Help Me Shut Off My Brain Before Bedtime (2022)

It can be annoying when your thoughts keep racing well past your body giving in to bedtime. Here’s what to do when you can’t sleep because there’s too much on your mind.

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Though sleep is essential for health, many of us struggle with it.

In fact, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that roughly one-third of adults in the United States have symptoms of insomnia, and 6% to 10% of adults could be diagnosed with insomnia disorder.

Your sleeplessness might not be due to insomnia at all. Racing thoughts can be a contributing factor to staying up all night, but your mind running as steady as your refrigerator could also be a symptom of other complications:

  • Stress or anxiety over the day’s worries
  • Creative stream of ideas
  • Side effect from some medications
  • Mania or hypomania symptoms due to bipolar disorder or another mental health condition

Your brain has no off switch, but there are a few ways you can gently tell it to slow down.

Struggling to get some shut-eye at this very moment? Here are a few short-term fixes that could help you calm your mind.

Turn it all off

Although it might be tempting to roll over and scroll through social media or see what show is streaming tonight on TV, don’t. This stimulation can excite your brain, making it more difficult to switch your brain off before bed.

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Ideally, you should avoid all screens just before bedtime. This includes your phone, TV, tablet, or laptop screen. “Avoiding blue light exposure at least 2 hours prior to bedtime is better for sleep cycle regulation,” says Dr. Megan Soliman, a board-certified internal medicine physician in Virginia.

“While limiting screen time before bed can be difficult, the benefit of improving one’s sleep hygiene can be well worth it,” Soliman says.

Screens emit blue light, which interferes with your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm tells your body when to fall asleep based on the amount of light you see. Using screens at night can interfere with your circadian rhythm.

If it’s too tempting to log on, you might want to put your electronics in another room and return to bed. Soliman recommends keeping all electronics outside your room and using a separate alarm clock instead of your phone.

Try progressive muscle relaxation

This relaxation technique might help you release tension and fall asleep soundly. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing muscles and then releasing them, starting with your facial muscles and moving down toward your toes.

Interested in trying it? Here’s a progressive muscle relaxation script.

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Breathe deeply

Bring attention to your breath. Try to breathe deeply but slowly. You might find it relaxing to count your breaths. Focusing on the sensation of breathing is a mindfulness technique that can help slow down racing thoughts.

Try ASMR

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is that pleasant, tingly feeling some people get in response to certain stimuli. Many people make ASMR videos or audio to help aid sleep. There’re countless free ASMR videos on YouTube. ASMR videos could include relaxing sounds such as tapping, rustling, whispers, and quiet reading. Use comfortable Bluetooth earphones, if possible.

There’re a few activities you can do during the day to help your mind still when it’s bedtime.

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Exercise

Though exercise is a great way to boost your mood, it can also tire your body so that it feels ready for bed. Even a 15-minute walk during the day might help you feel more relaxed in the evening. As a 2017 review notes, several studies have shown that regular exercise can improve sleep.

Because physical activity can be stimulating, it’s a good idea to work out at least a few hours before bedtime.

Soak

Researchers found that pre-bedtime warm-water therapy — a warm bath, hot shower, or even a foot soak — can get your body into sleep mode.

Take pen to pad

“One effective method that can potentially help us get to sleep faster is taking a few minutes to write down our to-do list for the next day. This has been shown to help people get to sleep faster,” Soliman encourages, referring to a 2018 study on bedtime writing.

The study found that participants who wrote to-do lists for the next day before bedtime fell asleep faster than those who wrote about the current day’s activities.

Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath

You might’ve heard that you shouldn’t go to sleep angry. Research has actually shown that forgiveness — including self-forgiveness — might help you sleep better.

A 2018 study, based on a survey of 1,423 adults, found a correlation between sound sleep and forgiveness.

The best way to promote good sleep is to adopt healthy sleeping habits, also called sleep hygiene. These habits will make it easier to turn off your brain before bed and get a good night’s rest.

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Try to sleep around the same time every night

Establishing a sleeping pattern will help your mind and body get ready for slumber. Winding down similarly and sleeping around the same time daily will help you get into a good habit, which means you’ll be settled before bedtime.

“Many of us use an alarm to wake up in the morning, but it can also be beneficial to set an alarm an hour before bedtime to help with establishing a bedtime routine,” Soliman suggests.

Consider reducing your caffeine intake

As a stimulant, caffeine can keep your mind and nerves on alert. For some, it heightens anxiety, which can lead to racing thoughts before bedtime. And coffee isn’t the only culprit: Tea, pre-workout mixes, chocolate, and many sodas contain caffeine. Soliman notes that the effects of caffeine (a stimulant and a diuretic) can last up to 6 hours, so plan your beverages around that timeframe.

Try sleep supplements, if needed

If good sleep hygiene isn’t soothing your racing thoughts, considering researching sleep aids.

Melatonin is a common sleep supplement that mimics the hormone melatonin, which your body secretes when it’s dark. A dose of melatonin might help you sleep at night. Other noted sleep supplements include CBD, valerian, and L-theanine.

One note of caution: Be sure to speak with a healthcare professional, as several of these sleep aids may worsen some symptoms of mental health conditions.

“Trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts is very common and usually not cause for concern,” Soliman says. However, she adds, you should look out for symptoms that include:

  • recurrent feelings of sadness
  • frequent mood swings
  • no longer enjoying activities you used to
  • decreased energy
  • changes in appetite

If you experience the above or regularly have problems falling asleep or staying asleep, it’s worth talking with your doctor. Another sign that you should speak with a healthcare professional is if you’re exhausted during the day, often oversleep, or seem to have a full tank of energy with racing thoughts, despite very little sleep.

