Organize Your Thoughts for a Better Night’s Sleep

George can sleep anywhere!

Who doesn’t enjoy a good night’s sleep?

And how many of us have trouble actually achieving it? (Lots, that’s how many.)

I have read articles suggesting we avoid caffeine; stick to a regular bedtime; avoid napping; get a sleep study in case you have sleep apnea; take the TV out of the bedroom; stop screen time (computer, TV, smart phone) an hour before bedtime; eat well and exercise regularly; get an alarm that wakes you naturally (with light, or on a 90 minute sleep cycle); declutter your bedroom so that it is more peaceful; follow a relaxing bed time routine; etc.

I think ALL of these tips are excellent. But they never mention the one factor that I think keeps more of us awake than any other:  mental clutter. The more we are worried about things we have no control over, and the less we are doing about the things we can control, and the more to-dos we try to remember without writing them down, the harder it is to sleep because our spinning brains keep us awake. Yes?

Case in point:

I have a client who hardly sleeps at all because her brain is on overload. She lies awake worrying, and gets up in the middle of the night to do the things that are on her mind. She is — needless to say — very stressed out. And tired.

My recommendations:

  1. REVIEW YOUR AGENDA for the next day before you go to bed. This allows you to make any last-minute preparations you may have forgotten about, which makes the next morning go smoother. Make a short list of things you’d like to accomplish, and set your intentions for the next day. The more you trust your time management system (focusing on the things that are important to you; capturing and scheduling the tasks and activities that support your goals) the more easily you will rest.
  2. PRACTICE GRATITUDE. Write down (or think about) 5 things every evening before bed time that you are grateful for and/or the 5 best things that happened that day. I do this after I’m in bed as a form of  nighttime prayers. I aim for 10, but I usually fall asleep before I get to 10. So it’s also kind of like counting sheep!
  3. KEEP A NOTEPAD AND PEN by your beside, and a little flashlight, so you don’t wake your bed partner. (I used to have a little light-up pen.) If you wake up anxious in the middle of the night, DO NOT get out of bed! Instead, capture the to-do item on your notepad, and any other stray thoughts you are having. Then tell yourself you are going back to sleep now. If you have trouble going back to sleep, count 5 more things you are grateful for. If I feel stuck, I get really grateful for things like having the use all my limbs, my kitties, and refrigeration.

Client’s response:

Initially: “I’m using your tips and yes, I’m sleeping a little better. I don’t want to jinx anything but I’m beginning to realize how important lists are for me. It sounds silly but somehow they seem to give me some sort of control over my life and yes, some peace of mind.”

And a little later: “I’m loving my lists….now if I can just remember how important they are to my sanity!!”

Give it a try, won’t you?

And tell me your best tips for a good night’s rest in the comments below!

Related blog post: Clearing Mental Clutter

Copyright 2014 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on August 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    I don’t generally have any trouble falling asleep, but sometimes staying asleep can be challenging. I’m going to consider your second recommendation the next time that happens!

    • Hazel Thornton on September 1, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      Have you tried it yet, Janet? Did it work for you?

      • Janet Barclay on September 1, 2014 at 2:52 pm

        I did try it once, and it must have worked, because I don’t remember getting very far. 🙂

  2. Jill Katz on July 20, 2023 at 5:43 pm

    Hazel, yes! Such great advice. I am a list queen but I have a very buzzy brain! One thing I am thinking about adding to my routine is nighttime journaling in order to process my day. I am hoping it will get all my thoughts out so I can feel more restful. When I was younger, reading before bed helped to clear my brain but as I am getting older, I find that I wake up in the middle of the night and sometimes have to go to a different room to read for 15 minutes before being able to resettle.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 24, 2023 at 12:33 pm

      I think that sounds like a great idea — let me know how it works for you!

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