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“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

Distract Yourself

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.

Breathe Deeply

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).