Having a lot of thoughts is a good thing. A racing mind is an active mind and if you’re the sort of person who thinks at a hundred miles an hour then chances are that you impress your friends, that you have lots of good ideas and that you are going to go far in life – in your career and in your personal life.
However there are times when racing thoughts can be a burden and when you just want to let go and relax. The brain uses energy just like anything else and that means that racing thoughts can actually physically tire you out. At the same time the fact that your thoughts are distracting means that they can cause problems and interfere with other activities. Most notably racing thoughts can prevent you from being able to sleep.
Many of us know the feeling – we just want to go to sleep and nod off, but we can’t for the racing thoughts that are running through our heads. The more we try and switch off, the more different thoughts we have and we are left to just watch as the hours on our clock tick forward and we are no more rested. Everyone else in the world seems to be asleep, but we just can’t switch off. This is bad enough if those racing thoughts are curious or creative, but for many people the problem is even worse and the problems are anxious and stress related. Did I turn everything off? How will [insert name] do tomorrow? What do I want from my life? I don’t know the way to [insert location] so how will I get there tomorrow? These may or may not be legitimate concerns, but if they keep you awake then they are doing more harm than good and they certainly won’t help.
Don’t worry – help is at hand – and there are many ways that you can overcome this problem and for most people one of these strategies at least will work. Read on to try and stop those racing thoughts:
Write Things Down
One great strategy often recommended by psychologists is simply to write things down. This way you have taken any serious concerns you might have and put them onto paper so that you can deal with them in the morning. Often our racing thoughts are a result of things that we worry we are going to forget or eureka moments that we simply must act on right now. Having a diary and a pen by your bed means you can take those thoughts out of your head and come back to them later.
Lock it Up
Another great strategy that is similar is to simply tell yourself and to tell your brain that you are going to come back to those ideas later. One very good way to do this is with some visualization which can really work for your unconscious mind. Imagine your idea, and take it to one side before putting it in a box. Now lock that box up with a key and simply promise yourself you’ll come back to those thoughts tomorrow when it’s appropriate. They are there, safely, but they are out of mind.
Counting sheep is perhaps the oldest trick in the book and it works well because it simply distracts your mind from whatever it is that you’re thinking about. Because we think in words as though we were speaking, you can’t count and have a dialogue. As counting sheep is boring this will then be a sufficient replacement that can send you to sleep.
It of course doesn’t have to be sheep and there are other methods you can use. One is to listen carefully to the sound of your own breathing – or if you live with a partner to listen to the sound of their breathing and try to get yours in sync (not so effective if they snore). Another strategy is to image a point in space where your forehead is and to just concentrate on that.
Believe it or not, all of these different basic strategies such as counting sheep are essentially forms of meditation – ways to control your thinking and clear your mind. So if you learn actual meditation then you can achieve this too and it will be a great tool for getting some respite from all those thoughts during the day as well.
Watch What You Eat
What you eat before bed can have a big impact on how awake you are. Try to avoid carbs in the last few hours before bed and especially and simple carbs which will quickly release sugar and put you on a high. Likewise avoid anything that is difficult to digest such as red meat, and also avoid any stimulants that can cause racing thoughts such as caffeine.
Watch What You Do
Likewise if you exercise just before bed this can be just as counterproductive as eating smarties and drinking coffee as it will raise your heart beat and produce adrenaline. Instead try to spend the last hour or so before bed drinking warm milk (it produces melatonin) and relaxing with a book.
Go to Bed Later
If you are still wide awake when you are going to be then it may just be that you’re not tired enough for sleep. Try going to bed later and also wearing yourself out during the day. Go for long walks in the fresh air or go for a jog during the day, and try waking up earlier in the morning.
It may not be anything you’re doing wrong during the night that is causing you to stay awake, but rather something you’re doing during the day. If you are lying their worrying a lot with racing thoughts then it may just be that you’re stressed and that that stress is spilling over into your sleep time. To combat stress when drifting off then, make sure that you also combat stress while you’re awake. Identify any sources of stress in your waking life and make sure to combat them. Try using meditation and see a psychologist if that might help.
Enjoy the Moment
If you still have racing thoughts though, then it is important not to fight them. Don’t get worked up about the fact that you’re not sleeping as all this will do is get you into even more of a heightened state of arousal. Instead just enjoy an opportunity to lie there and think about things and to feel comfortable and unstressed – simply the fact that you’re relaxing and don’t have to do anything will help to rejuvenate you for tomorrow and as soon as you start to feel relaxed and start to enjoy being in bed – you can be sure that you’ll drift off to sleep.