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Avoid thinking about work while trying to sleep

How many times did you read or hear that the best ideas come when you are outside your working environment relaxed or even asleep?

While this happens indeed sometimes, keeping pending things in our mind all the time can be a factor of stress. And this can impact your sleep and wake us up in the middle of the night.

What can be done to avoid thinking about work in the middle of the night, when we should be sleeping?

Rebecca Zucker, an executive coach, and a founding Partner at Next Step Partners, a boutique leadership development firm., proposes 5 simple ways that will help us avoid thinking about work:

Make a next day to-do list

This is one thing I find useful. I start doing this recently and really helps.

Research by Baylor University and Emory University shows that making a to-do list for the following day before bed helps you to fall asleep faster as well as helps you wake up fewer times during the night.

The explanation is that the unfinished tasks will keep on cycling through your mind during your sleep.

The simple act of writing down the unfinished tasks that you need to finish the following day is useful and helpful.

And if your mind is still active during the night and brings to you some unresolved issues from the past, just keep pen and paper near your bed and write them down.

Keep a journal

Journaling is not really a tempting thing to do for everybody. Some like to write, others avoid to. I am not talking about that kind of journaling where you write down all your daily moments.

Here you need to record your distressing moments in detail, write them down so they are out of your head. It will cool you down, give you a different perspective and take this distressing moment out of your head.

Exercise self-compassion

This is by far my preferred strategy and the hardest thing to do.

Self-compassion was not something known or encouraged in my culture. ” You did not do it right, you made a mistake, you did not pass the exam” …. these are more familiar phrases to me.

Let’s take an example. Say that you are doing a presentation at work. Everything goes well, you were all prepared, the presentation was smooth. But one of the participants, who happened to be an important client or your boss asks a question you were not prepared for. What happened?

Me, sometimes I freeze. My brain refuses to help, I just stay there with a blank mind. Was it because I was not prepared? Well, I did not expect that particular question, but it does not mean I do not have the knowledge to reply.

Instead of looking at this as a learning experience, I just keep on playing the scene over and over in my mind, beating myself up, not sleeping as well.

Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, describes self-compassion as showing yourself the same kindness, care, and concern you would show a good friend.

Practicing self-compassion and recognizing that you are not perfect allows you to break the circle of negative thoughts. Listen to Kristen Neff talking here about her experiences and self-compassion.

Physical exercise

30 minutes of daily exercise is proven to help us sleep better, fall asleep faster and improve our sleep quality.

Not only does exercise increase the amount of deep sleep we get, it decompresses the mind, which Charlene Gamaldo, Medical Director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, calls a “cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep.

It is recommended to exercise at least one to two hours before bedtime.


Mindfulness practice, the practice of being fully present in the moment and focusing your attention on your thoughts includes also self -compassion and is an antidote against constantly thinking about work.

When you are fully present, you are not recreating the moments of the past or worrying about the future

Researchers in the Netherlands found that even 10 minutes before and after work for two workweeks helped calm minds, improve sleep quality, and sleep duration.

Work stress is a fact of life. We can not deny or hide from it. Thinking about work constantly is not healthy and will end up affecting your sleep.

Try the strategies above, to help yourself have a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed, ready for a new day.