“I just can’t turn my brain off at night”. This is one common complaint among those who struggle with insomnia and others who have difficulty falling asleep, mentally reviewing the day you just completed while also previewing the day/week ahead, imagining how tired you will be in the morning… it can be an irritating problem, sometimes, your mind may even reach way back into the archives and pull up something long in the past.
Racing thoughts can be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety and racing thoughts then keep you awake, a lack of sleep is bothersome, and sleep deprivation continues to contribute to anxiety. But these nights also happen to everyone from time to time — and once we’re too old for bedtime stories, it’s not always clear what to do. There’s no one solution that will work for everybody, so, how can we break this cycle of anxiety and sleeplessness?
If your thoughts are keeping you up at night, the trick is to change the unhealthy pattern. We have provided some strategies to help you find relief from a racing mind at night. At the very least, it’s something to read next time you can’t sleep!
Focus On Your Senses
To take the focus away from stressful thoughts, create a wind-down routine around sensorial experience. Lower the lights and consider a relaxing way to stimulate each of the five senses to find a method that works well for you. Here are some ideas.
Sight – guided imagery, colouring mandalas, pictures of a peaceful place
Smell – scented candle, aromatherapy
Touch – warm bath, weighted blanket, self-massage, light yoga
Taste – sleep-friendly snack, chamomile tea
Hear – sound machine, white noise, instrumental sleep music
The absolute prerequisite for sleep is a quiet mind. Think of something else, rather than what’s worrying you — something with a story to it. It can be anything of interest, but of no importance, so you can devote some brain energy to it without clashing into the real world and going straight back to your worries. If you have a dog, imagine going on a lovely walk somewhere calming. If you’re someone who likes reading, what would your book be about if your were to publish one?
Try To Stay Awake
Thinking about sleep and wishing for it to happen is a recipe for staying awake. This is where paradoxical thinking comes in. If you give yourself the paradoxical instruction to stay awake instead, you’ll be more likely to fall asleep. If you can be comfortable with the idea of remaining awake, then the performance anxiety and frustration that are associated with trying to sleep have nowhere to go and your arousal level drops - Colin Espie, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford.
P.S. Don't look at blue lights on phones or tablets at least 30 minutes before bedtime!
Or Get Out Of Bed
If 20 minutes has passed as the mind races, it may be best to get out of bed. Without looking at your phone or any other screen devices, go to another dimly lit room where you keep a notebook. Write down the thoughts that are keeping you awake. Finish with the words, ‘It can wait until tomorrow.’ Then, go back to bed, focus on the breath, and mindfully relax into those words, giving yourself permission to yield to sleep.
Deep breathing … acts as a powerful distraction technique, particularly if paired with counting. You want to aim to breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and pause after breathing in and out; so you might choose to count for three when you breathe in, then pause and count to five when you breathe out, then pause. Really focus on your breathing and counting, and if your mind wanders off, just take note of that and return your attention to the exercise. You may need to do this for ten minutes or so.
Create A “Buffer Zone”
Sometimes, exciting activities in the evening obscures the natural sleepy cues that our bodies try to give us. Allow your body to wind down by protecting at least 30 minutes before bedtime for low-key activities. You might go through your personal hygiene routine, put on relaxing music, enjoy intimacy with your partner, or read a book. This Buffer Zone should not include activities that require intense mental activity or cause intense emotions (e.g., paying bills).
Schedule A Worry Time - (Not At Bed Time)!
Spend a maximum of 20 minutes just getting everything out of your head and onto paper every day, not in the evening. It’s a therapeutic way to see that you probably don’t have loads to worry about, rather just a few reoccurring things. You can then see which worries are hypothetical (i.e., what if I make a mistake at work and lose my job) or ‘real’ worries (e.g., I made a mistake and have lost my job). For the real worries you can then make an action plan/problem-solve and for the hypothetical ones, learn to let them go - Kathryn Pinkham, National Health Services insomnia specialist.
Write Down Plans
If you have a long list of "to-do-list" tasks nagging at your mind, jot them down on paper, this will put your mind at ease that all those tasks can be remembered at a quick glance of paper. Although it's advised to put the paper away in the evening, picking it back up with a fresh mind the next morning.
Get Early Sun
Getting more sun exposure in the midmorning can help readjust the brain’s internal clock and make it easier to fall asleep later that night, therefore, someone who can’t seem to fall asleep at night may want to try getting as much exposure to natural light in the morning, essentially prepping themselves to fall asleep when they want to.
Try Not To Try So Hard
Under normal circumstances trying your best is all anyone can ask, although in this case, when it comes to sleep, try not to try so hard, as the harder you try, the harder it can be to achieve your vital beauty z's. Aim to remain relaxed and peaceful, don't stress, implement the above pointers and you should nod off naturally!