Mind racing at night

Contents

Get back in bed and do some deep breathing.

“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.” — Christabel Majendie, sleep therapist

Try not to try so hard.

“Try not to struggle or ‘try harder’ to overcome the sleeplessness or get rid of unwanted thoughts, as this can worsen insomnia. One successful approach to overcome this negative cycle is to instead learn to observe and accept these struggles, using mindfulness strategies to help.” — Jenny Stephenson, director of HappySleepers

Or maybe plan how you’ll get some sun in the a.m.

“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. In my book, I write about how sun exposure is now a key part of many professional athletes’ travel schedules, and seen as a way of preventing jet lag. Non-athletes can do similar things. 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.” — David K. Randall, author of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

And if all else fails …

“The great era of tinkering with sleep aids was popular in early modern Europe. Here are a few of my favorites:

• Put some blood-sucking leeches behind your ears. When they bore holes in the skin, pull them out and place a grain of opium in each hole. (From 16th-century French physician André du Laurens.)

• Kill a sheep, and then press its steaming lungs on either side of the head. Keep the lungs in place as long as they remain warm. (From 16th-century French surgeon Ambroise Paré.)

• After the evening meal, eat lettuce, drink wine, and rub an ointment made of the oil of violets or camphor on the temples. Dissolve a mixture of poppy seeds, lettuce seeds, balsam, saffron, and sugar and cook it in poppy juice. Then listen to pleasant music and lie down on a bed covered with the leaves of fresh, cool plants. (From 15th-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino.)” — Benjamin Reiss, author of Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World

How to Quiet Your Mind & Get More Shuteye

Train Your Brain to Sleep

One reason your mind keeps you up is because you’ve unwittingly trained it to be alert, according to the authors. For instance, they note that if you spend many nights in bed tossing and turning or being upset that you can’t sleep, your bed has become a cue for tossing and turning and being upset.

The key, then, is to make your bed become a cue for sleepiness. The authors suggest readers:

  • Avoid napping, because “…you need to associate sleep with only one location (your bed) and one time (your sleep window).” Have a plan for the times you’re most likely to want to nap. For instance, if you fall asleep watching TV, sit up straight or do some light activity like folding laundry.
  • Avoid active activities in bed. Again, your bed needs to be associated with sleep only. So don’t text, talk on the phone, play games or watch TV in bed. Regarding sex, it depends on how you feel after. If you feel sleepy after sex, your bedroom is OK. If you feel alert, you could have sex earlier in the day or somewhere else in your home. “Or you may opt to make sex an exception to the rule anyway.”
  • Go to bed only when you’re sleepy, which is different from feeling tired or sapped of energy.
  • Get up at the same time every day. This can lead to poor sleep in the beginning, but this trains your body clock and eventually when you’re getting up at the same time seven days a week, you’ll start getting sleepy earlier, too.
  • If you can’t sleep or you start worrying, get out of bed. Participate in an activity that doesn’t make you more awake, such as reading, knitting or listening to music.

Minimize Worrying

“If you give yourself time earlier in the day to deal with unfinished business, your worries will be less likely to follow you to bed,” write Carney and Manber. They suggest carving out 20 to 30 minutes in the early evening for this exercise. Take a piece of paper, and divide it into two columns. For one column write “Worries or Concerns.” In the second column, write “Next Steps” or “Solutions.”

When you jot down a worry, think of the next steps you can take toward a solution. Then focus on one small step you can take. It’s especially helpful to break down your solutions into a series of small steps so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Another strategy the authors suggest is occupying your mind with something else. For instance, think about a story (just nothing that’s so exciting it keeps you awake). Focus on the details, such as what the characters are wearing and saying and what the surroundings look like. If a story doesn’t work for you, they also suggest thinking of a hobby, such as golfing or decorating a home (again, just make sure it doesn’t wake you up).

Stop Thinking Like a Poor Sleeper

If you can’t sleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night, instead of getting yourself worked up with negative thoughts like “I won’t be able to sleep all night, I’m screwed,” the authors suggest taking a matter-of-fact approach: “It seems as if my mind is too active to sleep right now. Trying to force sleep is counterproductive; I am going to go to the couch and watch a sitcom.”

Also helpful is to have realistic expectations and accurate beliefs about sleep. For instance, it’s a common belief that you need eight hours of sleep or more per night. Holding onto this belief only makes you feel more anxious when you don’t reach this number. But, in general, sleep quality is more important than quantity.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s also normal to spend up to 30 minutes trying to fall asleep or being awake in the middle of the night.

