Call it an overactive mind, a racing mind, anxious thoughts, or inability to shut down and get your brain to stop talking to itself. When you can’t let go or wind down falling asleep at night can be turned into a frustrating marathon.
So, how do you turn your brain off so you can sleep?
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How to quiet your racing mind
A number of things can contribute to your internal dialogue rambling on at night. During the day it is going constantly and you may not really be aware of how active it is because you are using it to reason and perform your daily tasks and routines.
But at night, all the events of the day, all the worries and concerns of tomorrow need to go on hold. A good nights sleep will give you the best ability to perform and deal with it. At the right time.
In addition, lack of sleep can trigger your brains’ worry response and make it harder to sleep creating a cycle of sleep deprivation and worry. You may then develop general sleep anxiety where you are so anxious that you can’t sleep that you are kept awake by the frustration of not going to sleep.
You can’t sleep because your worried, your worried because you can’t sleep. How do you break this cycle or prevent it?
Set yourself up to sleep
Start by having a regular bedtime routine to wind down. When you establish a bedtime routine your brain will become accustomed to your behavior and recognize it’s time to begin preparing itself and your body to go to sleep.
This is important for reducing anxious thoughts at night. Next, you need to tell yourself that it’s OK to let go for now.
Being able to set these thoughts aside is a big part of quieting your mind.
Use these tips to set aside your worried thoughts until tomorrow:
- Make a to do list – If you have a lot to get done or a worry you don’t want to forget, keep a note pad and write it down before bed. Don’t go over and over it in your mind. Tell yourself it’s OK. Your reminder will be there in the morning.
- Don’t go to bed angry – What your mother always told you was right. If your angry about something find an activity to soothe and calm you before you get to bedtime.
- Schedule worry time – Similar to writing down your worries, but if you need more, set a time when you will work out your concerns and tell yourself you can work it out then.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule – Going to bed and waking at the same time every day will help. Your body clock, or circadian rhythm, tells your body and your brain when it’s time to sleep. Changes in bedtime and your brain might not recognize it’s time to shut down.
- Don’t activate your mind – Avoid social media, conversations, or TV programs that get you stirred or pumped up close to bed, if possible avoid screens altogether. The blue light and flashing images do more to stimulate and make your brain active.
Winding down before bed
Now you have set aside your worried and anxious thoughts for the day. Diverting your mind with a pleasant activity before bed will help to calm and quiet your brain so you can sleep. Think about it like this; we are going to replace your daytime thoughts so your brain doesn’t have anything to dwell on and talk about.
Dim the lights to begin winding down. Light and darkness is an important trigger that works with your circadian rhythms, or sleep cycle, to know when its time to go to sleep.
Try one or more of these ways to guide you. As you immerse yourself into one of these activities your mind will focus on what you are now doing instead of stresses and anxious thoughts. You may find the deeper you get into that activity the more your inner voice may quiet.
You may like to:
- Read a book – Take your mind somewhere else and follow a story you enjoy.
- Listen to music or soothing sounds – Relax to a slower tempo to help you wind down. You can even get recordings of soothing night sounds.
- Focus on breathing – Known as 4-7-8 breathing, this can do two things. It gives your mind something to focus on instead of your inner voice and second, breathing techniques are effective ways to slow your heart rate so you can sleep.
To slow your heart rate, inhale while counting to of four, hold your breath counting to seven, and then blow out slowly counting to eight. You should repeat at least five to seven times to slow your heart rate.
- Guided meditation – The focus is on being in the moment and aware of your consciousness, breathing and body to help relax and calm your mind. You can find many guides for this online.
- Yoga – Some of the best yoga poses to go to sleep are childs pose, legs up the wall, and corpse pose.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – Also known as Jacobson’s or deep muscle relaxation, it can allow you to take your mind off your inner thoughts and focus on various parts of your body the same as breathing techniques allow you change focus. This will also help release tensions which can make it easier to let go of any stressful thoughts you may have remaining.
Start with a particular point on your body, let’s say your legs and feet. Take a breath and flex your feet and toes. Hold for about 5-10 seconds then breath out and relax. Wait about 10-20 seconds then do the same with your legs. Do this moving to each area of your body, arms, chest, face, etc.
- Autogenic training – Similar to progressive muscle relaxation but you do not flex your muscles. Taught in training courses to focus on and relax different parts of your body, it can even affect involuntary functions such as pulse and breathing to achieve deep relaxation.
- Imagery or visualization – In this method you visualize scenes that are peaceful or see yourself lying quietly, breathing deeply and softly while falling asleep.
- Orgasm – Yes, this can actually help you reduce stress to sleep. During orgasm the hormone oxytocin is released which counteracts stress hormones. It also releases serotonin and norepinephrine which help you move through deeper stages of slow-wave and REM sleep.
In addition, you might try a weighted blanket. I know you’re asking how can a blanket quiet my mind. According to the Cleveland Clinic, one study of 32 adults showed 63% had lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket for 5 minutes.
A second study of 30 people receiving treatment for mental health crisis showed 60% had reduced anxiety after using a weighted blanket. The deep pressure treatment acts like a hug and releases neurotransmitters to help calm your anxiety.
What to do when you can’t fall asleep
If, after 30 minutes in bed you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something relaxing, such as reading or listening to music. Staying in bed too long will just associate to your brain that it’s a place to lie awake. Keep the lights low until you feel sleepy and go back to bed.
What if you wake up in the middle of the night
Many people wake up in the middle of the night. You may have to go to the bathroom or something else may disrupt your sleep. Sometimes your mind may suddenly be racing again. It is not uncommon for some people.
When this happens keep it dark. Keep a notepad next to your bed so that if something is suddenly on your mind you can write it down and set it aside until the morning without worrying about it.
It may sound contradictory, but for some people it actually helps to turn the TV on low and nod. The screen is usually far enough away that blue light is not a problem and the sound helps them to not focus on inner thoughts and drift back toward sleep.
Again, if you can’t go back to sleep after 30 minutes get out of bed and do a relaxing activity until you are sleepy so your brain does not associate the bed with being awake.
If you wake at night and your racing mind won’t let you go back to sleep it can mean something is bothering you more than you realize. Something really stressful must be occurring in your life. If nothing works to go to sleep at night your doctor can be the best guide to help with what is best for your condition.
You may have tried some of these ways to turn off your brain so you can sleep. Some may work for you better than others and some less. Make sure your are setting yourself up to sleep by having good sleep habits, a good sleep environment, and your setting aside all your worries before you begin to wind down, quiet your racing mind and turn off your brain so you can sleep. Goodnight!
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The information on this page is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions regarding your health you should seek the advice of your health care provider.