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How to stop racing thoughts at night

What Are Racing Thoughts?

It’s infuriating…

As soon as you get into bed, and turn the TV off, your mind starts racing, and it becomes very difficult to sleep.

You notice how tired you are and then try to stop thinking about different things, but you have tried all different techniques, like reading before bed, reducing phone activity before bed, and counting but nothing seems to help.

And when you do manage to fall asleep, you wake up many times in the night and your mind will automatically start racing and you can't fall back to sleep.

If you can relate, then you have been a victim of racing thoughts at night.

Racing thoughts are thoughts that keep repeating in your mind until you are unable to fall asleep. It can also have a heavy impact on your ability to concentrate during the day.

Why Do Your Thoughts Race Bombard you at Night?

Unfortunately,  there are a number of contributing factors that can lead to the situation of racing thoughts at night. Some common factors include...

Life Stresses and Transitions That Make you Feel Stuck

Life's stresses and transitions can be difficult for anyone to deal with. Whether you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, changing jobs, a move, or any other life-changing event, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed. 

As such your brain can get pretty active during the day. You’re thinking about your schedule, planning your day, analyzing what happened during the day, and worrying about tomorrow.

And by the time you get into bed at night your subconscious is convinced that it has to take on the mantle. So it starts working through everything that’s happened during the day and trying to put it all into perspective. This contributes heavily to racing thoughts.

When Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Triggers an Overactive mind

Sometimes a condition like OCD may be the root cause of your overactive mind. in this case, it’s not unusual to see a sudden flood of intrusive thoughts. 

These thoughts can range from things like “I am going to fall and hurt myself” to “There is no toilet paper in the house” to “I have not done the dishes in three days”. Some people with this condition may even hear voices, and others feel like their mind is possessed.

If OCD is at the root of your racing mind, then it might be helpful to practice exposure and response prevention to the thoughts. Or even regularly allow the thoughts to flood you. As constant efforts to try to stop these thoughts will lead to an increase in the frequency and intensity of the racing.

When Anxiety and Panic Disorder Produce a racing mind

If anxiety and panic disorder is the root cause of your racing mind, your thoughts will most likely be filled with what-if worries and worries about the symptoms of anxiety. 

In this case, it’s very helpful to develop an anxiety awareness journal so you can start writing down your worries, fears, and worries, or record your anxious thoughts and feelings at the moment.

This helps to ground you by creating a record of your negative thoughts. Writing them down creates a distance from your thoughts which helps to calm your mind.

If your racing thoughts are full of fears about the symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks, then it might be helpful to expose yourself many times to the symptoms you are fearing. Doing this regularly has the surprising effect of calming thoughts like this.

When Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Produces conscious thinking while sleeping

It is not uncommon for conditions like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder to cause conscious thinking while sleeping. Sometimes, this may be as a result of a heavy practice of blocking your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. 

This causes you to have racing thoughts when you sleep, leaving you feeling frustrated, anxious, or angry when you should be sleeping.

It is important to note that we are biologically programmed to process stress during sleep even when you don't block or suppress your thoughts. This is why you are ten times more like to be bombarded by racing thoughts and nightmares that wake you up in the middle of the night. 

In a similar way, sleep also helps us recover and process emotional pain, and that is why if you avoid dealing with pain during the day, you are extremely likely to get bombarded by that pain when you have nothing to distract you at night. 

When Bipolar Disorder Leads to Bad Thoughts at Night Anxiety

Bipolar Disorder can also lead to racing thoughts because of the nature of mania.

Mania is an extreme form of euphoria that can manifest as being so full of energy that you have difficulty sleeping. Mania often begins with elevated feelings of elation or happiness, but may quickly progress into irritability, aggressiveness, impulsivity, risk-taking behaviour, and changes in sleep and appetite.

Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult for the person suffering to detect that the 

symptoms are beginning, but once bipolar has taken hold there is no stopping it. It can affect your ability to perform at work and is a serious health concern.

If you notice any of the symptoms of mania, talk to your doctor immediately. It can be treated and often successfully, but only if it’s diagnosed early.

Agitated Depression and How it Affects Racing Thoughts

Agitated depression is a condition where persistent low mood causes you to worry, obsess and feel irritable about things you can't control. 

It may look like normal tiredness, but the difference is that agitated depression causes you to spend more time thinking about things and feeling sad than sleeping.

Even when you are asleep you find it hard to get to sleep because your brain keeps turning over negative thoughts and worrying.

This problem gets worse at night and in the early hours of the morning when you are more likely to be awake and in bed. You start to worry about things you can't change and can't sleep. And you feel worse.

If you think you have agitated depression, talk to your GP or a cognitive behavioural therapist for advice. There are many things you can do to overcome this.

Book a consultation with Adewale

3 Therapist approved strategies for stopping racing thoughts at night

The better you get at managing your worry, the faster you will be able to fall asleep and sleep longer. There is a whole body of evidence that suggest good worry management skills will help your body fight anxiety.  If we naturally respond to threats by either over engaging in them or avoiding them, we feel increasingly anxious and are more likely to have racing thoughts. To help keep this from happening at night, here are three powerful ways for managing worries.