Practice Mindfulness

Worrying involves focusing on the future. That’s where mindfulness can be incredibly helpful: It helps us focus on the present. For instance, start with focusing your senses on your surroundings. What do you see? What do you hear? How does the temperature feel on your skin?

You also can use mindfulness to observe your thoughts, especially if your mind is always buzzing, and you feel trapped by their thoughts. Carney and Manber suggest the following exercise:

When a thought comes to mind, simply notice it and imagine the words of the thought being written on a leaf. Imagine placing the leaf on a stream and watching it float away until it disappears around a bend. Here comes another thought (leaf). Notice it. Notice the words on the leaf as it floats away. If you notice any negative emotion, accept that it is there; notice it without judgment; gently turn your attention to observing your thoughts once more. Do this as often as necessary; that is, whenever you notice yourself distracted, refocus your attention. If critical thoughts about how this exercise is unfolding arise, put those on leaves too and set them adrift.

Quieting your mind takes practice. The above tips can help.

How to Quiet Your Mind & Get More Shuteye

We’ve all had those nights when we just can’t switch off. If catastrophic and anxiety-inducing thoughts keep running through your head, it can be hard to get to sleep. Before you know it, it’s 1am and you’re wondering how many hours left until your alarm goes off.

Overthinking at night keeps us awake and stop us from getting the sleep we need to feel refreshed and energised for the day ahead, but what causes it? We speak to therapist and SIMBA resident psychologist Hope Bastine, about why we overthink at night and, more importantly, how to stop it:

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Why do we overthink at night?

Overthinking at night is largely down to the brain processing what has happened to us during the day. Because our days are now filled with so much and we’re taking in more information, we don’t have the gaps to process our thoughts throughout the day.

Overthinking at night is largely down to the brain processing what has happened to us during the day.

‘We don’t have the time and space during the day to process what’s happened and to evaluate and make sense of it. Sometimes the only time we get to do that is when we’re in bed,’ says Bastine. ‘A lot of people tell me that as soon as they’re in bed, all their thoughts start rolling around in their head – it’s a blizzard and they’re suddenly remembering all the things that they should have done.’

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The rise in technology

Gadgets could also play a part in our inability to fall of to sleep. ‘Technology activities the beta brainwave state that is present when we’re alert, attentive, engaged in problem solving, decision-making and engaged mental activity, etc. and can be anxiety-provoking,’ explains Bastine.

Moral of the story? Ditch the phone, the tablet and laptop a while before bed.

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How to stop overthinking at night

If you can’t switch off and struggle to fall asleep, or you wake up a lot in the night with negative or persistent thoughts, help is at hand. Being able to sleep better could be as simple as leaving an hour before bed to relax.

✅ Make time for a wind-down

Having a ritual of at least an hour to relax before you actually plan to go to bed is really important.

‘Whether you’ve got in from a gym workout or a late night in the office, you still need that wind-down time to process your day. This time allows you to activate the alpha brainwave state,’ says Bastine. ‘If you don’t have time to have a full hour, then just pick two of your favourite things you do to relax and switch-off. For me it’s making some herbal tea, lighting a candle, sitting and meditating.’

Having a ritual of relaxing before you actually plan to go to bed is really important.

Bastine says this pre-bed ritual needs to happen regularly. ‘We’re habit-forming creatures – so association, repetition and routine is the language of the brain.’

✅ Chat your thoughts away

A really good way to stop overthinking at night is to chat things through with a partner, family member or friend. ‘It’s one of my top recommendations,’ says Bastine. ‘Have mindful communication – a genuine heart to heart, connected and meaningful conversation. Not “what I did today”. It’s not about even trying to fix problems, it’s just speaking, hearing and listening.’

Bastine explains that it’s a great technique to help process the day and the added connection to someone allows you to feel happier overall.

‘We work so hard, so when we come home tired and don’t get time to appreciate what we’re working hard for, we become resentful and negative. That connection starts to stimulate the oxytocin release, which activates the arousal state that might actually lead to some quality sex and a good orgasm that, in turn, could improve your sleep…’

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✅ Try journal writing

If you haven’t got anyone to chat to – or just prefer to write than have a conversation with someone about your thoughts – try journal writing.

