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Hey, I'm Christina Quinn. Welcome back to Try This from The Washington Post. This is the second of five classes in our course about how to sleep better. In our first class, we talked about managing performance anxiety around sleep and specifically how to manage your anxiety in the morning so you can fall asleep at night. In this next session, we're going to sharpen these tools a little bit more. And hey, it's worth noting that it's not always anxiety or worry that are keeping people up at night. Some people have sleep disorders. Some prefer being productive at night, while others like to get personal time that they otherwise can't get during the day, like parents of young kids. I feel this. Then there are those of us who know they have to wake up early and just knowing that stresses them out and keeps them up. Ah, humans, we're complex and contain multitudes. If you're struggling with thoughts that keep you up at night, you may find this particular episode useful because those pesky thoughts aren't going away on their own. And that's okay. In fact, sleep expert, Lisa Strauss, says they don't need to go away.


That trying to suppress those thoughts is a bad idea.


Thought suppression is a bit of a no-no. Because we know from research that if you try to push a thought away, it will give it more determination, more power. It's the old count to 10 and don't think of a banana. You're likely to think of a banana.


Are you doing it? Are you thinking of the banana? Yeah, me too. So instead of pushing the banana away or the thoughts that are keeping you up, there is a way to peacefully co-exist with them. Lisa recommends a cognitive behavioral therapy technique. Cbt focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns. She says in this case, something called scheduled worry time can be a big help.


You set aside some time in the early evening where you face down that which you've been worrying about and stressed by in a structured way. It's a structured technique that I teach people where you list out your worries and stressors.


Consider this an exercise in compartmentalizing, a technique for preventing intrusive thoughts from taking over at bedtime. In Lisa's version of this exercise, you get out your pen and paper because you're going to make four columns. In the first column, list everything you're worried or stressed out about, especially the stuff that assails you at night. Now, in the second column, write down this question.


Is there anything I can do about each one of these in the next two weeks? If so, what? And when? And if something gets a no, there is nothing I can do about it in the next two weeks. When thoughts about that concern arise day or night, you remind yourself that it's a no. Unfortunately, there's nothing to be done about that right now. Or fortunately, there's nothing that needs to be done about that right now.


But if you answer, Yes, there is something that can be done, that's what the third column is for. In that column, you write down precisely what you can do about it in the next two weeks. And then in the last column, you assign when you are going to do each of these actions. For example, Wednesday at 4:00 PM or Saturday at noon. Now, these actions won't necessarily fix all your problems, but they can steer you away from the freefall of thoughts that keep you up.


As part of this technique, you can also afford yourself a little unriddled thinking time. It's the one time of the day when you can think constructively or unconstructively about the things on your list. So you can ruminate, you can obsess, you can rail against the machine, you can angst, or you can think constructively about the things on your list.


How much time should somebody allot themselves this worry time? What's a sufficient amount of time?


There is a convention that doing the four columns, the what am I worried about all the way up to when am I going to take my action step? Plus the unbridled worry time should not exceed 30 minutes.


It's also important to update your list every day. You may have some new worries to add or not, but just by checking off a bunch of, No, I can't do anything about this over the next two weeks, you're intentionally facing those worries through a different lens. Now you can decide when and how you'd like to deal with them.


But let's say you've been waiting all day and saying to yourself, Not now. Not now. I'll get to you later when I do my scheduled worry time. It's finally now. And you are at liberty to channel all of that thinking into this period of time. You don't try to stir yourself up. You're not trying to worry. You're giving your mind free reign to do whatever it is already naturally inclined to do without stuffed those thoughts and feelings away.


Now, after 30 minutes of allowing yourself to worry, rage, obsess, whatever it is, it may be tough to settle down a bit, which is exactly why Lisa says you shouldn't do this close to bedtime. Maybe you've heard of other similar techniques like keeping a notebook by your bed. Lisa is not mad at the idea, but she has this caveat.


A lot of people do benefit from keeping that little pad of paper and pen next to the bed just to jot down a couple of words so that they don't forget the next day. I don't have any objections to that in most instances, but there are people who feel as if they're supposed to be on duty all night long, and they will use having that pad of paper there as a rationale for mining their thoughts and jotting down whatever they possibly can. They are very averse to letting down their guard because they feel anxious. And for those people, I would encourage them to learn to tolerate having to put things off until tomorrow. Not now, I'll get to you tomorrow. Whether or not they're using scheduled worry time.


That sounds like it takes a level of discipline that.


Takes work. It does. It's hard to change our relationship to our own sense of urgency and our own thoughts. It's not an easy thing. The good news is we don't need to accomplish these things anything close to perfectly for them to be helpful. And people like to be liberated. On the other hand, I don't try to get people to change their personalities. I like to be really respectful of somebody's need for their own defenses or their own coping strategy. So if somebody needs to write stuff down, they need to write stuff down. I never say to someone, Do not do that. We all need to do what we need to do to get by in this challenging life.


Okay, let's recap. Lying awake at night ruminating over stuff that bothers you is not fun, but it's normal. We've all done it. And trying to suppress those thoughts, well, that's not going to work. Count to 10 and don't think of a banana, right? So instead of trying not to think about the stuff that's stressing you out, schedule 30 minutes of worry time every day. And maybe, just maybe, after doing this for some time, you might start to notice that you're obsessing a little bit less at nighttime. This might work. It's worth a shot, right? Up next in our third class on sleep. What to do when you can't fall back asleep. Look for that next Tuesday, or if you're a Washington Post subscriber, you can continue to listen to the full course right now. Just link your subscription to the Washington Post channel on Apple Podcasts. If you're not yet a subscriber, click the link in our show notes or go to washingtonpost. Com/subscribe. And one more thing, to share ideas for future audio courses, send us an email. The address is trythis@washpost. Com. I'm Christina Quinn. Thanks for listening and I'll meet you in class three.