ideas?
No, of course, I didn’t say that out loud. I’d just thank them for the suggestion and change the topic. I shouldn’t be too critical. After all, friends and peers weren’t the only ones with useless advice.
Doctors couldn’t help me.
A sleep-specialist threw up her hands and prescribed me Ambien. I’ll never touch that stuff again. I was, apparently, one of the few folks to experience an adverse reaction. The drug triggered random, uncontrollable urges to cry.
The promise of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy spiked my hopes, but that failed too. A myriad of other solutions followed: a sleep induction mat, meditation, blackout shades, avoiding foods, various teas, elixirs, blue light blockers, and aromatherapy. None of it made a difference.
Either I’d lay awake until the pre-dawn hours, or I’d fall asleep early from exhaustion and wake up two hours later, unable to return to slumber. I’d suffer through this pattern for weeks at a time before snapping out of it. A short respite would follow before the next sleepless cycle.
The source of my problem led to a cure.
The root cause of my sleep issues had been apparent for several years. The gods cursed me with a busy mind that never took a break. At bedtime, my brain activity resembled something like a water main break. It just ran and ran with no emergency shut off valve to curb the flow.
Traditional practices like meditation and relaxation exercises proved futile. But one solution worked. It had evolved slowly from a nightly practice I had been doing for years, and once I found the right formula, my sleep quality improved immediately. It has now been nine months since my last bout of insomnia.
Here’s how I did it.
How to Quiet Your Mind
This bedtime journaling routine finally turned me into a quality sleeper. If you follow a journaling practice, continue it, but modify it according to the guidelines below. To succeed with this method, you must be embarrassingly honest. That’s why it’s best to keep the contents of this journal secret, even from loved ones.
What worries you?
If you’re the worrying type like me, you probably slip into bed and think about all the possibilities of everything that could go wrong in your life. Did I pay that bill? Will I have time to practice piano tomorrow? Is my job secure?
Begin by asking yourself what worries you. Write the first thing that comes to mind. For this exercise, let’s pretend you’re fretting over a work project.
I’m worried my presentation will get poor feedback.
Don’t judge or criticize yourself for worrying about something trivial. Everyone worries about silly things.
What outcome do you fear? Be honest
There’s a worst-case scenario that’s causing you angst. What is it? Remember, nobody else will see this, so answer with complete honesty.
I fear I’ll screw up so much that my peers will laugh at me. I’ll lose my opportunity for a promotion.
If another fear pops in, then write that down too, but don’t dwell on the question.
What’s your backup plan?
Let’s suppose the worst happens; how could you compensate for the effects? Creating backup plans for outcomes I fear most not only calms my mind but also better prepares me for dealing with life uncertainties.
My backup plan is to start networking with other folks in the industry in case my future is in doubt.
Decades from now, what effect will this have had on you?
Assuming the worst-case happens, what effect will it have on you in the distant future? When we worry about outcomes, we often think of the immediate results: embarrassment, shame, loss of income, conflict, whatever.
But these experiences are almost always transitory.
Imagine your worst fear comes true. From the perspective of your future self, fifteen to twenty-five years from now, how will this have impacted your life? Will you even remember it? If so, how will your future-self evaluate it?
I probably won’t even remember it, since the impact is negligible. If I do remember it, I’ll probably kick myself for having let it bother me.
When we realize our greatest fears are episodic and temporary, our worry and anxiety dissipate.
What else are you refusing to let go of?
Have you ever had one of those days where you wish you would have stood up for yourself or defended someone else? What about those times you let fear hold you back from taking action? Or maybe just that feeling of overwhelm where the world asks too damn much of you.
Some folks can let it go, while others, like me, will turn it over in our brains, allowing the toxic thoughts to seep into our blood, bones, and organs.
If you feel overwhelmed because of regret or demands on your time, put it on paper. The act of writing it down helps relieve some of the angst. Then, ask yourself this question.
Can you ignore it?
There’s so much bs that bombards your life every day. You can ignore most of it without any material consequence.
For each of those demands and regrets consuming your thoughts, ask yourself what would happen if you just ignored it. Half the time, you’ll realize the mental effort serves no purpose. For the remaining issues, move on to the next question.
How can you fix or rationalize it, and learn from it?
On occasion, you can fix or make amends. If not, try to rationalize your actions. Always exploit the opportunity to learn from it.
Hey, I had just finished work and felt mentally exhausted. I can forgive myself for screwing up, but I can also apologize to Sarah tomorrow for not defending her. It‘s also a reminder to stay attuned the next time a bully tries to assert themselves.
On most days, you’ll fill up anywhere from one half to a full page in a standard notebook. The process takes about fifteen minutes to complete — well worth the investment if you’re the kind of person who struggles for hours to fall asleep.
Upon finishing, you’ll have a clear mind, free of worry. Almost always, the last few lines in my notebook turn to scribbles as I struggle to keep my eyes open.