St. Padre Pio is known to have said, “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.” Like most axioms, this one is easy to say and not so easy to put into practice. Yet, it is definitely worth the effort. Especially among women, anxiety is impacting every aspect of our lives, even our ability to sleep.
The New York Times recently published an article, Sleep Medication: Mother’s New Little Helper, which spoke about the growing problem of insomnia in women. There are many reasons why women can’t sleep – children being up during the night, hormones, hot flashes, etc. , but researchers have found that the main reason is actually anxiety. In the “Women and Sleep” study, 80 percent of women reported being just too stressed or worried to turn out the proverbial lights.
To make this matter even worse, the women in this study weren’t worried about huge, life-altering, matters. They were staying awake because they were concerned that a work email had come in when they weren’t paying attention, or that they had forgotten to sign a permission slip for their child, or what child’s activity was scheduled on what day. It’s no secret that we women have a lot on our plates, but we have to find some way to turn off the constant worry.
I’m not immune to this problem, either. I worry about a lot of things! I worry about whether my children will ever be able to write a coherent paragraph (they both have learning difficulties in this area), about the looming teen years, about them becoming productive members of society, about money concerns, about whether I will ever get the major project I am working on done before the deadline, about my parents getting older and needing more help, and the list goes on. If I wake up in the middle of the night, my mind does start to race and think of many issues I am dealing with. It isn’t so much that I wake up in the middle of the night. It is that it can be difficult to fall back to sleep.
Still, I do have a few suggestions to help reduce anxiety at night. One is to have some sort of relaxation routine before bed. You can’t work or watch television right up to the last minute, put on your pajamas and expect your mind to be ready to relax. I personally like to take a shower before bed. It helps wash away the problems of the day. I then say an act of contrition and a short prayer for protection before crawling under the covers. Other people may enjoy some leisure reading or meditation. Whatever works is good. The point is to have a true transition from the day to the night.
Another suggestion is to write down what is bothering you. This is especially helpful with the smaller problems of life. For example, if as I am trying to quiet my mind for sleep, things I need to remember to do come to mind, I will actually get up out of bed and write them down. That way, I know I will see the note in the morning and be able to act on it. It is now on paper and out of my mind.
As for those middle of the night worry sessions, my best suggestion is to pray through those. I say the rosary. The repetitive nature of the prayers helps calm my mind. Very rarely do I get through more than a decade or two before I am once again sleeping peacefully. I was once asked if I thought it was disrespectful to say the rosary in this fashion. I don’t think so at all. I am praying rather than worrying, turning my problems over to God. Plus, I am going to sleep in the Lord. What could be better than that?
I hope that some of these suggestions help you get those much-needed nights of sleep. Do you have any suggestions for helping to tame anxiety during the night? If so, please share them in the comments!