‘If you’re writing negative thoughts, just be conscious of what you’re doing,’ advises Bastine. ‘Set the intentions and close that book, so you say goodbye to those thoughts. Don’t put it on the bedside table, but in the drawer out of sight, and out of mind. If that works for you, by all means do it.’

If you haven’t got anyone to chat to, try journal writing.

However, it’s also a good to balance this with positivity. For example, you could try: ‘writing down three things that went well during the day or three things that you’re grateful for. It can be simple, such as spending time with your child or the sun that hit your face first thing in the morning.’

✅ Don’t block your thoughts

If you can’t sleep and your mind is on overdrive, you might try to block the negativity running through your mind, but this could be doing you a disservice.

‘Blocking thoughts is kind of a taboo in meditation and mindfulness, because our distress comes from the resistance to the unpleasant and the clinging to the pleasant and our fear of losing something,’ says Bastine. ‘When we accept the law of impermanence and appreciate that everything passes including both the pleasant and unpleasant, that is they key to happiness.’

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How to Calm Your Racing Mind so You Can Sleep

Source: Fanette/

You long for sleep. You may even feel tired before going to bed. But as soon as your head hits the pillow, it happens again. You’re wide awake. You can’t stop thinking. It’s the worst.

I regularly speak to groups about the necessity of sleep for the prevention of burnout, management of stress, improvement of mood, and a host of other benefits. Almost every time I do, someone comes up to me and says:

“I know I need more sleep. But what do I do if I can’t fall asleep? I get into bed early enough to get eight hours, but then I just lie there with my mind racing.”

I also frequently hear this from coaching clients and patients. When I do, I start asking questions. And usually find the answer.

Here are the questions, for you to ask yourself:

1. Do you take your phone to bed?

First of all, the light from the phone is stimulating to the brain and can suppress melatonin release (melatonin helps you sleep). The best solution is to not look at your phone after 9 p.m. (or an hour or two before bed), but lots of people aren’t ready to give up that habit. If that’s you, use a blue light-blocking mode, like “Night Shift” on iPhones, and turn your screen brightness down as far as it can go.

2. What are you reading, or doing in bed, before you go to sleep?

This is my second point about the phone. I once heard a sleep expert at Harvard say that texting at bedtime is a bad idea. The thought processes that you use are too stimulating to your brain. Obviously, checking work emails (or any email) at bedtime is a really bad idea, especially if you come across something stressful. You may not even want to read the news, in case there’s a headline that stimulates thoughts or concerns.

If you like to read to wind down, choose a book (the printed kind). Ideally, that book should not be too thought-provoking or stimulating. It shouldn’t be disturbing. It also probably shouldn’t be so incredibly captivating that you can’t put it down…

3. What do you do with your evenings?

If you have trouble winding down to sleep, take care not to wind yourself up over the course of the evening. Good rules of thumb:

  • Avoid challenging conversations with your spouse in the evenings if possible. Definitely avoid starting a difficult conversation close to bedtime.
  • If you must work in the evening (i.e., answering emails), try to do so earlier versus later, so you have time to wind down your mind before bed.
  • Working out in the evening makes it harder to wind down and fall asleep. Do it earlier in the day.
  • If you go out on a work night, plan to get home at a reasonable hour so that you have time to wind down and still get into bed on time.

Notice what “winds you up” in the evenings. Either avoid it, or schedule it much earlier.

4. What lighting do you use at night?

This is another key to winding down. People used to sleep an average of nine hours a night before the advent of widespread electricity. The lights we have on at night in our homes are stimulating and can also suppress melatonin secretion.

Feel the difference between two late evening scenarios:

A) All the lights are on. The TV is blaring. You’re sitting at a table catching up on emails, while simultaneously conducting a logistical discussion with your spouse. You feel stressed and don’t even want to go to bed. You’ll need at least an hour of Netflix to wind down from this (not a good idea, because of the screen involved, and also if it’s a really well-written show, it will be hard to turn off in time for bed).

B) All the lights are off, except a warm yellow lamp in the corner of the room. Soft music is playing. You and your spouse are quietly reading. As you read, the inevitable happens. Your eyelids start to droop. Your head bobs as you fall asleep for a split second. Even though it’s earlier than you’d planned, you get up and head over to the bathroom to start getting ready for bed.

