The sun goes down, the stars come out. You cozy into bed, ready for sleep. But, nope. Your mind decides to walk you through every damning moment of your entire life. We have all been there. Your body screams for respite and your mind responds, “no.”
Racing thoughts before bed is common in people with anxiety, but this can and does happen to everyone from time to time, especially if you’ve had a particularly stressful day (or week, or month, or year). Most of the time, the inability to slow your mind at night in itself isn’t harmful, but if left unchecked could lead to insomnia and other sleeping disorders.
Sleeping disorders are very common and don’t discriminate. In fact, they affect 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages from various socioeconomic classes.
The following are the five most common sleeping disorders according to the Sleep Health Foundation:
Despite sleeping disorders being a widespread problem most of them go undiagnosed and untreated. More than 60% of adults in the United States have never been asked about their quality of sleep by a physician and less than 20% have initiated such discussion.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic button to push and deactivate your thoughts at night. But according to Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, we can create the right associations in order for us to sleep well.
Here are some tips on taking control of your racing thoughts for a better night’s rest:
There is no way of completely getting rid negative emotions such as stress and anxiety – one can only repress them temporarily. But the more you push them down, the more they’ll force their way back up and this usually happens during quiet times of rest.
In order to slow down your racing thoughts, you must first acknowledge what is causing them. Set aside some time in your day to identify and address these stressors. First make a list of the things that are causing tension, worry, and anxiety. Secondly set out a plan of action. Putting pen to paper can actually really help. Writing down a list of actions you’ll take to solve certain stressors can make them feel much less scary before you’ve even acted on them. Whether it’s a bill you haven’t gotten around to paying or a doctors appointment you’ve been avoiding, scheduling those things in will significantly alleviate stress around them. However, there will always be a few things that don’t have an immediate solution, i.e. a breakup or a sick relative. If something is out of your control, take a deep breath a try to let them go. For these things, you can even set aside “worry time” earlier in the day so your mind has time to process and slow down when nighttime comes.
The body’s circadian rhythm plays an important role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. It tells you when to wake up in the morning and when to unwind at the end of the day. In fact, according to Dr. Epstein, the key to getting a good night’s sleep is being in sync with your internal clock or your circadian rhythm.
If you stick to the same sleeping schedule every night your body will naturally know when to start winding down as well as when to wake up. Try to ensure that your schedule allows you to get a full eight hours.
It’s hard to relax when your brain is still on the go. This is why having a nightly routine is important as it helps you separate your day from your night. Your body will begin to recognize certain activities and associate them with sleep, allowing your mind to slow down.
Remember that the main goal of your routine should be relaxation so choose activities that will help you achieve this. Reading a book, taking a warm bath, listening to calming music or drinking a cup of tea are some of the things you can do.
Meditation can help you in a lot of ways. It can help you become more focused, more productive and more mindful of your actions. But research has shown that meditation can also help people sleep better at night.
Sometimes our worries still get the best of us and that’s alright.
It’s hard to slow a racing mind during bedtime especially if you still haven’t cracked your ideal sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
If you really can’t sleep, get out of bed and in a dimly lit area and write down everything in your head into a notebook or a piece of paper. This act will release these negative thoughts from your mind and will help you feel a little more at ease. In fact, Dr. Steven Stosny author and consultant on relationships, anger, and abuse recommend having a “worry journal.”
“It’s beneficial to write down anxious thoughts for several reasons,” Stosny stated. “It slows down the cascade of thoughts – anxious thoughts tend to go very fast, and the faster they go, the less likely they are to be realistic.”
Racing mind’s equal restless sleep and this happens to almost everyone. The frustration of sleeplessness can even make the condition worse, so first and foremost realize that you’re not alone. By following these guidelines and making sure you have a clear calm mind before bed will help you get to sleep faster and more soundly.