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How to Stop Thinking While Sleeping: A Complete Guide

Nowadays our everyday life’s makes us stressed, we are constantly worried and have lot of trouble when it comes to our problems. We tend to overthink, especially when we have a non-occupied time like when we are in bed trying to sleep resulting in insomnia and worsen anxiety. These are the times we spend overthinking about our days and we struggle when it comes to sleeping resulting in restless nights.

Sometimes it is impossible to shut out brains down and have a good night of sleep, your mind is always going around reviewing what happened during the day, and sometimes it gets worst and you start revising older memories, specially the ones that make you embarrassed from the past.

If you are constantly having this racing thoughts on your mind you might suffer from mental health conditions (like anxiety). These episodes can happen to everyone from time to time and don’t necessarily mean you have a mental condition, sometimes you are having a tough time that will soon pass.

Every case is a one, so some methods may not work with you and you might have to try more than one until you find the right one to help you sleep better.

In this article we offer you a complete guide to stop thinking while sleeping, allowing you to have better nights and rest.

1. Thinking While Sleeping Is A Growing Problem

Our brains are complex machines, they are the center of all the activity on our bodies. They never stop working 24/7, thus only this way we can keep alive. The information is constantly being processed and every small disturbance can have an enormous consequence for your body.

Studies have shown that about 35% of adults have “poor” or “fair” sleep (rated by themselves) and about 25% report they don’t wake up feeling refreshed during the last week. This data has made specialists to consider that insufficient sleeping is a health epidemic.

Anxiety is one of the main causes of thinking while sleeping and a growing problem in nowadays society. This condition is defined by the state of uneasiness and apprehension about future life, choices and changes, result of an anticipation of realist or fantasized threats, events of situations that affect physical and psychological health. People who overthink while sleeping are usually too anxious about their life’s and are constantly concerned about future events.

2. Health Conditions That Cause Sleeping Disorders

Besides stress there are many sleep health conditions that make people struggling in getting a good night of sleep. There are a few diseases that can range from common to rare.

Insomnia is the most common health condition that causes sleeping disorder, it is caused by elevated levels of stress, medication, anxiety, depression and/or drugs and alcohol abuse. This condition makes falling asleep harder, it can happen once it a while but if it happens repeatedly it might be a chronic situation and need psychiatric assistance. It can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication. About one third of the population suffers from insomnia.

Sleep apnea is caused by a partial blockage of the throat that cause stop breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. This condition causes snoring (therefore most people find out the have sleep apnea because their relatives tell them about it), sleepiness during daytime, morning headaches and feeling constantly tired. Sleep apnea can be treated using CPAP (acronym for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine that keeps the person’s throat open and gives a steady stream of air, there are also other treatments that can be performed but don’t have results as good. About 1 in every 5 adults suffers from some form of sleep apnea.

Restless leg syndrome is a disease that specialists aren’t sure about the causes, some think that this is a hereditary condition, others say that the main cause is the use of some medication. This condition is frequently observed in pregnant women, making doctors wonder if it has any sort of hormonal cause. It is characterized by an urge need to move the limbs (mainly the legs), occurring mostly during periods of rest getting people to move or kick hundreds of times during one single night. Specialists recommend doing regular exercise and reduce or eliminate the consumption of caffeine and alcohol, in severe cases medication can be prescribed to help getting less symptoms. About 10% of the world population suffers from this condition and it is most common in women.

REM sleep behavior disorder is another medical condition that causes trouble in falling asleep in some people. REM (Rapid Eyes Movement) is a mechanism that prevents motor movement while sleeping, when suffering from this disorder this mechanism doesn’t work as it should. People usually suffer from sudden and intense movements when they are trying to fall asleep, it is common observe patients to fall out from bed, trash in or even tackle other furniture without noticing. Since it is a rare condition (about 1% of the world population suffers from it) the only known treatment is medication, but it should always be advised by a doctor.

You probably know someone who is (or used to be) sleepwalking. This condition can have many causes, but it can be caused by lack of sleep or inefficient sleep, some medications or illness can also cause it to happen. Sleepwalkers walk while sleeping, some even perform their regular daytime activities while sleeping and go back to bed, other times they wake up in the middle of something they don’t even know they were doing, this results in a poor resting and people often feel tired the days after. No one knows an efficient treatment, but doctors recommend reduce the liquid intake near bedtime and sleep in a quiet environment. Maintaining a regular sleep seclude can also be a solution to prevent these attacks. This condition is most common in children and no one has a reason to explain this. Some scientists affirm that it is related with the brain development, specially the differentiation between distinct levels of sleep (light and deep levels) and kids end up falling in a limbo that makes the sleepwalk.

