How to Keep Money Worries From Keeping You Awake

Financing retirement, paying for college, getting out of debt – financial insecurity keeps many people from getting a good night’s sleep.

According to a 2015 national survey by CreditCards.com, 62 percent of adults are losing sleep over at least one financial problem. On a positive note, that figure is down from 69 percent in 2009, the last time the poll was taken, at the height of the recession.

While financial woes can’t be resolved overnight, you can take steps to keep money worries from interrupting your sleep.

1. Tackle Problems During the Day

If you have money worries, tackling them before bed, or in bed, is a bad idea, says Jennifer L. Martin, a clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the UCLA School of Medicine, who often sees patients whose money concerns keep them up at night.

“For a lot of people, these worries come up when the lights are out and everything’s quiet,” says Martin. Things like paying bills in the evening can trigger these worries.

Like any major worry, says Martin, the most important strategy is to deal with the concern before bedtime.

“Set aside even just a few minutes during the day to actually worry about these things, so bedtime isn’t the only opportunity … to think about them,” says Martin.

“Do not try to manage your numbers and finances before you go to bed, ever,” says Deborah L. Price, founder of The Money Coaching Institute. “All that’s going to do is re-stimulate your brain and the next thing you know, you have anxiety.”

2. Acknowledge Your Worries

“People don’t realize that money concerns and worries activate different parts of the brain,” says Price. “Money is a core survival issue. Without money, life gets challenging. So it can make the instinctive brain go into flight or fight mode.”

To calm the brain, Price suggests externalizing and writing down your fears. “When we don’t externalize our fears, but keep them bottled up, they actually get worse.”

In the CreditCards.com survey, getting out of debt ranked third among people’s top money worries.

That doesn’t surprise Beverly Harzog, author of The Debt Escape Plan, who says she lost sleep in her twenties over massive credit card debt. Now decades later, Harzog helps others stuck in credit debt. She echoes advice on examining a financial situation during the day: “Look at your debt, see what it is and face the reality of it. You will be amazed at how calming that can be.”

3. Take Small Steps

Most financial situations won’t be resolved in one day. A simple list of what you need to accomplish in the future can help you feel in control, and sleep better.

“We start feeling like we’re going to forget something. And the next thing you know, your brain is working overtime,” says Price.

“A lot of worrying is future oriented, says Martin, also a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. So having people bring the worry into the present and thinking of things they can do right now can be one way to reduce how anxious they feel about it when they get into bed at night.” For example, if the worry is about paying for college, reviewing college savings options may be enough to keep your mind from going into overdrive.

Another helpful idea, according to Harzog: Write down a budget.

“That’s going to help you sleep as well, because you’re in control of your money, and it’s not in control of you,” says Harzog.

And stop using your credit card, says Harzog. “When you stop adding to the problem, you will feel better. If you keep using them, you’re going to lose even more sleep.”

Another no-no, says Price, is watching nightly or financial news if such programs cause you to worry.

4. Know When You Need Help

It’s normal for money and other worries to interrupt sleep. What isn’t normal, says Martin, is worries leading to chronic sleep issues.

“If it happens occasionally, we think of that as a normal stress response. But if it goes on all the time, and it goes on for months and it’s starting to cause sleep problems that impact that person’s functioning during the day, then we start to get concerned that they have an insomnia disorder,” says Martin, who encourages such people to see a sleep specialist.