Tips to Calm a Restless Mind at Night

How to turn off racing thoughts and invite sleep.

Sleeping newborn baby.

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There’s nothing better than a good night's sleep. But many people have experienced sleepless nights of tossing and turning and getting a full night of restful sleep is elusive for many adults. 

Sometimes people have racing thoughts that flash across their minds. Those racing thoughts are often a sign that work needs to be done. If you are being kept up by worries and repetitive thoughts, it is a red flag that these issues must be dealt with, according to Verywell Health

Here are ways to slow down those thoughts to return to a sound and restorative sleep.

Cut the fuel from racing thoughts

Dealing with your worries before bed may calm the mind and enable you to drift off to sleep. One way to address your stress before bed is to schedule your worry time during the day.

Look at the issue and name the stress. This can often release the stress from your mind, and if this worrisome thought races back at night, simply remind it that you will address the issue during scheduled worry time the next day.

Scheduling worry time earlier in the day may lessen stress and enable sleep.

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Make calm time before bed

Another approach, recommended by Mindful, is to set aside time before bed to let your mind race. This time is then followed by calm time, which could be meditation or journaling. Other ideas include reading, stretching, having a bath, prayer, and listening to music, as recommended by Verywell Health.

One effective solution is keeping a notepad beside your bed, as suggested by Live Strong. Think about what is bothering you. Writing down worries before you try to sleep is a way of releasing them. And if you wake up in the middle of the night with a nagging thought or something you need to do, write it down and your brain will let it go.

Or, keep a gratitude journal. When you focus on the great things in your life before you try to sleep, those worries will recede far into the background.

Keeping a gratitude journal before bed can welcome sleep.

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Sleep tips for waking in the middle of the night

If you do wake up at night with racing thoughts and feelings of stress, there are other tools that may restore sleep, as recommended by psychologist Dr. Margaret DeLong on her website. She suggests imagining clouds moving or balloons flying in the sky. As a thought pops into your mind, attach it to the cloud or balloon, then watch it drift off. Resting your thoughts on this imaginative process will also help deflect your focus.

Another helpful tip is to shift your focus to your senses; feel the sheets on your bed and listen to sounds in the house or on the street to distract your thoughts. DeLong also suggests relaxing muscles throughout your body. Start with your face, tensing and relaxing your forehead, lips, and jaw. Tense them for five seconds, then relax for a count of five. Move down through your body until you reach your toes, or sleep, whichever comes first.

Doing breathing exercises that activate the vagus nerve also help to calm a racing mind at night, according to Mindful. Connecting with the vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic system, restoring calm to the body. Simply breathing in deeply to a count of four, then breathing out for a count of eight will switch off your worried, racing, sympathetic nervous system.

Prepare for calm before you sleep and incorporate some of these exercises into your night-time routine. Be kind to yourself. If you cannot sleep, so be it. Do not make this another reason to worry. Focus on the present, and on your breathing, and have gratitude for each and every inhale. Sleep and a calm, blissful mind are sweet and gentle companions.

Practicing breathing before bedtime.

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