Probably you are only too stressed on your daily life, which leaves you struggling with getting enough rest. It is hard to be productive when you don’t rest enough, and this causes more stress and anxiety. Therefore, we leave you some tips on how to try to stop thinking while sleeping.

3. Methods To Stop Thinking While Sleeping

Thinking while sleeping is a huge struggle. People can’t rest as much as they need and end up lowering their productivity in everyday activities. It is hard to deal with problems in getting to sleep since people aren’t aware of the causes and how they can treat them naturally. There are some minor changes in your everyday routine that can make a difference when it comes to rest.

Have Some Rest From Daily Stress And Calm Your Mind Down

One of the main problems of people who can’t stop thinking while sleeping is having an overactive mind. Being creative and active is usually awesome during work time and during boring tasks but at night it can be a huge struggle when trying to sleep.

Nowadays everyday life is stressful, time never seems to be enough to get everything we need to be done. To accomplish the set goals most people, arrange a way to make the most possible of the time they have left to finish housework, schoolwork, job tasks that ca be taken home, manage finances and other. This way most tasks are accomplished in the time needed but people struggle and end up working until they get to bed. This wouldn’t be a problem is people could easily fall asleep after an extended period of work, our minds need to be set to rest and sleep. To allow this to happen you must always take 1 hour before going to bed to relax, read, watch a movie, do something that makes you relaxed and comfortable, this way your brain will naturally start the process of shutting down and give a night of rest. Also, try to avoid high intensity lights and keep screens away from you (tablets, phone, computer, tv) since they can mistake your brain in thinking that it is still daytime and it’s not time to rest yet. Try to look for a way to relax to allow your brain to start the shutting down process naturally.

Therefore, we present you methods to calm your mind down and getting better sleep.

1. Establish a pre-sleeping routine

The ones familiar with this problem struggle with calming down their imagination when it comes to the time of falling asleep. Due to our active lifestyles, our brains are active every day until bed time, the problem is that our brains need to shut down to allow sleeping conveniently. To begin this process, you should have a pre-sleep routine, this will help your body to know that is time to rest from all those energy consuming activities. To get better results, your routine should start about 30 minutes (or more) before going to sleep and should include one (or more) activities that help relax, this can include reading, doing yoga, listening to relaxing music or watch a light show. Although we recommend you avoid using screens on this process of pre-sleeping, since they put your brain on an “active” mood, making it difficult to you to fall asleep.

2. There is a lot in your mind? Write it down

Besides being a great method to fight anxiety, writing down what is on your mind before going to bed can calm down your brain. Get a notebook, keep it by your bed and write down all your thoughts on that journal, concerns, fears, activities that need to be done, etc. Write every single detail that is concerning you, only this way you’ll get to empty your head before going to sleep. As soon as you get your mind free of negative thoughts it’ll be easier for you to fall asleep.

3. Breath out of your left nostril

This might seem a little weird but breathing only from your left nostril can help relaxing your sympathetic nervous system, calming your mind and imagination, easing the process of falling asleep. To perform this method, you should close your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand, then take a slow deep breath trough your left nostril; Hold and exhale, repeating this process to release tension from your body and calming your mind at the same time.

4. Take some time reading

Reading is considered a relaxing activity since it can help the body to relax and therefore getting your brain started to get some rest. But you have to be careful, some books can get your mind racing due to their stories, so we recommend you reading something fun, soothing or something you have already read.

5. Try to meditate

Meditation can calm your mind and your body but only if it is done right. We recommend you concentrate in each breath, doing it slowly, this way you’ll slow your heart rate, calming yourself. Enjoy your meditation process by cleaning your head of all your worries and thoughts and consequently relaxing your muscles. After meditating you’ll sleep better and rest.

6. Listen to relaxing music

If you can’t keep your imagination down try to listen to some calm music, this way your brain will stay focused on the music and distract from other thoughts. Try to listen instrumental music at low volume for having better results.

7. Don’t try too hard

If you are trying different methods and still thing you are not getting the results you need trey to relax and don’t try so hard. Sometimes the excessive trying with no results will get you frustrated and worsen insomnia. If you see that on method doesn’t work for you try another one. Always look for different approaches until you find the perfect one for you. If none of them work maybe you have a health condition and you should look for the help of a specialist.

