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.
If you’re trying to sleep with stress or anxious thoughts just the frustration of trying to go to sleep can increase your anxiety and lead to insomnia.
So, how do you turn your brain off so you can sleep?
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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What has helped you to turn off your brain at night so you could sleep?
Let me know in the comments Below.
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.
Progressive muscle relaxation for insomnia
Insomnia: Relaxation techniques and sleeping habits
Relaxation techniques: What you need to know
Using weighted blankets in an inpatient mental health hospital to decrease anxiety
13 thoughts on “How do you turn off your brain so you can sleep?”
Hi! Really good post! For last years I have had quite a lot issues have a sleep because all the stress. I used to take alcohol but it actually made it worse. Yes you can get yourself in to sleep but you will wake up in some point then it’s even harder to get to sleep again… Plus the quality of your sleep is really bad.
I sometimes take melatonin which is natural and it helps. Also TV or listening audio book helps for me.
Thank you for nice tips!
Thanks for letting me and my readers know what you do to help you sleep. While, I focused a lot on how to relieve stress and anxiety to turn off your brain so you can sleep, Melatonin is a good natural sleep aid. I am the same also when it comes to listening to the TV. It can actually wake me back up to turn it off sometimes.
Thanks for stopping by and contributing.
I have to agree, alcohol is the worst method of trying to get sleep. I fall back in that trap from time to time, but seriously remember very soon why I stopped that … rather read a book and sleep like a log!
These are all great suggestions to make us all whined down if you have a racing mind or over reactive one as well. It is hard for us to sleep so by nit going to bed angry or even going to bed with a schedule that will have you on the right path to a better sleep.
These tips on how to turn your brain off at night are simple and could change everything in your sleeping routine.
Hi, thanks for being here! I’m glad you liked the tips to turn your brain off at night. I hope it helps you wind down before bed. I find I have to use them more often than not.
Hi, I never had problems sleeping a good night’s sleep, but lately I wake up at 3.00 am and can’t go back to sleep because of restless legs. My mind was calm but I was tossing and turning and kicking.
When that happens I eventually get up, have a snack and a warm cup of tea. It did wonders and I could sleep again, but doing intermittent fasting, that was not a good idea.
One day my daughter in law suggested, drink some re-hydration powder Mom, and see what happens. Wha-la it was the magic potion and made all the difference.
The sleeplessness because of restlessness disappeared. I was back to the normal full nights sleep. Could that have been my problem?
Thank you for a very interesting article!
Hi Estelle! That is some awesome information about re-hydration powder. I will have to look more into that for my readers. I occasionally have a problem with restless legs and know a lot of my readers do as well.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving that tip!
I am always interested to see suggestions about better sleep. Let’s face it, we all need it! Another suggestion that is helpful is taking a warm bath. This has always relaxed me. It is sort of like sitting in a jacuzzi, letting the warm water relax my body. My mind is usually so exhausted by the end of the day, that it isn’t usually the problem. I guess it helps to stay busy during the day. Other suggestions I have seen are having the room cool, but having enough blankets to keep you warm. Only problem with that is my nose gets cold. LOL. Thanks for your well researched article. Best to you.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving your tip for a warm bath to relax before bedtime and the cool room to help you sleep. Glad you found the article informative.
I usually have no trouble to fall asleep but there have been nights where my brain was on overtime, still whirring and buzzing with thoughts and questions when I went to bed. Like you suggested in this post, I also made a “worry schedule” and I will do no worrying when I’m lying in bed. It helps a lot. When there is a pending matter that is on my mind I write it down so that I know I will see the note in the morning and not forget about it. That relaxes the mind – it’s taken care of – and you’ll fall asleep easier.
I love reading in bed. It is easy to doze off when you’re reading in bed 😉 which is not the reason while I like reading but it certainly helps.
I love reading at bedtime too, but the light keeps my wife awake so if I want to read I have to go the another room. But it does help me take my mind off the day. I just fall asleep before I get too far in the story though.
Thanks for stopping by!
Thank you for a content-rich article. Very useful and a good reminder of all the possible solutions to our sleep deprivation.
I bought a weighted blanket last year. Summer came and I shoved it in the cupboard, before really experiencing the amazing effect of it. It will come out of the cupboard tonight, even just for 5 minutes while I will pick up that Ken Follet book that I have been trying to read for months now.
You have inspired me, thank you!
Hi Han! Always happy to be inspiring. Enjoy your reading. It’s a great way to quiet your mind at the end of the day. Thanks for stopping by my website.