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How to Battle Sleepless Nights

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How to Battle Sleepless Nights

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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