Focus On Mental Imagery

Since early age you might have been told to count sheep when struggling to sleep, you might think that is completely useless and a waste of time but, truth to be told, when you focus on something different of what is concerning you, it might help you forgetting about it for a period enough to get you to sleep. Some specialists recommend picturing repetitions of simple words like “the” in your head, the constant repetition of the letters and sounds with time slows down your brain, reducing the extreme activity that is giving you trouble in sleeping. There are many ways to use your imagination at your favor when you need to stop thinking while sleeping.

1. Visualize

When having an over imaginative mind you should take advantage of it to avoiding excessive thinking while sleeping. Try to imagine a relaxing scene like you are a leaf being transported by a soft breeze or that you are sinking into a soft cloud. Imagining relaxing scenes can help you getting your mind distracted from problems and emotional thoughts.

2. Counting something

You might have been listening since you were young that counting sheep could be an uncomplicated way to help you fall asleep since engaging the mind in repetitive mental exercises can calm your brain and consequently calm your imagination.

3. Alphabetize

One uncomplicated way to use your imagination to calm your body is doing one mental exercise that distracts your brain and promote sleeping; for example: go through the alphabet and think of items for each letter.

4. Picture something

Try to focus on a specific object, imagine the color, shape, size, how every size looks and its use. You can also try to imagine a scene, imagine that you are walking or riding a bike, imagine the road, the place, streets, houses, etc. The more details you think of, the better it’ll be for you.

5. Recite quotes, poems and/or lyrics

Another good mental exercise to distract your imagination is reciting the lyrics of your favorite songs or quoting one of your favorite movies. Repeating this process makes your brain focus on something repetitive will calm you down and help you sleep.

6. Create stories in your mind

Imagining a story is an effective way of keeping your mind occupied; Imagine a character and tell a story in your mind and focus on the details: what is your character wearing? What does he/she look like? How is the room around? Etc. If you are having trouble thinking in a character you can picture yourself in a different situation that relaxes you.

Relax Your Body

When the body is relaxed it is easier to fall asleep, the tension goes away, and you feel comfortable enough to have some rest. Sometimes the problem might be excessive stress on your body that is giving you a tough time in getting to sleep. Thus, relaxing your body could be a way of solving your problem:

1. Lower the temperature of your body

One of the main reasons you can’t sleep is that your body temperature is too high, so one way to promote sleeping is by lowering it. You can both lower the room temperature or remove a blanket to help cooling. The ideal room temperature is between 15 and 25 Celsius (about 60 to 75 Fahrenheit).

2. Have a warm bath

If your bedroom is at the recommended temperature, you should take a bath to rise your body temperature so that when you enter your room the temperature of your body lowers, consequently decreasing the metabolic activity and you become sleepy. You can also use aromatherapy when showering, using products with scents like lavender or chamomile that have calming properties.

3. Exercise

Exercise is great for you, it improves your health, gives you muscular strength, prevent diseases and tires your mind and body, giving a better night of sleep. Try to exercise about 3 hours before going to bed.

4. Take a deep breath

Deep breathing is a powerful distraction technique, especially when associated with counting. Take more time to breath out than to breath in, also take a pause between breaths. Taking deep breaths can calm you down, so we recommend you sit straight on the floor before going to bed with the lights off. Then inhale through nose with your mouth closed counting until four, hold your breath and count until 7. Exhale at 8. Repeat this process at least for four times. Focus on breathing and counting, this way you’ll clean your mind and relax. This exercise should be done for at least 10 minutes.

5. Drink tea

Some plants have calming properties, becoming a great option for those who struggle when they need to sleep. Having chamomile, valerian or lavender tea could help you falling asleep easier. But you shouldn’t add sugar to your beverage, since it can make you stay awake.

6. Get more sun during the day

This may sound contradictory but the more sun you get, the better you’ll sleep. You don’t believe? The sun exposure helps your brain to adjust its internal clock, helping you falling asleep easier at night. This technique is used by professional athletes to assure good performances when they need to travel and compete in foreign countries, they try to get as much sun exposure possible in the morning to prevent the effects of jet-lag. You might not be a professional athlete, but you can use their tricks and techniques to have a good night of sleep. Try to get as much exposure of natural light in the morning as you can, this will prepare your body to rest later.

