What Happens When You Cant Sleep Because Your Mind Keeps Racing
You probably know this scenario well
You climb into bed at night but realize you have little hope of falling asleep quickly. Instead, your mind is racing with the thousands of thoughts you didnt have time to think through during the day.
So, you start running through everything thats on your mind from the things you forgot to do to everything on your to-do list for the next day.
Your mind is busy working, but your body is shut down and you have no energy to get up and do anything. Youre stuck in that endless loop where you cant sleep because your mind keeps racing!
This can happen because we dont keep up with managing stress throughout the day.
In fact, this lifestyle habit can be contributing to a number of negative things in your life, such as:
- Being snappy with those around you.
- Feeling frustrated with people around you who arent doing what you ask.
- Struggling with your weight.
- Having trouble finishing tasks, or finishing them with numerous tasks, because you are not as focused.
- Being more susceptible to cold and infections than others that you know.
When we dont manage stress during the day, it can lead to overdrive and prevent us from relaxing. This is why we cant shut our minds off even when its time to rest at night.
As you can imagine, managing this high level of stress is both mentally and physically exhausting. It also takes a toll on our health and leads to an increased risk of disease.
What Causes Racing Thoughts At Night
“Anxious, racing thoughts appear at night because it is often the only time during the day that we are not busy or distracting ourselves,” Dr. Skillicorn says.
In other words, the silence and stillness of bedtime can bring all your worries, fears and concerns about the past and future to the forefront of your mind.
“All the emotions we left unacknowledged and unaddressed during the day can no longer be pushed below the surface,” she says.
Why Do They Happen
Although some think racing thoughts occur only among people with anxiety disorders, this isnt necessarily the case. Again, given the right situation, stress may contribute to racing thoughts for anyone, even those who do not identify as anxious.
You may notice that racing thoughts and insomnia increase in times of high levels of stress. For example, these symptoms are common following a job loss, divorce, moving, or the death of a loved one. In addition, your thoughts may relate to everyday stressors like work, financial, relationship, and health concerns.
No matter the cause, these thoughts can be very disruptive. As a result, you may need to make some intentional changes to resolve them.
Worrying may seem like something that is beyond your control, but in fact, there are some things you can do to manage your worries before bed.
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Get A Bed That Fits You
When you sleep on an uncomfortable mattress, pressure points build up on your body, causing you to toss and turn. A supportive mattress and pillow provide support to the contours of your body and neck, and keep you cool and comfortable for sleep.
For drool-worthy sleep at a price point that wont break the bank, you may want to check out the Casper Original Mattress. Engineered for cool, comfortable sleep, the Casper Original provides targeted layers of support and unique cooling perforations so you can spend less time counting sheep and more time catching Zs.
If youre looking for that sleeping-on-a-cloud experience, the Casper Nova Hybrid may be the right option for you. As our most top rated mattress, the Casper Nova provides sturdy support with a velvety soft top layer so you can sleep worry-free.
Secrets To Getting Your Baby To Sleep Through The Night
6. How are you using your bed?
Leverage the strategy of stimulus control. If you do lots of different things in bed , your body and mind get confused about the purpose of bed. If you have insomnia, its best to only use your bed for sleep. For the same reason, if you cant 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 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.
Note: Some people who cant sleep have a bigger issue, such as generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other medical concerns. If your sleeplessness is extreme or doesnt respond to simple interventions, its important to talk to your doctor about it.
Copyright 2019 Dr. Susan Biali Haas
LinkedIn Image: khuncho007/Shutterstock
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When To Talk To Your Healthcare Provider About Racing Thoughts
Everyone has a sleepless night once in a while, but if you find that your thoughts are keeping you up on a regular basis, it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider. A medical professional can help you evaluate whether any current medications or lifestyle habits are contributing to your insomnia and can also offer some solutions.
Your healthcare provider may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, CBT is a type of therapy in which a mental health professional can help you identify and overcome thought patterns that might be interfering with your shuteye.
Sleep medicationsâeither over-the-counter or prescriptionâare not recommended as a first-line treatment, and they’re not meant to be taken long-term. According to MedlinePlus, your body can become used to over-the-counter medication easily, thus making it ineffective. And prescribed medications, such as Ambien, Sonata, or Lunesta, have a risk for misuse and dependency.
