40/365 ~ But I can't look away.Those of us with anxiety disorders know the feeling well — we lay in bed, but sleep does not come.

Our mind is too busy racing its way from here to there, rehashing the day’s activities, and constructing lists of would have could have should have.  Did I turn off the oven?  I should have called Janice back. Where did I leave my car keys? I could have finished that project at work, but I got sidetracked and I hope the boss isn’t upset with me. Did I remember to set the alarm clock?

It is exhausting.  Yet somehow, it is not the type of exhaustion that brings sleep.

I often wish that my own mind came equipped with an off/on switch.  Or, well, a dimmer switch.  That would be better.  I mean, I doubt that I’d ever want to cease all thoughts — especially an important thought like, “Okay, I want to turn the switch back on now!”  Yeah, a dimmer switch would be nice.  I would crank it up during daylight hours & slowly dial it down as the evening sets in.

Alas, there’s no such thing as a Mind Dimmer Switch.  But can we trick our mind and brain into slowing down for the evening?

Yes. We definitely can. Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Learn about your circadian rhythm type. This assessment will tell you a thing or two about your own internal clock, including an estimate of when your own melatonin onset occurs.

2. Turn down the lights.  If you have a dimmer switch (the real kind!), simulate the sunset.  Start turning the light level down at least an hour before you want to get into bed.  Turn it down a bit more every time you walk past the dimmer.  Or, if you don’t have a dimmer, turn off your overhead lights.  Try using a small lamp or two with low-wattage bulbs.

3. Get fl.ux.  While avoiding the computer screen in the late evening is ideal, it’s not always practical.  If you need to do some pre-bed Twittering, try Fl.ux.  It’s a simple piece of software that changes your computer screen’s lighting based on the time of day. At night, it dims and re-colors your screen so it emits a soft, warm glow.

4. Cut down on mental stimulation. Don’t do any thing too stimulating without an hour of bedtime. Define “stimulating” as you will, but for most of us, this would probably include using the internet, gaming, watching TV (especially the news or something distressing), studying, or perhaps even cleaning. If you’re liable to ruminate about something (say, an upcoming biology exam) while laying in bed, it’s probably best to keep all related activities (like reading your biology book or making flash cards) separated from bedtime by at least an hour (if not longer).

5. Do something repetitive. If you need to feel productive until the last minute, save the repetitive (and low-urgency) chores for that final hour of wakefulness. Remember that teacher in elementary school who made you write down all of your spelling words ten times in a row?

Well, I do. And I remember yawning before even getting halfway through the assignment. If repetition makes you sleepy too, try using it to your advantage before bed. Match pairs of socks from today’s clean laundry pile. Organize the loose change on your nightstand. Hand wash a load of dishes. Floss your teeth. All of them.

6. Move slowly! I’d never realized how fast I buzzed around my college campus until a friend pointed it out to me. He asked me why I was in such a hurry, and I didn’t have a good answer. I’m a short gal, so I’ve adopted a quick pace over the years. Once I became aware of my walking speed, I consciously tried to change it to a slow stroll.

In the evening hours, use slow and deliberate movements around your home. No running up the stairs and skipping every other step. There’s no need to cut three seconds off of your stairway time. Just take it slowly.

7. Establish a bedtime routine. We know that predictable bedtime routines are valuable for children…but what about for you? Have you taken a close look at your routine lately? Does it invite safety and comfort? Or is your last half-hour of wakefulness an ever-changing mishmash of tasks? Do you brush your teeth, then run back downstairs to wash a few dishes? Then go back up to wash your face? Then make a phone call or send a few texts? And then play just another ten minutes of a video game? And then run directly from the TV to your bed?  Be sure to take notice tonight!

If you’re always dabbling between different activities right before bed, try something different: allow yourself the opportunity to develop a routine that helps you to step away from the day you’ve just completed.  Do the video game, the texts, and the dishes first.  Then, you can step back, acknowledge that the day is done, and move into your nightly routine to help you to fully punctuate the day.

These tips are grounded in common sense, but our fast-paced daytime lifestyle often bleeds over into the evening hours without our consent or mindful attention. Once you become aware of how you stimulate your body and mind before bed, you can take conscious steps to reduce that behavior.

Try a few of the above tips for a week and see they help you to slow down — physically or mentally! — before bed.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Verano y mil tormentas.