5. Is there something specific you’re worried about?

Perhaps there’s a stressful situation you can’t stop worrying about that’s keeping you awake. In this case, I’d recommend a variety of approaches:

  • If it’s serious, get professional counseling support to help you problem-solve the situation and/or your response to it.
  • Journal before going to bed to get your worries out of your head and onto the page.
  • Learn a relaxation practice, such as a simple relaxation breathing meditation, to quiet your mind and body before bed. If I can’t fall asleep, I focus on a three-line scripture about peace as I breathe slowly in and out; it almost always works. One of my coaching clients, a former figure skater, skates in her mind until she falls asleep.

6. How are you using your bed?

Leverage the strategy of “stimulus control.” If you do lots of different things in bed (e.g., watch movies, answer emails, take phone calls, etc.), your body and mind get confused about the purpose of bed. If you have insomnia, it’s best to only use your bed for sleep. For the same reason, if you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed, and go do something quiet and relaxing until you start to feel sleepy, and then head back to bed.

7. How much caffeine are you drinking?

The sleep expert I mentioned earlier also said that if you struggle with insomnia, you should eliminate caffeine (and any other stimulants) completely and see if that helps. If that feels impossible, start by eliminating caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. Sources of caffeine include coffee, non-herbal teas, chocolate, and some supplements.

Source: Elena Rostunova/

Note: Some people who can’t sleep have a bigger issue, such as Generalized Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, or other medical concerns. If your sleeplessness is extreme or doesn’t respond to simple interventions, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Susan Biali Haas

By Michelle Drerup, PsyD, and Alex Bea, PsyD

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All is quiet. The lights are out, and your phone’s on sleep mode. You’d like to be in sleep mode, too, but your brain is relentlessly running through the list of things you have to get done tomorrow.

This happens to many people because, when we lay down in bed, environmental distractions are generally low, and we’re left alone with our thoughts.

We have the good fortune of existing in bodies with a strong mind-body connection. For most people who find themselves awake while lying in bed, their thoughts are not particularly positive in nature. So, when our thoughts are stressful, our bodies respond in a similar fashion, and our fight-or-flight system is activated.

Over time, this tendency to ruminate in bed gets reinforced, and our brains become conditioned to begin worrying when we lay down at night — the bed itself becomes associated with worry and anxiety.

Put the brakes on worrisome thoughts

Fortunately, if we’re able to calm our bodies, our thoughts often follow.

This can be achieved through slow breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques. Engaging in mindfulness-based techniques can also be beneficial in that observing thoughts and taking a curious stance – rather than buying into those negative thoughts – can reduce fight-or-flight arousal.

Similarly, learning to challenge thoughts or answering your own “what ifs” can serve to reduce anxious thinking.

Alternatives to late-night screen time

We encourage people to establish a buffer zone before going to bed that is free from screen time and other stimulating activities in order to wind down at night.

Having a 30- to 60-minute period dedicated to winding down serves as a cue to the brain that you will soon be going to bed and makes falling asleep easier.

During this time, it may be helpful to engage in breathing exercises, to read a book, to listen to music or to do some light stretching. Screen time tends to be overly stimulating to the brain, and the light that is emitted from screens delays the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles.

Some may find it helpful to keep a worry journal where you dedicate 15 minutes early in the evening to logging your worrisome thoughts. This serves as a tangible way to contain worry so that you aren’t bringing your concerns to bed with you.

You might also consider keeping a gratitude journal. Engaging in gratitude right before bedtime results in a calmer body and more positive presleep thoughts.

If nothing seems to work…

Humans experience roughly 50,000 thoughts per day. It is normal to have thoughts all day long and to experience situational anxiety, but for some people, they may feel as though they don’t have any control over their racing or worrisome thoughts at night, and this can impact their functioning.

When this is the case, these individuals may benefit from treatment with a sleep psychologist or another mental health provider.

How to stop racing thoughts

There are ways to control racing thoughts and reduce their occurrence. It may take time and practice to master these strategies, but they can be useful for managing racing thoughts at any time.

1. Focus on now, not the future or the past

For some people, racing thoughts stem from something that has not happened and may never happen. Other people focus on things that happened in the past, which cannot be changed.

People who experience racing thoughts should take every effort to think about what is happening right now. Saying to themselves:,”I won’t worry about the past or the future, I’ll focus on what I can control,” is a good place to start.

2. Take deep breaths

The body’s natural panic response is to speed up the heart and breathing rate. This may happen when the mind begins racing. Slower, deep breaths can reduce the body’s stress response and promote a feeling of calm, helping to quiet or stop racing thoughts.