Healthcare providers may suggest medication to help patients get through particularly stressful times but lifestyle remedies and CBT for insomnia should always be tried first.
Maintain A Bedtime Routine
You can create good sleep habits by maintaining a regular sleep schedule. If you can, try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every night even on the weekends.
Try to avoid stimulating activities like watching TV and scrolling social media, Palacios says, because stimulation like TV and our phones can make it even harder to fall asleep.
Also, try to avoid caffeine and nicotine. These are stimulants that can not only make you feel anxious but can also keep you awake.
You can try incorporating things into your routine that help you slow down, such as reading a book or listening to soothing music.
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Write Down Your Worries On Paper
According to Juanita Wells, director of clinical development at New Method Wellness, putting your thoughts down on paper can help us remain accountable to ourselves, our feelings, our purpose, and plan.
Instead of letting thoughts and to-dos swirl around in your brain, write them down so that your brain has a game plan for the following day. Wells says that writing down your anxious feelings, especially through stream-of-consciousness journaling , can help ease anxiety before bed.
In addition to calming pre-bedtime anxiety, research shows that journaling can also help you fall asleep more quickly. To get started journaling, just snuggle up with your notebook and some cozy pillows and let your thoughts take it away.
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.
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.
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. Benjamin Reiss, author of Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World
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Hatch Rest+ Sound Machine And Nightlight
Full disclosure: The Rest+ is technically designed for kids but hear me out. When I used it, it helped me sleep better than it helped my son sleep.
My brother bought it for my son for Christmas and at the time, my son was still sleeping in a bassinet in our room, so I set up the Rest+ near my bed and it didnt take long for me to become dependent on it.
I found the sound machine features incredibly soothing, though other people might find the white noise feature more soothing.
Sound machines can give your brain something for your racing thoughts to focus on and listen to as you lay down to sleep.
The color night light might also be helpful, as you can program it to match your bedtime routine and program the light to slowly dim as you drift off to sleep.
If you prefer not to get a product meant for kids, the company also recently came out with the Hatch Restore aimed at adults specifically. It has many of these same helpful features to create a bedtime routine without any of the baby-focused ones.
Shop for the Hatch Rest+ and Restore.
Here Are 8 Tips To Help You Go Back To Sleep
1. Donât look at the clock. When you get tired of staring at the ceiling or switching sleep positions, itâs tempting to take a peek at the time. Resist the urge to check the clock. Sleep experts agree that watching the minutes pass sets off a worry cycle, keeping your brain more alert and stressing you out. It makes getting back to sleep that much harder. If youâve got a clock on your night table, turn it around .
2. Try a relaxation exercise. There are several different types to choose from. Harneet Walia, MD, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center, suggests progressive muscle relaxation, a meditation-based technique. Starting with your toes and working up to your forehead, tightly tense each of your muscles for five seconds, and then slowly let them relax. Do one leg and one arm at a time, and pay special attention to areas of your body that hold tension, like your jaw and neck.
Integrative health specialist Dr. Andrew Weil recommends a 4-7-8 breathing exercise, which he says serves as a ânatural tranquilizerâ for the nervous system, helping to ease you back to sleep. The goal is to slow down your breathing, which forces the rhythm of your heart to slow as well, relaxing the body and mind. To start, place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth for the exercise. Then:
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Address Your Life Stressors
Some aspects of life are out of our control, and these situations can contribute to heightened stress and anxiety, along with insomnia. But sometimes, experiencing something like racing thoughts before bed can be looked at as a wake-up call to make some life changes to reduce stress.
Maybe its time to leave a toxic job. Maybe you need to address the dysfunction in one of your primary relationships. Feel empowered to make the changes that will allow you to live a healthier, less stressful life.
What If I Still Cant Fall Asleep
If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up, go to another part of your house, and do something soothing, such as reading or listening to quiet music.
Lying awake in bed for too long can create an unhealthy mental connection between your sleeping environment and wakefulness. Instead, you want your bed to conjure thoughts and feelings conducive to sleep.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Nighttime Anxiety
Symptoms of nighttime anxiety take on many forms, as it is experienced differently by everyone. Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, pediatrician and medical consultant for Mom Loves Best, says, Before bedtime is no different than anxiety during the day. The difference is that you may be more aware of anxiety at night as fewer other stimuli are co-occurring.
