What Keeps You Awake At Night?

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We have certainly all experienced those sleepless nights when something is worrying us. It’s 3am and no matter how much we tell ourselves that we need to get up in a few hours and be productive for the day, our mind will just not shut up, will not stop worrying and will not stop its ceaseless striving. Our very tired body and brain is begging for sleep and yet it remains elusive. I have had a couple of these nights myself lately.

It seems that our thoughts usually focus around ruminating a specific problem that we have or we are churning away considering the meaning of life – usually in the form of a question we have about ourselves.

What are these questions you might ask? Well see if you recognise any of the following questions you may be asking yourself at 3am?

·         What do I really want?

·         Am I doing the right thing?

·         What does he/she really think of me?

·         Where am I going?

·         Why did I do that?

·         Why did / do I act that way?

When considering the relationship between people asking themselves these BIG questions and their wellbeing, it is generally found that individuals who are unhappy, depressed or anxious usually questioned themselves a lot more. They often ask these questions of themselves and as a result have a lot more sleepless nights.

Conversely, individuals with high levels of personal wellbeing, mental toughness and resilience tend to be able to manage thinking, have a greater sense of personal control and manage ruminations through specific actions and goal setting.

So how can you manage those constant questions and get a better nights rest?

·         Problem solve and reflection

When we go to bed at night tired and ready to sleep, this is usually when our minds turn around and say “no you don’t, this is thinking time”. Arghh, not what you want when you’d rather be sleeping. So if your brain wants thinking time, don’t deny it, accommodate it – just at a better time, not at bed time. Our brains are usually so busy doing all the things you want it to do during the day, that it literally has no time for personal reflection. So a few hours before you intend going to sleep, sit in a quiet place (preferably with a pen and paper) and consider your day. Importantly, the first thing to do is reflect on WWW, (What Went Well). What did you achieve that you are proud of? What issues came to a resolution? What had a good result?

Next you can consider what problems and questions have arisen that you are concerned about. The key here is not just to dwell on the problem but to take it one step further and determine a solution – consider actions you will take. What are you going to do about it? Start writing on that piece of paper the actions you are going to take. Be specific.

·         Recognise what is within your Control

Consider your Personal Power Grid. Which quadrant are you sitting in and how can you move up or down.

There is an old Chinese Proverb that says “If you have a problem and you can do something about it, then you don’t have a problem. Just the same, if you have a problem and you can’t do anything about it, then you also don’t have a problem.”

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·         Do You Have Personal Coherence

Are you out of sync? Do you say one thing and do another?

Interestingly, we don’t always act according to our conscious thoughts. Unconscious forces also drive our behaviour. These include our habits of thinking – habits that come from living our lives on autopilot and this can disconnect our actions from what we really want. This means there is basically a disconnect between our “experiencing self” (how we automatically perceive, feel and think – our habits) and our “reflecting self” (our concept of ourselves, our memories and the way we see and want to see ourselves).

Problems can arise when these two aspects of ourselves are at odds with each other and we can get incoherence. This is when our reflections (what we say or want) are at odds with our experiences (what we actually do).

Taking charge to become more coherent is a significant step to becoming more comfortable with ourselves and this can result in positive change.

·      Do Something different

Rather than do what you always do, consider Einstein’s Theory of Insanity – “Doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result". So what could you do that’s different than the way you’ve always done it.

·       Visualise and distract

When your thoughts just won’t let you sleep at 3am, try doing something to distract them a bit. Give your mind something to do other than think about those big questions or the problem/issue you have. Consider a place where you feel calm and relaxed and positive and take yourself to that place.

One of my favourites when I can’t sleep is to go to the beach – this is my “happy place”. I stand at the edge of a very calm ocean with the sun beating down on my back. I feel the wet sand between my toes and then slowly step out into the water. I catch my breath as the cool water gets up over my knees but wade out further until the water is up to my waist and I put my hands out onto the surface of the ocean and just hold them there on the surface. I tilt my head back and feel the sun on my face, smell the salt water, feel the breeze and the rhythmic pull of the water in and out with the current. Before I know it, I feel relaxed and sleep soon follows.

·       Don’t forget the basics

Managing thinking and visualising are great tools, but don’t forget some of the basics. Don’t consume caffeine or alcohol a few hours before going to bed. Don’t have a heavy meal before bed. Consider your night time routine and make sure the bedroom is the right temperature conducive for sleep. Put down your phone well before bed and don’t expose yourself to “blue” light. You know all this, but are you doing it?

So come-on, you can do it, manage your night time routine and your thinking and all those questions to get a good night’s sleep and gain some more zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Want to know more about improving your Mental Toughness and move from surviving to thriving. Send me an email at to enquire about training and coaching to build strategies to enhance Mental Toughness.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at or