Deep breathing can be done anytime, without any particular training. Just breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 5 to 10 seconds is a simple way to accomplish this.

3. Think about other options

Because racing thoughts often end up in a worst-case scenario, it can be easy to get wrapped up in disaster. This can lead to a vicious cycle of more anxiety and continued racing thoughts. A person whose mind is racing may wish to tell themselves that this worst-case scenario is not going to happen.

They can think about other, more desirable options that are more likely to occur. Instead of, “I’ll get fired for that mistake,” change the thought to, “Everyone makes mistakes, and I’ll do what I can to make it right.”

4. Use mantras

Mantras are simple words or phrases that people can repeat to calm the mind. They can be particularly useful in times of panic and racing thoughts. Phrases such as, “I can get through this,” or “It will be okay,” can be helpful.

Mantras allow the mind to focus on one simple thought that is positive or encouraging. This turns the mind away from its racing thoughts.

5. Try distractions

A favorite hobby, especially one that is calming, can quiet the mind and help a person focus on something other than racing thoughts.

Coloring books are a popular option for reducing stress and offer a calming distraction. Painting, gardening, cooking, or playing an instrument are other possibilities.

6. Exercise

Share on PinterestRacing thoughts may be controlled with regular physical activity.

Regular physical activity improves mental well-being and may be helpful during an episode of racing thoughts.

Numerous studies have shown that exercise can have mood-boosting power.

A study in Behavior Therapy says exercise improves symptoms of depression, while a study in the Journal of Sport Behavior found that just 15 minutes of exercise improved mood in college students.

If a person feels racing thoughts developing, walking, jogging, or similar activities may help to settle the mind.

7. Inhale lavender essential oil

Lavender has a reputation for being calming, and some research backs up this claim.

A study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand found that inhaling lavender essential oil can calm the mind and quiet brain activity.

How to Stop Your Mind From Racing in the Middle of the Night

Are you gifted with the ability to doze off instantly every night, sleeping until the moment—or just before—your alarm goes off? No? Then you can probably relate to being woken up in the middle of the night by terrifying, irrational thoughts.

“Why didn’t Sarah respond to my email? Is she upset with me?”
“What if I have an illness I don’t know about?”
“Am I spending too much money on online shopping?”
“Did I act like a jerk at work?”
“Is my mom going to be OK?”

This is a pretty precise example of my mental thought loop on nights I can’t sleep. And it’s exhausting—physically and mentally.

If you struggle with anxiety, insomnia, or a combination of the two—this will sound familiar. Lately, with multiple projects on my plate, I have been waking up around 2 a.m. and staying awake until around 5 a.m. It’s hell.

Fortunately, I’ve come up with some strategies to help me relax that don’t involve reaching for my phone and firing up my tired mind with email and Instagram. These four tried-and-true tricks help me calm down and eventually drift back to sleep.

1. Acknowledge (most of) your worries are absurd.

There is nothing like the pitch-black silence of the middle of the night to make us see things in a totally irrational light. Nighttime doesn’t offer the distractions that daytime does (such as other people, activity, and work), so our minds can easily go into overdrive unless we are careful. If your thought loop is anything like mine, you know that these thoughts simply don’t arise any other time of day.

Our minds can easily go into overdrive unless we are careful.

The morning, on the other hand, brings a totally fresh perspective. When I wake up, sit up, and recall my overactive worries, I roll my eyes and shake my head at myself. I try to remember this eye roll and headshake during my next 2 a.m. panic attack.

2. Write it down.

If you come up with a million things to put on your to-do list or anything constructive (one benefit of early-morning silence is those random lightbulb moments of inspiration), simply write it down. Keep an old-school notebook and pen on your bedside table, so you don’t whip out your phone and get lured into a 45-minute social media affair. There’s nothing like dumping out what’s on your mind, including important to-dos, notes, and ideas, to feel instantly calmer.

3. Take a deep breath.

Once you’ve acknowledged the illogical nature of your worries and/or emptied your mind onto paper, the next step takes some discipline. In The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington says that she pictures a tranquil lake to fall asleep.

She also calls breathing the ultimate sleep hack: 25 deep breaths and visualizing an image of something calm can have magical powers, I swear.Try it and see (and not just two deep breaths and a fleeting image). Commit to it! What’s the alternative?

