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How to Stop Your Mind Racing at Night

How to Stop Your Mind Racing at Night

Just about everyone has had one of those nights where their minds won’t stop racing — where thoughts of work, family responsibilities, or even an exciting upcoming event keep replaying over and over.

When you add trouble falling asleep to obstructive sleep apnea, you can further compound fatigue and other health problems stemming from a lack of sleep. 

By taking steps to understand why your mind can’t relax at night, as well as how you can calm your thoughts, you can set yourself up for a better bedtime routine and higher-quality sleep.

What Causes ‘Racing Thoughts’ at Night?

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“Overthinking” at night is a common issue, and it can be related to a variety of causes. Notably, mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, and PTSD have all been found to make individuals more likely to have trouble falling asleep at night — quite often, due to overthinking that results from their condition.

However, this isn’t the only possible contributor. Many people will go through periods where they are more likely to have racing thoughts at night because of major life events or times of stress. This could include times when you are overworked, when you are looking forward to exciting plans like a big vacation, or dreading something (like a tough situation at work). These circumstances may not be as persistent as racing thoughts related to a mental health issue, but they can still result in several days (or even weeks) where you have trouble falling asleep.

Part of the problem associated with racing thoughts is that we often take the wrong approach in trying to stop them. Trying to “suppress” or block out your thoughts will often just make them more persistent, and make it that much harder to fall asleep.

Left unchecked, this can soon become a habit, where you spend your time lying in bed in a state of anxiety or eager anticipation, letting your thoughts control your bedtime rather than the other way around.

One night of not getting sufficient sleep can leave you fatigued and irritable the next day — even more so if you also suffer from sleep apnea. But long-term, consistently getting fewer than seven hours of sleep each night can worsen mental health disorders like depression and anxiety (or increase your risk for developing them). A lack of sleep can also contribute to significant physical health issues, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.

How to Calm Your Mind

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So, if trying to suppress your racing thoughts at night will only make them worse, what can you do to relax your brain at bedtime?

Fortunately, you’re not stuck without options. Much of your ability to relax your thoughts at night starts with your daytime activities. Even something that doesn’t seem related to your thought processes, like getting in a good workout, can make it easier to relax your mind at night. Exercising during the day makes you more tired at night, so you’ll be able to fall asleep quickly rather than get distracted by your thoughts.

A relaxing bedtime routine can also help you fall asleep faster, even during times when you aren’t prone to racing thoughts. Taking a warm bath or practicing a brief yoga session can help soothe your mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep. Using a white noise machine can also give you something else to focus on as you try to fall asleep.

Another common practice is to schedule a half-hour session of “worry time” at least one hour before going to bed. During this time, make a list of your sources of worry and stress. Then, try to think through potential solutions for them. Develop an action plan so you know how to address the culprits behind your stress. 

Alternatively, after making your list, you could make a list of potential outcomes associated with each situation. Sometimes, writing down the best, worst, and most likely outcomes can provide much-needed perspective. You could also dig deeper into your feelings about why a particular situation is causing so much worry.

Essentially, the idea behind this practice is that you get all those thoughts and concerns out of the way earlier in the evening. By the time you are ready to go to bed, you’ve already processed your thoughts and made a plan. And if you have another idea or potential solution come to mind while you’re lying in bed, write it down, too! Just keep a notepad handy so you can quickly write down your idea and not have to mull it over any longer than you have to.

If you’re still lying in bed and struggling to fall asleep, you might benefit from a quick reset. Get out of bed, do some simple stretches or read in a book (not a phone or e-reader) to reset your mind, and get back in bed.

Stay Calm and Sleep Better

By taking steps to mitigate stress in your life and relax your mind as you get ready to go to sleep, racing thoughts will cease to be a recurring challenge. This can be especially important for people with obstructive sleep apnea, who already face sleep interruptions throughout the night.

Even when you can fall asleep quickly, nighttime breathing interruptions that wake you up dozens of times per hour can keep you from getting sufficient rest, by not allowing you to go through a complete sleep cycle.

If you are struggling with obstructive sleep apnea, a prescription for a CPAP machine can help. By providing pressurized airflow throughout the night, a CPAP machine will keep your airways open, prevent breathing interruptions, and help you sleep better. That’s sure to help your mind relax.


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