1. Schedule time to worry.

Find time during the day to intentionally worry about something you are concerned about. This could be something as simple as worrying about an upcoming presentation or a relationship issue. By allowing yourself to worry, you are giving your brain the chance to process that thought and make a decision. The best time to worry is before bedtime, so that you are more likely to fall asleep. As a result, you are less likely to start racing thoughts.

2. Create a “Worry Jar.”

This is a small, designated container where you put the things you worry about. Make sure it’s easily accessible so you are not tempted to take it out to worry. Once a week, open the jar and think about the things you worry about. Then, write those things down in a journal. Over time, you may realize that worrying about the same things won’t affect you as much.

3. Visualize your worries.

If you find yourself thinking about something you worry about, try visualizing the scenario. For example, visualize yourself doing the presentation you’re worried about. Picture yourself in the room and hear the crowd cheering. Or, see yourself with the person you’re worried about. Feel them listening to you. See the future. When you are able to visualize what you are thinking about, your mind is more likely to let go of the racing thoughts.

 

24 Well-tested Power-down routines for When You're Struggling to Wind Down and Relax At Night

You can create a routine to power down your brain. To create a bedtime ritual, you'll need to set aside a specific time each evening to turn off and shut down.

1. Start by scheduling yourself an ideal bedtime to prepare for sleep. For example, Make it clear to your body that the hours from 7 pm to 6 Am will be devoted to sleep.

2. After ensuring you have scheduled a worrying time during the day, practice avoiding any activities or thoughts that make you anxious, such as checking social media. Just focus on your breath.

3. If you know you're going to be stressed for the rest of the day, put on your gym clothes. Take a walk or hit the gym before bed. The workout will help your mind settle.

4. Take a high dose of melatonin. You can get this supplement at most pharmacies, or online. Check the expiration date, though. It shouldn't last longer than six months.

5. Use a humidifier. A cool bedroom will promote deep, restful sleep.

6. If you're having trouble falling asleep, try listening to relaxing music.

7. Don't watch TV. If you've been watching TV during the day, try to not watch TV in the evening. Watching TV sends a message to your brain that it's time to be active.

8. Turn off your phone. This is especially important if you use an iPhone. Research shows that the blue light from smartphones has a negative impact on sleep. The blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm and keeps you awake.

12. if you still can't sleep, Meditate or read a book. The act of focusing on something positive, like your breath, can help your mind relax.

13. Focus on your senses. Close your eyes and tune into the sounds and smells around you. The soothing nature of sound, like crickets or the rain, can help you fall asleep.14. Make sure your room is comfortable. Have a fan to circulate fresh air, and avoid allergens.

15. Drink lots of water. Your body needs water to stay hydrated, to keep you healthy and to help your brain relax.

16. Wear earplugs. Earplugs can reduce the sound of snoring this is great if you are a light sleeper.17. Keep track of your sleeping patterns. What time of day does it seem like you're getting the most sleep? Is there a pattern to when you're tired? Can you use this knowledge to pinpoint the best time to sleep?

18. Use a blackout curtain. Blackout curtains block out light, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm.

19. Soaking in a warm bath. A warm bath can help you relax and induce sleep by increasing the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates the body's sleep-wake cycles.

20. Keep It Positive. Keep your thoughts positive. If you're thinking about your problems, you're going to feel bad and this will keep you awake. Instead, pull up a list of positive words in Google and think about how those positive words relate to you and your life.

21. Keep a Gratitude List. Writing down three things that you are grateful for every night can help you unwind at the end of the day.

22. Focus on breathing. When you are anxious or stressed, you may breathe faster or deeper or hold your breath and tense up a lot.  Learn to control your breathing to calm yourself. Practice counting to 10 to relax your lungs.

23. Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This technique is a series of simple, controlled movements to help you relax. First, tense the muscles in your face, forehead, jaw, and neck. Then relax each muscle group. You can do this in your sleep.

24. Don’t Lie Awake in Bed. If you have been in bed for a while and are still not able to sleep, it is important that you don't just lie there. Instead, get up, go to another room, do some other activity until you feel drowsy and perhaps fall asleep in another room. 

How to succeed at switching off your mind at night


Good news!

It is easy to train the brain over time to let go of worries. However, that is as long as you follow this important principle.

You see, the mistake most people make is to expect to be able to let go of the worry immediately. When you have this expectation, you set yourself up for failure and disappointment. And this is bound to keep you awake all night.

You see, as you start learning to manage your worries, usually what happens is that when you try to focus your mind away from it. Your mind will eventually go back to the same worry again over and over.

When this happens, it is crucial that you don’t get frustrated with the processor yourself.

That is a huge trap!

Instead, it’s better to think of the ability to let worries go like it is a muscle that you are growing over time.

The first step of growing this muscle is noticing that your mind has gone into worry mode, the second step is to employ any of the strategies you have learnt on this page.

And then repeat this process over and over.

When you do this, you will begin to notice that as you grow stronger in your ability to let go of your worries, you will sleep better.

So remember, it is not an overnight process to stop worrying. It is a process that takes practice.

However, the more you practice, the sooner you can expect to make a habit of being able to let go of your worries.

And if you do that, you will become a much happier person, which is great news for anyone who suffers from stress and insomnia.

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa
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