4. Remind yourself you’ll be OK.

What’s the worst that can happen if you lose some sleep? You feel tired the next day? Buy an extra large coffee (or two) and go to sleep earlier the next night. Unless you have something like an important work event, you can probably cancel the following evening’s plans. I’ve done this a few times recently and people are surprisingly supportive when I tell them the truth: “I haven’t been sleeping well. I was awake at ungodly hours last night. I’d be really terrible company tonight.” People get it. Almost everyone has experienced this at some point in their lives. It happens.

What’s the worst that can happen if you lose some sleep?

Funny enough, this final piece of advice is what really helps me fall back to sleep in the end. I picture a quieter day, a large Starbucks soy miso on my desk, and the following night spent watching trashy reality TV on my couch. And I will chuckle when I recall my midnight panic the night before.

Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!

While many sleep doctors advise people to avoid TV at night, Dr. Gehrman says watching a relaxing show is actually fine if the TV is at least a few feet away from you. But watching a show on your iPhone will make it harder to wind down, because having light that close to your eyes is too stimulating.

3. Schedule 10 minutes of “worry time” earlier in the day

If work stress is keeping you up at night, then deal with it before it’s time to go to bed, both doctors recommend. Set aside 10 to 12 minutes of “worry time” earlier in the day to focus on what is stressing you out.

Write down your stressors and split them up into two categories: Those you can control, and those you cannot. For example, you can’t control how your boss may treat you tomorrow. But if you’re stressed about getting to work late again, you can control whether you manage to leave your house on time.

For the factors you can control, write down specific steps you can to deal with them, like preparing for work the night before to help you get out of the house more quickly. Even for the factors that you can’t control, sometimes just acknowledging that you can’t control them can help you stop worrying, the doctors say.

Once your 10 or so minutes are up, move onto whatever else you would do.

“If you know you’re going to bed and are having a stressful day, maybe you should set up worry time in advance,” Dr. Dasgupta says.

When worry thoughts start circulating around bedtime, tell yourself that you will deal with them during tomorrow’s worry time. Your mind may actually listen.

“When you get these thoughts out of your head and onto paper, there is a good chance they will not infiltrate your mind when it’s actually time to go to sleep,” Dr. Roban says. “Many people also like to make lists in their journal of the things they need to do the next day.”

A Sleep Journal May Be the Sleep Hack You’ve Been Looking For

Oct. 16, 201701:07

Read, but not on your phone

Getting lost a book is beneficial for many reasons, and it can be pivotal to sleep health.

“Reading is a great way to quiet your mind and distract yourself from any anxious thoughts that might creep up at night. When you are engaged in a story, your thoughts are in the moment, instead of worrying about the future,” says Dr. Sal Raichbach, a licensed clinical social worker at Ambrosia Treatment Center. “On the other hand, the blue light emitted from cell phones does the opposite. Even if you turn down the brightness, blue light from LED screens interferes with the production of essential brain chemicals like melatonin that tell your body it’s time for bed.”

Pick up a real book, and I recommend from extensive experience with insomnia, that you pick the densest, dullest tome in your collection.

Keep the bedroom chilled and completely dark

We may want to consider keeping our bedroom just a tad cooler than we like, and leaving any nightstand lights off. (This means doing your reading in another room.)

“Ensure your bedroom is quiet, comfortable, ventilated, dark and cool,” says Elaine Slater, a psychologist and psychotherapeutic counselor. “Even a small amount of light in your bedroom can disrupt the production of melatonin and overall sleep.”

Take a tip from your kids with a strict bedtime routine (and a bath)

“We know how important it is for children to have a nighttime routine as it creates a sensed of structure and security, well the same goes for adults especially if you suffer from anxiety,” says Bianca L. Rodriguez, a psychotherapist and spiritual coach. “A bedtime routine can help you self soothe and act as a container for your anxiety. I recommend taking a warm bath or shower before bed to relax your muscles as the state of your body impacts the activity in your mind. Imagining frustrations, negative energy or worries flowing down the drain can help you approach sleep feeling more clear and calm.”

Proactively reduce stress during the day

Sometimes our anxious thoughts are simply the remains of a stressful day.

By taking a positive approach to your day and doing as much as you can to eliminate stress, you can create a peaceful night.

“Some of the best ways to deal with anxious thoughts at night are to reduce the stress you have to deal with during the day,” says Benjamin Ritter, a coach and consultant specializing in personal and professional leadership development. “You can avoid stressful people, be more open and honest about your feelings, and most importantly plan and strategize areas of your life. Reduce the number of decisions you have to make during the day and you’ll have more left over in your brain bank to deal with stress and anxiety at night.”