While sleep anxiety is individual to each person, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Nightmares and night terrors
Another symptom of sleep anxiety is panic attacks. This involves an episode of extreme fear thats characterized by a sense of doom, increased heart rate, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, and a feeling of detachment that could occur before or during sleep. After experiencing a nighttime panic attack, there can be anxiety about getting another attack, making it harder to fall asleep.
Cause Of Racing Thoughts
Racing thoughts most often occur during an anxiety attack, although many different anxiety disorders appear to cause thought racing even when no attack is present.
Each person sees “racing thoughts” differently. One person may not notice a problem, and may simply be distracted by the wonders of life. Others may experience profound stress at their inability to hold a thought.
Not all racing thoughts are anxiety related, but some have secondary relationships. Some of the examples of issues that cause racing thoughts include:
Those with depression may also have racing thoughts during manic stages, and it’s possible that ADHD leads to racing thoughts as well. Only a doctor or psychologist can diagnose if you’re suffering from any of the above disorders.
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Mind Racing Before Sleep Here Are Strategies To Fall Sleep Peacefully
I just cant turn my brain off at night. This is one common complaint among those who struggle with insomnia and others who have difficulty falling asleep. Worrying about daily stressors, like work and finances, counting the minutes that go by, and imagining how tired you will be in the morningit can be an irritating problem.
If your thoughts are keeping you up at night, the trick is to change the unhealthy pattern. We have provided some information on the cause of this problem and strategies to help you find relief from a racing mind at night.
Practice Deep Breathing And Mindfulness
Slow, deep belly breaths send a message of safety to the limbic system, Dr. Skillicorn says. Here’s why: Deep breathing turns off the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to rest, digest and sleep, she explains.
While breathing, notice the belly fill and expand like a balloon as you inhale and contract and deflate as you exhale.
“As you do this, your mind will likely wander â that’s what minds do â but simply acknowledge the thinking and return to the breath again,” Dr. Skillicorn says.
It may be helpful to give the mind another focal point, Dr. Skillicorn adds. You can do this by counting the breaths or just saying to yourself “breathing in” as you inhale and “breathing out” as you exhale, she says.
Similarly, “whispering qigong healing sounds as you exhale like ‘haaaaa’ and ‘heeeee’ can also aid the body in letting go of emotional residue from the day,” Dr. Skillicorn says.
Experiment and see what combination of breathing and sounds works best for you.
Try these six types of breathing exercises that can help reduce stress.
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What Is Anxiety What Are Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a feeling of worry and unease. Its normal to experience anxiety occasionally in response to fearful or stressful situations.
In anxiety disorders, this distress becomes excessive. Fears are not proportional to the situation, and worrying interferes with everyday life. These feelings become persistent, occurring most days for a period of six months or more.
Ways To Stop Racing Thoughts At Night And Get To Sleep
It’s like clockwork: Every night, your head hits the pillow, and your brain starts spinning. Whether you’re wide awake worrying about work, finances, family or something else, this bedtime ruminating routine can ruin your sleep.
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And you’re not alone. A whopping 45 percent of Americans report that stewing in stress sabotages their shut-eye, according to the 2017 âStress in Americaâ survey by the American Psychological Association.
We spoke with Jodie Skillicorn, DO, a holistic psychiatrist and author of âHealing Depression Without Medication: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul,â to learn why anxious thoughts amplify at night and how we can combat them for sounder sleep.
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Treatment Options For Racing Thoughts At Night
If you are experiencing racing thoughts at night, and trying different coping tips dont seem to be helping, it might be time to seek professional help. Seeking counseling or therapy is a great option for dealing with racing thoughts at night and insomnia. Talking to a doctor or psychiatrist about medical options may be a good choice for you too.
Ageing And Disturbed Sleep
Always wondered why your grandmother is up at 5 a.m.? As many as 50% of elderly adults complain about the difficulties of falling asleep or disturbed sleep. It can be aggravated by chronic conditions and some medications, reduced mobility, daytime naps, loneliness, and psychological factors.
TIPMaintaining a healthy sleeping routine and lifestyle is the primary advice for those aging who want to prevent or treat problems with sleep.
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