Episode 31



Being told to “calm down” when you’re in the heat of the moment is like adding gasoline to a fire. How do you avoid the same pitfall when trying to relax when you’re too agitated to fall asleep?

In this episode, I discuss some methods to unwind from the go-go-go of the day in the transition to sleep.

A plane doesn’t suddenly take a nose dive to the ground once its above the destination airfield, but rather follows a flight path of gradual descent and turns to transition from flying at 15,000 feet and 500mph to landing on the runway at sea level and coming to a complete stop. Your flight path, your descent from the atmosphere of wake to the runway/taxiway/terminal of sleep can be just as easy, reasonable, and flexible. No need for nose dives.

So after dinner, just be mindful of your activity level. Lighter activity like carrying laundry baskets, tidying up, hiking up and down the stairs getting the kids to bed - these are unlikely to significantly derail your upcoming sleep. Just keep that flight path in mind - if you’re at 15,000 feet at 7pm, how can you gradually descend your physical activity altitude on the way to bed?

Cognitive and emotional activity can trigger and maintain mind racing, which can be tricky to deal with. There are certainly a few things that can help on a regular basis or just when your mind is really running amuck. With the same flight path mentality, how can you gradually descend from the go go go of the day, to the restful calm of sleep? It's probably a lot easier to accomplish at a pace over an hour or so vs waiting till you’re in the bed. One way to more swiftly accomplish this mental unwinding is to funnel that mental energy. A simple and effective way to do this is by writing.

Lists, such as accomplishments from the day, or upcoming to-do lists are an easy start. Another great nightly habit, as discussed in Episode 17, is gratitude. Writing down, with your own hand, 1-3 things you are thankful for. It doesn’t have to be something that happened that day. It doesn’t have to be directed at a person.

Another, more as-needed writing exercise to funnel mental activity before sleep is known as a brain dump, which may include your written train of thought or common automatic thoughts. Taking a closer look at these automatic thoughts can be quite helpful:

1. How does that automatic thought make you feel?

2. How strongly do you believe that automatic thought on a scale of 1-to-10?

3. What evidence is there that the statement is true, and what evidence do you have that the statement may not be true?

4. After this little bit of scrutinizing, how does that automatic thought make you feel now?

5. Having more closely assessed the veracity of the statement, how strongly do you believe that automatic thought now on a scale from 1-to-10?

What this kind of exercise does is to help provide some distance between who you are as a person, and these automatic thoughts. Keep in mind that you are not your thoughts. You have no obligation to fuse your identity with whatever pops into your noggin on its own. Thoughts are just thoughts. The point is not to make you change your mind about everything, but to better understand that just because you had a thought does not entitle that thought to infallibility or a key feature of your personality.

Writing is slower than thinking and thus applies the brakes to your thinking as you try to capture your thoughts on the page. That is an excellent way to get that mental activity on the glide path in the final descent toward the runway.


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