MORE WAYS TO REST BETTER

  • 7 Ways to Actually Get to Bed An Hour Earlier Tonight
  • 8 Sleep Mistakes You Can Fix Tonight
  • 16 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep Without Popping a Pill

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George Rudy/As soon as you lie down at night, it’s like your mind goes straight to anything you could possibly stress about. How can you ever get to sleep when all you can think about is how you still need to tell your friend you can’t make it to brunch or how your library book is due tomorrow? It’s natural to jump to stressors when your mind finally has some quiet time to wander, but a racing mind can leave you tossing and turning—the last thing you need when you’re trying to recharge for the next day. Thankfully, scientists just found a possible cure to help you shut down those anxious thoughts and finally get some shut-eye.

Baylor University researchers investigated whether different types of journaling could ease people into sleep. To find out, they had 57 young adults spend five minutes before bed writing either a to-do list for the days ahead or a list of tasks they’d finished over the past few days. The volunteers slept at the lab, where researchers could measure their eye movement and brainwave activity, and weren’t allowed to use their phones or do work after lights-out time.

The results in the Journal of Experimental Psychology confirm that not all pre-sleep writing is created equal. Those who’d made to-do lists before bed were able to fall asleep nine minutes faster than the ones who’d written about past events. The quality of the lists mattered, too; the more tasks and the more specific the to-do lists were, the faster the writers fell asleep. On the flip side, those who wrote long lists of accomplishments took longer to fall asleep than those who’d thought of fewer past activities. (Check out these other 12 habits that ruin your sleep quality.)

The study authors figure writing down future tasks “offloads” the thoughts so you can stop turning them over in your mind. For example, writing down a reminder to send a certain email in the morning means you can stop stressing about whether you’ll remember and what it should say. You’re telling your brain that the task will get done—just not right now. (Here are 13 more tips for when you have insomnia.)

Nine minutes of extra sleep might not sound earth-shattering, but the study authors beg to differ. In fact, the results are actually on par with the extra snooze time you’d get from some prescription sleep meds, says lead author Michael Scullin. “Getting nine extra minutes of sleep every night can actually make a real difference,” Scullin, director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at Baylor, tells Time.

Taking five minutes to jot down a to-do list is easier and cheaper than other sleep aids, so might as well give it a try. Your calm mind will thank you. But if lists aren’t your thing, try these 11 sleep-doctor approved tricks instead.

Racing Thoughts: What to Do When Your Mind Is Racing

Racing thoughts are a possible symptom of a number of different conditions. While it’s most common in anxiety, there are other conditions that can cause racing thoughts, too.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a common cause of racing thoughts. While racing thoughts are extremely common during an anxiety attack, they can also occur at any time. They may also precede or follow an anxiety attack.

Keep reading: The best anxiety apps of the year “

ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a pattern of inattention or hyperactivity. Some people will describe their inattention as racing thoughts, especially when they are overwhelmed with external stimuli. More common in ADHD is wandering thoughts, where you struggle to focus on a single train of thought.

Learn more: What’s the difference between ADHD and ADD? “

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition in which you experience obsessions or compulsions that are difficult to shake. These obsessions can take the form of racing thoughts, where you can’t stop what feels like an avalanche of thoughts on a particular subject. You may have a compulsion that soothes the thoughts, like washing your hands a certain number of times to stop racing thoughts caused by worrying about germs.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is an emotional disorder in which your emotions skyrocket to extreme emotional highs (manias) and plummet to severe depression. Racing thoughts most often occur during the mania part of a bipolar episode, though they can occur with depression, especially in cases of agitated depression.

Agitated depression

Agitated depression is an outdated term which refers to a severe subtype of depression. It’s characterized by feeling agitated instead of lethargic, the symptom that’s commonly associated with most types of depression. You may also feel restless, angry, and quick to react. Racing thoughts is more likely to affect those with agitated depression than other types of depression.

Medication side effect

Sometimes, medications may treat some symptoms of a condition but exacerbate or even cause others. Medications used to treat depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder can sometimes cause agitated depression, which can then trigger racing thoughts.

If you start a new medication and start experiencing racing thoughts, call your doctor so you can try a new medication or adjust the dosage as soon as possible.

Learn more about depression medications and their side effects “

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