It’s really frustrating when you’re lying in bed, and your thoughts just won’t stop. It might be thoughts about what you need to do tomorrow or thoughts about what went wrong today. Your brain is lit up like a Christmas tree. Your body feels like a firecracker — about to explode with energy and restlessness.
Recently, we shared five tips to reduce or stop racing thoughts – everything from listening to guided meditations to processing the day to setting healthy rules (like not making critical decisions after 9 p.m.). Below you’ll find six more strategies to help.
- Keep a running list of worries. Whether your thoughts are about what you have to do or the problems you’re facing, put them down on paper, your smartphone or computer, said Lisa Wright, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist specializing in sleep medicine and health psychology in Orinda, Calif. Think of this as your “worry log.”Listing our worries gives our minds a break, because we don’t have to keep thinking about them, she said. And it “gives you a place to park the thoughts so you can address them at a more opportune time.”
- Schedule a time for your worrying. Schedule a time each day (hours before bedtime) to think about your worries, and problem solve for no longer than 30 minutes, Wright said. In fact, she suggested setting a timer and finding a quiet place to sit without any interruptions. You can use your worry log, and write down any other concerns that arise, she said.“You may also want to categorize your worries by content area; by problems you have control over versus those you don’t; or by ‘big concerns, medium concerns, small concerns.’”
If you have worrisome thoughts outside this time, jot them down in your log, and address them during your next worry session, she said.
- Remember that worry is ineffective.Worrying can become a kind of trap: We start to think that we’re making strides toward solving a problem by worrying about it. However, “Our problem solving abilities actually decrease the more we worry or ruminate about a problem,” Wright said. (See this study and this one.)“This may be even more common when we are focusing on a larger problem that we may not be able to solve immediately or may not be solvable at all.”
To help Wright suggested looking at which parts of a problem we have control over and which parts we don’t. Because then you can take action on what you can control, and you can accept what you can’t control. Acceptance also might include writing about your feelings about the situation and seeking support, she said.
- Adjust your perspective about a situation’s significance. “We act as though everything we are going through deserves to be focused on, and heavily. We unfairly give value to things that might not actually matter that much,” said Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, a counseling psychologist in Chandler, Ariz., who works with individuals, couples and families.For instance, we might experience the same amount of distress over not getting a “like” on Facebook, having a dent in our bumper, having the flu and getting audited, she said.
“We need a gauge that allows us to assess just how much distress a moment deserves or doesn’t deserve.” When we consider a circumstance’s worth, we might realize that most things are more of a “bummer” than a catastrophe or the end of the world, she said.
- Create a buffer zone. “None of us can go from being busy and on the go to sleep instantly,” Wright said. We need time for our bodies to relax and actually get sleepy, she said. This is why it’s so helpful to have a bedtime routine. As part of your routine, include relaxing activities, such as reading and listening to calming music, she said.
- Find a trained professional. If you think you need more help with sleep or insomnia, Wright suggested finding a psychologist who’s trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). “Research has shown that it is as efficacious as sleep medication in the short-term and has more durable long-term effects after treatment ends.”CBT-I is a short-term therapy that helps you shift the thoughts, feelings and expectations that impede your sleep. It also helps you develop science-based sleeping habits. “[T]he goal [of CBT-I] is to help you fall asleep, stay asleep and improve your daytime functioning as a result of better sleep at night.”
Wright noted that people who’ve struggled with insomnia for years improve their sleep in six sessions.
When you’re struggling with racing thoughts, it feels like they’ll never stop. Your thoughts might shorten your sleep or even keep you up all night. The good news is that by practicing different strategies, you can reduce your racing thoughts and improve your sleep.
Sleepless man photo available from Shutterstock