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Seemingly insurmountable worries that pop up when I [try to] sleep

I recently implemented a system that has revolutionized my sleep quality, particularly my ability to fall asleep and avoid stress dreams.

It’s super-simple, guys:  write down your worries, to-dos, upcoming tasks, and the like the evening before bed, in schedule form. Before I tell you more about my new system, a little background…

Jim and I are getting married in California this year, so in March we took a trip to the wedding and reception venues to get a lay of the land and do some research.  The two weeks before our week-long trip, I was completely flooded with work: I had meetings with publishers, a schedule to make, articles to write, errands to run, bags to pack, and eight trillion wedding-related tasks to accomplish (or at least plan for). I was having a lot of trouble falling asleep because I was so distracted by these pangs of worry as I remembered one thing after another that I had to do before we left town.

Much of the time, I work from my home office, which actually provides me with a lot less structure than a typical office job would. On days I’m not at my home office, I’m at the bookshop, where a to-do list might as well be set on fire for warmth for all its worth: a busy retail store that has no back office is not the environment you need if you want to hunker down and really get in the zone with your list of tasks.  In short, I was (and am) lacking structure no matter where I work.

So let’s rewind to one particular night in early March when my thoughts were spinning like crazy in my head. Even reading, my go-to pre-bed activity, wasn’t working, because I couldn’t concentrate on the words due to how distracted I was with my thoughts.

And that’s when I got out my notebook and a pen and wrote out my schedule for the next day. The relief I felt was immediate.  No longer were the to-dos crowding my thoughts and overwhelming me. I now had them out of my brain and on to paper. And unlike my typical never-ending list of tasks, this was different in that I had assigned a time frame for each thing. My idea was that if I didn’t finish a particular task in the time I had designated, I would still move onto the next thing.

Since that first list, I have found a lot of relief in doing this a couple of times a week and am trying to do it daily.

Just FYI, one of my lists looked something this (imagine frenzied scrawl instead of a typewritten note)—you can see that I am liberal with my use of exclamation points:

  • 7:00-8:00: Wake up, make coffee, read
  • 8:00-9:00: writing/work
  • 9:00-9:30: shower, breakfast (cereal?) – make smoothie!!
  • 9:30-11:00: Avid accounting—don’t forget to email publisher about forthcoming check!
  • 11:00-11:45: prepare for meeting with T.
  • 11:45-12:00: drive to Avid; grab deposit bag from safe
  • 12:00-1:00: bank, errands (JANET: your cat will be sad and hungry if you don’t finally go buy some dang food for him!)
  • 1:00-1:45: lunch with J.
  • 1:45-3:45: misc. Avid tasks (check on school orders and see if purchase orders were approved)
  • 3:45-4:15: call L. back!
  • 4:15-6:00: call wedding furniture company; ask J. about mutual account payment

Do any of you schedule your days out like this? (I realize that waking up with a migraine means you can’t necessarily stick to a schedule.)  Do you have any other tried and true methods for handling stress and sleeping better without medication?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • AnnieInAcworth
    5 years ago

    Thanks so much for your thoughts. I am fairly recently (forcibly) retired and after reading this I think newly found lack of structure might just account for the up-tick in the number of migraines I am getting. I formerly did much as you suggest, before I left work for the day (sometimes I was in the office, other times at WAH – Work at Home) I would ALWAYS make up the next day’s to-do list and scheduled time for the things that I simply HAD to deal with (or else!). I could then walk away from my day knowing that I could pick up the pieces the following day and be productive and not forget anything critical. The next morning the schedule was there and I could jump in right where I had left off instead of trying to reconstruct where my head was at the last time I sat at my desk. The structure gave me peace of mind and I think the lack of same might be wrecking my sleep and causing more at a time in my life when I expected the frequency to be declining. (My migraines started at puberty and I had been told by many that they would likely decline after menopause. I been there and did that, but they did not decline. In fact the opposite has been true lately.

    Just because I no longer have a paying job does not mean I don’t have things I feel are important. I volunteer, I write, I am taking classes to keep my mind sharp.

    As a result of your post, I am committing to picking back up my trusty electronic schedule tool of choice (I like Outlook because I know it) and resuming use of it. This is one thing I can try that really CANNOT hurt!


  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    5 years ago


    Thank you for this thoughtful reply! It is eye-opening to realize that retirement, a time we are told will be relaxing, can be a period where changes in our routine can actually negatively impact health. I applaud your decision to get back on some sort of schedule and hope you’ll check in with me again down the line and let me know how you’re feeling.

    As far as menopause goes: hormones are such a tricky thing in so many ways. In her book The Woman’s Guide to Managing Migraine, Dr. Hutchinson talks about how major changes in hormones (puberty, pregnancy, incorporating birth control pills, menopause, and the like) can affect women with migraine so many different ways, and there’s no way to tell how you’ll be affected. Approximately a third of women get relief from many migraines after menopause, about a third see no change, and a final third find their patterns worsening. I hope that you find some well-deserved rest and good days ahead.

    Take care,
    Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

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