Have you ever gone to bed ready for sleep, and then your entire night is filled with thoughts such as: “I have to get the car fixed”, “I need to find a babysitter for the kids on Friday”, “what if I get sick and can’t work”? These thoughts can cause a lot of distress and anxiety, which is pretty incompatible with sleep.

Moreover, over time your bed becomes associated with feelings of worry instead of a place for sleep – leading to something we call conditioned arousal. Studies show that a third of adults suffer from at least one symptom of insomnia (e.g., difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early) (Ohayon, 2002). Therefore, strategies to tackle nighttime worrying are sorely needed.

Person lying in bed
aerial view of a person spending more time in bed worrying than sleeping

What is a worry log and how do I use one?

Constructive worry logs are a common strategy that clinicians use in cognitive behavioural therapy when treating insomnia. They are a way to literally put your worries aside before sleep.

One study by Carney and Waters (2006) found that students using the worry log helped with reducing pre-sleep arousal, which may help with falling asleep quicker.

The instructions for them are below

1. In the evening, grab a piece of paper and fold it once to create a left side and a right side.

2. On the left side, put down “concerns” on the top; on the right side, put down “solutions” on the top

3. List out worries that you think will keep you up at night

4. On the right side, write down your solution to that problem. For example, the solution to the worry “I need to find a babysitter for the kids” might be “I will make a call to my regular babysitter in the afternoon”.

5. For some worries, the problem is either 1) too big to solve in one step or 2) does not have a solution. If it’s too big of a problem, just down just the first step. If there is no solution, then write that down: “there is no solution right now so I don’t have to worry about it”

6. Fold it up and tuck next to your bed before sleep.

7. If you notice worries start to trickle in at night, remember that you have already worried about it!

I will also include a worry log worksheet that is freely available online.

Click to access Constructive-Worry-Worksheet.pdf

Give it a try!

Simple effective strategies require simple short posts. Worry logs are one easy-to-use sleep tool that you can use to tackle unwanted thoughts when you are trying to sleep. If you find this to be helpful (or know of someone for which worry logs would beneficial), feel free to share it with them! Check this post out if you’re interested in other causes of insomnia.

Best wishes,

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Carney, C. E., & Waters, W. F. (2006). Effects of a structured problem-solving procedure on pre-sleep cognitive arousal in college students with insomnia. Behavioral Sleep Medicine4(1), 13-28.

Ohayon, M. M. (2002). Epidemiology of insomnia: what we know and what we still need to learn. Sleep Medicine Reviews6(2), 97-111.