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“Your doctor can then help with finding you other resources, which may include counseling, seeing a specialist such as a psychiatrist or sleep therapist, and doing lab work to rule out any other potential medical conditions,” Soliman explains.

Depending on the cause, your doctor might suggest:

  • therapy
  • medication (over-the-counter or prescription)
  • self-care strategies

Racing thoughts don’t have to plague you forever. A medical professional can point you in the right direction.

FAQs

Why can't I shut my brain off when trying to sleep? ›

Turn down your stress levels

Stress is also why you want to sleep but your brain won't stop talking to itself. That's because when the mind is under pressure, it releases a hormone called cortisol, which is also what the body uses to wake you up in the morning. Cortisol causes your heart to beat fast.

How do I shut down my brain? ›

How To Shut Off Your Brain When You Just Can't Sleep
  1. Give yourself some mental and physical wind-down time. We are so busy nowadays that there's just not enough time in the day to get everything done. ...
  2. Don't worry in bed. ...
  3. Focus on mental imagery. ...
  4. Separate productive worry from unproductive worry.

Why is my brain overactive at night? ›

Excessive thinking at night is one of the most common causes of insomnia. More often than not, it's a sign of stress. Your mind is on high alert, afraid to fall asleep in case you might forget something important. Something you're worried you 'should' be doing.

How can I calm my anxiety before bed? ›

Reading, listening to music, or relaxing before bed with a hot bath or deep breathing can help you get to sleep. If you don't fall asleep within 20 minutes of turning in (or if you wake up and can't fall back to sleep in 20 minutes), get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.

How do I calm my overthinking thoughts? ›

How to stop overthinking
  1. Take some deep breaths. Close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly. ...
  2. Find a distraction. Distractions help us forget what is troubling us. ...
  3. Look at the big picture. ...
  4. Acknowledge your successes. ...
  5. Embrace your fears. ...
  6. Start journaling. ...
  7. Live in the present moment. ...
  8. Ask for help.
21 Apr 2022

What medication is good for racing thoughts? ›

Your doctor may also recommend medications to help manage any underlying conditions, especially if racing thoughts seem to accompany triggers like anxiety attacks or bipolar episodes.
...
Medications for racing thoughts
  • antidepressants.
  • antianxiety medications.
  • antipsychotics.
  • mood stabilizers.

What causes an overactive mind? ›

The most common causes are: ADHD. hyperthyroidism. brain disorders.

How do you calm racing thoughts at night? ›

Tips for Coping With Racing Thoughts at Night
  1. Get a notebook and label it “worry journal”
  2. Take 5-10 minutes a day to list your worries.
  3. Or, spend 5-10 minutes doing some freewriting about whatever thoughts come to mind.
4 Nov 2021

Why do I have the worst anxiety at night? ›

Historically, research also suggests anxiety disorders are associated with reduced sleep quality. When you lie down at night to unwind, your brain turns to all of the worries it didn't have time for during the day. Frequently, this anxiety revolves around worries you can't solve in the moment.

What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety? ›

Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm.

Why do I always get anxiety before bed? ›

Sleep and psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, often go hand in hand. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Similarly, if you have a sleep disorder, you might feel anxious or fearful before bed because you're afraid you won't get the rest you need.

How do I stop my head from overthinking everything? ›

Here are six ways to stop overthinking everything:
  1. Notice When You're Stuck in Your Head. Overthinking can become such a habit that you don't even recognize when you're doing it. ...
  2. Keep the Focus on Problem-Solving. ...
  3. Challenge Your Thoughts. ...
  4. Schedule Time for Reflection. ...
  5. Learn Mindfulness Skills. ...
  6. Change the Channel.
24 Jan 2022

Is overthinking a mental illness? ›

Overthinking is not a recognized mental disorder all by itself. However, research has found it's often associated with other mental health conditions, including: Depression. Anxiety disorders.

Why do I overthink so easily? ›

Often overthinking is a byproduct of anxiety or depression. If this is the case, you can treat your anxiety or depression to reduce overthinking. You may also find that overthinking only materializes when you need to make a tough life decision or are dealing with your insecurities.

What drugs lift your mood? ›

Some of the most commonly used include: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine HRI (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).

What is the first drug of choice for anxiety? ›

SSRIs and SNRIs are often the first-line treatment for anxiety. Common SSRI brands are Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft, and common SNRI brands are Pristiq, Cymbalta, and Effexor XR. Pros: They are effective for a lot of people and they have a solid safety profile.

What is the 4 7 8 sleep trick? ›

Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight. Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles.

What relaxes you to sleep? ›

Taking slow, deep breaths is one of the easiest and most basic ways to engage your body's natural relaxation response. If you find yourself lying awake in bed, start by taking 10 deep breaths. This alone can begin to slow the breath and create a sense of calm.

Videos

1. Sleep Hypnosis for Calming An Overactive Mind
(Michael Sealey)
2. How To Turn Off Your Brain So You Can Sleep
(Live On Purpose TV)
3. Steps to shut your brain off before bedtime
(ADRIAN KOROL)
4. How to Stop Racing Thoughts at Night | Q&A Eckhart Tolle
(Eckhart Tolle)
5. Sleep, Anxiety, and Insomnia: How to Sleep Better When You're Anxious
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
6. Guided meditation for overthinking and deep sleep
(Meditation Vacation)

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