A good night’s sleep is beneficial to your emotional well-being, ability to function effectively, and general mood. When racing thoughts, stress, and anxiety keep you awake at night, it can be quite distressing. However, there are some things you can try when you can’t sleep due to racing thoughts.

What Are Racing Thoughts

Racing thoughts refer to thoughts that are persistent, often intrusive, and occur in rapid succession. It can feel as though your mind is going a mile a minute when your thoughts are racing. Even though you don’t want to have these thoughts, it feels as if you have no control and cannot turn them off. Often times, the thoughts seem to be in control of you. These thoughts can be about anything. Sometimes they are related to current life stressors. Other times, they are more about past issues or things you wish you said, or didn’t say. Racing thoughts can lead to catastrophizing, or imagining the worst case scenario. It seems as though the more you try to stop thinking about it, the more intense the thoughts become. Although anyone can have racing thoughts at times, they are often associated with anxiety disorders. 

How Racing Thoughts Interfere With Sleep

Racing thoughts can have a negative impact on your ability to fall asleep, and or stay asleep. It’s hard to get to sleep when you feel as though you can’t shut your brain off. Imagining something difficult, or a catastrophe, can impact the brain in a similar way as actually experiencing it. Thoughts are very powerful. If you think about something awful happening, your body and brain can react as if it is happening. This can put you in a state of high arousal which can make it difficult for you to sleep. When your brain senses danger, either real or imagined, the fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in. Adrenaline is released and blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing increase. Since it takes between 20 and 60 minutes to return to a pre-arousal state, it can be hard to fall asleep. However, there are some things you can do that might help when you can’t sleep due to racing thoughts.

1. Exercise Earlier

Exercise is good for your mind and body. However, if you exercise late in the evening, you might have a hard time winding down when it’s time for bed. Exercising during the day can improve the quality of your sleep and help you fall asleep faster at night. If you complete a high-intensity workout late in the evening, the opposite can be true. Your body and mind can still be energized and your thoughts can race. If you exercise at night shortly before bed and are struggling to shut off your thoughts and get good quality sleep, try exercising earlier in the day.

2. Schedule A Time To Feel Your Feelings

Scheduling a time to feel your feelings allows you to address your worries on your terms so they are less likely to interfere with your sleep. When you schedule a time each day to focus on your fears and worries, it is easier for you to process them. It might seem like avoiding your anxious feelings keeps them from impacting you. Usually, doing this can make them more intense and more difficult to manage, especially when you are trying to get to sleep. When you give your feelings time and attention at your convenience, they can stop trying to interfere with your sleep. Plan a 10 minute period to feel your feelings during the day. When you’re done, transition by doing something completely different. Try not to do this right before bed as this can make it harder to fall asleep.

3. Set Up A Good Sleep Environment

Setting up a good sleep environment can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Ideally, your bedroom should be used for sleep and sex. This helps set up an association with your room and sleep. If you use it for other things, it can be harder for you to make this association. Keeping your room dark and minimizing artificial light can help prepare your mind to wind down for sleep. Since your body temperature naturally drops in preparation for sleep, keeping your room on the cool side between 60-67 degrees can help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer. Having comfortable bedding and lots of blankets, or even a weighted blanket can be helpful. A quiet room, or consistent noise, is best for sleep. Using a sound machine can provide continuous soothing sound, while eliminating inconsistent background noise. A good sleep environment can make it easier to quiet your mind and get restful sleep.

4. Create A Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Preparing yourself for sleep by creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help with your sleep quality. The blue light emitted from phones and other electronics can have a negative impact on sleep. Turn off electronics and do something that relaxes you before bed. Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness activities can help you begin to relax and prepare your body for rest. Focus on your breath and send it to your belly, breathing out longer than you breathe in. Spray lavender, or other scents that help you relax, on your pillow. Keep a gratitude journal and write down the things you are grateful for every night before bed. Read a book so you can focus on something other than your thoughts. A good bedtime routine can help prepare you for restful sleep.

5. Repeat A Mantra

Repeat a mantra to yourself to keep your racing thoughts from interfering with your ability to sleep. A mantra can help you get more restful sleep in a couple of ways. It can help you distract yourself from your thoughts, as repeating a mantra in your head can keep your thoughts from taking center stage. A mantra can also offer you something pleasant to focus on. Repeating a phrase such as, I am calm and relaxed and ready for sleep, can help your brain believe that this is true. When your worries and thoughts are keeping you from sleep, a mantra can help you focus on something else.

6. Write It Down

Try writing your worries down. Writing down your thoughts can keep you from ruminating on them. This also helps you utilize logic so catastrophizing doesn’t allow your imagination to run wild. When you write your thoughts down, you can step away from them and revisit them later if you choose. Writing down your thoughts helps you organize them enough to put them on paper. This can be enough to break the negative thought loop. Writing down what is bothering you when you can’t stop thinking about it, can help clear your mind so you can sleep.

Although it might be hard to get to sleep when racing thoughts and anxiety occur at night, with some adjustments, it is still possible. If this is a regular occurrence that is interfering with your ability to function, counseling can help. Practicing the above tips can make a big difference when you can’t sleep due to racing thoughts.