We need sleep as much as eating, drinking and breathing to survive, so why is something that should be so natural so hard for some of us? Dr. Aric A. Prather is a psychologist who studies sleep for a living and he’s helped hundreds of patients improve their sleep using cognitive behavioral therapy. His research has found that the number one sleep killer isn’t social media scrolling or an uncomfortable mattress - it’s rumination.
The act of continuously replaying the same thoughts over and over is a sleep blocker because it keeps your mind aroused, especially in bed. You keep coming back to that negative thought or dumb comment you made and that makes it hard to drift off to sleep. While there’s no switch to magically turn off rumination, Prather says there’s a fix. He says the best time to get ahead of worrying is during the day, when you’ve got important things to do and can’t get caught up in mental loops for hours.
This is Prather’s advice for how to stop ruminating at night. And the best part? It only takes 15 minutes to do.
- Worry early - This expert advises setting aside 15 minutes during the mid-to late-afternoon for “emotional worry” time. Try not to get distracted and give yourself the freedom to worry about one topic at a time. Think of it like a to-do list for topics that you feel most anxious about. And when you feel yourself start to worry during the day, or at night in bed, tell yourself you have to postpone it until your worry time the next day. Prather says after doing it a few times a week, your rumination will slowly start to fade.
- Practice “constructive worrying” - Make a list with two columns, one for “problem” and another for “solution.” Write down current issues you’re dealing with and are likely to ruminate about tonight. Under solutions, come up with the next steps you can take to tackle each issue. And only focus on the steps for tomorrow or the next few days, not solving it completely. Then put it next to your bed and when you start to ruminate, remind yourself “I have a plan.” Just knowing you’ve focused energy on these problems can help your mind stop trying to solve them at night.