Remove Any Disturbance From Your Surroundings

The environment where you sleep is one of the main responsible for your ability of getting some rest or not. Therefore, you should be concerned about some details that can be determinant for being able to rest. Also, some small every day habits change can make an enormous difference:

1. Reduce the light intensity

Excessive light makes your body awake, breaking the natural circadian rhythm (the biological process that displays an endogenous, entertainable oscillation of 24 hours). Besides the light from the room, this also includes the lights from electronics (computers, tablets, phones, television) since they confuse your brain and make your mind work excessively. About 1 hour before going to bed you should avoid all these devices so your body can start producing melatonin. Besides, the color of the lights can influence your brain activity: switch for red lights since blue tones are related to energy and attentiveness. If you can’t avoid lights you can always wear eye masks.

2. Reduce caffeine intake

Most people take coffee to keep awake for extended periods of time to make sure they have enough energy to complete their tasks. So, we recommend limiting the intake of coffee, since it is rich in caffeine (a strong stimulant) during the day. Also, some teas (like black tea) are also rich in caffeine and you should avoid having them by bedtime.

3. Go to bed only when you feel real tired

Other reason people keep up at night is because the go to bed when they don’t feel tired enough. Going to bed when you don’t need to sleep is going to result in a constant toss and turn while your mind is keep going. If you take more than 20 minutes to fall asleep you should get up and try to relax before going to bed.

4. Use and recognize the bed only as a place to sleep

If you can’t fall asleep, instead of toss and turn you should get up so your body doesn’t recognize the bed as a place to be awake.

Screen Your Concerns: Decide If They Are Really To Bother With

Being worried usually is associated with motivation to complete tasks or getting important things finished in time, it is always associated with our productivity. Being worried about our productivity is adaptive, this means that if we are worried about getting something done or finished we try to follow all the steps to solve or get done what is worrying us. But, sometimes you can be worried, but you have an unproductive worry, which means you are worried that you aren’t getting things done but you aren’t doing (or at that moment, can’t be doing) anything to change it, you are still not producing enough. By this we mean that being worried at night for something that you should be doing during the day isn’t changing anything, in fact, not getting enough sleep will decrease your productivity and you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of excessive worrying and the inability of getting things done. To help reduce these situations we recommend you to get “To-Do lists” with everything that you should be getting done and in what time they should be done, this way you get all your work organized, reducing the stress and pressure that you have on you, helping you getting a better sleep at night and ending the vicious cycle of don’t getting things done because you don’t rest enough thinking on everything you need to be doing during the day.

To do this sit comfortably with a piece of paper, fold it is half and write in one of the halves “Tasks and Worries” and on the other “Solutions”. Write all your tasks and worries down and prioritize them by ordering them from the most to the least important. Next on the “Solutions” column you should write down the solution to solve the problem quickly. Once you start getting your life organized, you’ll end up having more free time, being more stress free and will eventually start sleeping better. In the beginning it might be hard to interiorize the order that you should get your things done to get your life together, so we recommend you keeping the paper close to your bed, so every time you start overthinking about your next day tasks you can re-read it and interiorize that you have everything under control and over worrying at night won’t change a thing. It might take you a little time to get this practice done correctly but once mastered you’ll see an extreme change in your sleep and in your everyday life.

Don’t Take Your Worries To Bed With You

When you lay yourself in bed with your mind working like crazy your body won’t be able to rest. If you are laid in bed and you can’t sleep for more than 20 minutes you should get up immediately because if you don’t you’ll stay laid down and constantly looking at the clock. If you can’t fall asleep in about 20 minutes it means that your brain is still active, leading you to a struggle in falling asleep. In this situation you should always get up, move into a different room in a dim light, do something quiet that relaxes you. Regardless of the time it is, getting up and out of bed can be helpful stopping those thoughts that are giving you trouble sleeping.

4. What To Do If Everything Else Fails? When Should I See A Specialist?

If you have tried every single one of our suggestions and you still can’t stop thinking while sleeping, you should look out for a specialist in behavioral sleep medicine. These doctors are trained to help diagnosing and treating sleeping issues.

Although these techniques have reliable results in most people, our brains are complex systems and you might need some adjustments or some extra help. Some people might think that taking sedatives is an effective way to get some sleep, they couldn’t be more wrong. This medication is bad for the normal brain function. Also, benzodiazepines like lorazepam, alprazolam, diazepam and temazepam (commercial names are Ativan, Xanax, Valium and Restoril) are drugs known for being habit-forming. This means that once you get used to take them it will be hard to get to sleep better again without any medication. Although it is possible.

If you have tried all source of remedies to relax and have a good night of sleep and didn’t get any positive results you should look out for the help of professionals. They will analyze your case and try to reach the cause of your problem, giving you the treatment that is right for your condition. Avoid self-medicating, always seek for the help of professionals.

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Regards, Sophia
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