It all began with an idea I had before going to bed.  Quite excited, I turned to write it down, stressed that I would forget it.  The problem is that my enthusiasm didn’t settle down, I know that I had written everything down but I was anxious to begin and the possibilities swirled like a maelstrom in my head.  When I finished, lo and behold, I had the entire workflow in front of me and I was quite content as one might expect. But guess what? Being content was not enough to cool down my enthusiasm; I had to see it through! So I set out to battle the night, began the project and when I finished it 3 hours later, I slept like a baby.  When I woke up, I had more insight about why I had problems going to bed that night and how to avoid it in the future.

1. Deal With Issues, Ideas and Unfinished Tasks Before Going to Bed

As it turns out, when we turn to sleep, we lower our guard. Our body relaxes, our body temperature drops and, as a result, our brain’s floodgates come tumbling down, sweeping away our sleep and bringing into our conscious mind thoughts from our subconscious that lay dormant during the day.  I found out in retrospect that I was entertaining this idea the entire day and I was unaware that not dealing with it in that exact moment, (i.e. writing it down) would cause me to lose several hours of sleep! Unresolved projects, unfinished tasks, a full inbox that demands our attention – they all come back at night to haunt us. And to make things worse, if we fall asleep, those things that we were not able to solve during the day, visit us in our dreams. If you’re not suffering from insomnia or other sleep depriving medical conditions, the best way to fight sleepless nights is to process everything that needs to be processed during the day, without procrastinating or postponing to-do things that you’re already partially aware of.  This doesn’t mean you have to do it, you just have to get it out of your head and into the right list.

2. Tackle your Tasks 2 Hours Before You Go to Bed

The phenomenon that propels this suspense/excitement/anxiety that catches us unprepared at night and prevents a much needed shut-eye is called the Zeigarnik effect.  The Zeigarnik effect is our innate tendency to remember an uncompleted or unresolved tasks rather than a completed one.  When we complete tasks and projects, they evaporate from our memory, leaving much room that is instantly occupied by unprocessed business and as a result leaves us awake at night. That’s why the things that cry for your attention on the to-do list must be closed before you go to sleep.  If you can’t close them, at least have a plan that will detail (preferably step-by-step) how you’re going to tackle that pesky task the next day.  This way your mind will know it’s taken care of. The key is to do all of this at least 2 hours before you head hits the pillow.   This will give your subconscious enough time to process that your tasks have been handled.

3. Follow Your Real-Life Dreams

I also found the above phenomena stealing sleep from me on projects that were not that urgent, i.e. those on my someday/maybe list.  Since it’s a list of things that I dream to do one day, they have the potential to occupy the slot between dream and day time. Another dangerous side effect of not following up on your dreams (and what are someday projects if not dreams waiting for realization) can result in remorse – and remorse can and will keep you awake at night. Make sure those items are handled as well as the more pressing ones, but whatever you do, leave enough space between planning and sleep.  Cutting it too close might create an opposite effect.

What do you do to battle your sleepless nights? Leave a comment with your own personal tips and advice on how to get a good night’s sleep.

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