If you’re someone who struggles to shut your brain off and sleep at night then we have something in common.
In fact, as it turns out, a racing mind appears to be a prevailing factor for people with sleep issues, and especially for those who suffer from insomnia.
We typically spend some time reviewing what’s occurred during the current day, or perhaps overthinking things we need to do the following day.
With that being said, there are even some of us who are unlucky enough to start ruminating about something that happened so far in the past that is a forgotten episode, until the brain decides to bring it up again tonight.
No matter what you’re thinking about, one thing’s for sure, your overactive imagination is stopping you from getting some shut-eye, and you’d literally do anything to shut that brain down.
So, what’s the solution?
I’d like to introduce something that worked for me. Please do read through until the end because I was also a skeptic until I actually tried the methods I’m about to introduce to you.
I’ll give you a clue – it involves a pen and paper, some thinking time beforehand, and definitely no laptop.
1. Schedule in Some Worry Time Earlier in the Day
I have this amazing ability to completely ignore any and every problem I seem to have in my life during the day.
No matter how much I know I should deal with a problem, or if I find that something is consuming my thoughts, I try to shove it to the back of my mind.
I clearly have certain issues when it comes to dealing with whatever’s on my mind, and I’m sure I must be a psychiatrist’s dream.
However, no matter how much I ignored problems during the day, they always seemed to crop up again at night, typically as I was laying in bed and looking to fall asleep.
I don’t know if this is just something that I suffer with, but I’m willing to bet that many other people go through their day in exactly the same way.
After much research (and ignoring the advice that I was often greeted with) I decided to give some time in my day towards my worries.
At first, it all sounded a little weird to me if I’m completely honest.
You want me to do what?
Make an appointment with myself to go through the list of the things I’m worrying about.
Okay, I’ll give it a go.
And I did.
A half-hearted attempt the first few times to be precise, but the practice eventually grew on me, once I gave it a chance.
For the most part, I try to avoid confrontation with others, and if something is worrying me I hardly ever discuss it or talk it out with someone else.
Nevertheless, I am getting better at this, and I understand the benefits of “getting things off your chest” – it really does make you feel better.
So, I started scheduling a “worry appointment” with myself on a nightly basis.
This generally involved sitting by myself for about 20-30 minutes a night with a good old-fashioned pen and paper.
And then I’d write.
Just write whatever came into my mind.
The first few times I tried this, there wasn’t a lot of information coming out on the paper.
It was then that I finally realized that I wasn’t being 100% honest with myself and if I really wanted to see if this would work, I had to be honest.
Some of the things that were on my mind were so insignificant, almost stupid, and yet they managed to keep me awake at night.
- There was the fact that I held a door open for 3 different people to pass through and not one of them thanked me.
- The guy on the train who put his newspaper in my face on 4 occasions this morning, and no matter how many times I huffed-and-puffed and made disapproving sounds and noises, he simply didn’t get the message.
- And what about the fact that I specified no chocolate sprinkles in my coffee this morning for like the 2,776,952 time, and yes, you’ve guessed it, I got chocolate sprinkles (which to be honest I don’t actually mind that much, but that’s not the point).
Yes, all these thoughts would come flooding into my mind the second my head hit the pillow.
Then you can add to this the things that were going on in my mind that did actually matter, or make a difference, and that was it – no sleep for me.
No matter what silly thoughts you’re having throughout the day, schedule a time to get it all down on paper.
I would suggest at least a couple of hours before bed and just list a problem or issue and write about it.
I promise you, there’s something amazingly therapeutic about getting your thoughts down on paper (and remember no-one else ever has to read what you’ve written, so get it all out, no matter how ridiculous it seems).
2. Write About a Time You Were Happy – I mean REALLY Happy
This is actually the opposite to the above – rather than focusing on what’s stressing you out, take yourself into your happy place.
We have so many fond and happy memories, however, in the modern-day-and-age it seems that many of these are stored away on our smartphone’s camera roll, and only see the light of the day on the odd occasion.
For me, I have found that writing about some of my most treasured memories and really going into detail has a fantastic way of calming the mind.
Once again, this is something that you want to do at least an hour or two before bed, but it can help to evoke some wonderful memories, many of which can keep smiling even once you’re under the sheets.
My most common “happy” memories typically revolve around being on holiday and experiencing things I never thought I would.
I remember a time when I was in India and made friends with a guy who rode a rickshaw for a living.
His family came from a small fishing village in between India and Bangladesh.
He invited myself and my friends to come and visit and spend a few days with him. After a little trepidation we took him up on his offer.
What followed was 3 days of living in very basic accommodation, but having the chance to go out on small fishing boats every morning, and experiencing life as I had never seen it.
I still recall fondly our first trip out. We were in a boat that was big enough to carry about 12 of us. Me and my 4 friends, our new rickshaw riding friend, and a few fishermen from the village.
We communicated as best we could, we watched them fish, had a go ourselves, drank together on the boat, cooked a meal of rice and fish on a small, camping gas stove, and shared many stories with each other.
The day was beautiful – 35C temperature, the sun beating down on our faces, the calm breeze off the river just enough to cool us down, and the occasional stop to jump off onto a muddy river bank, stretch our legs, play around, before getting back on the boat, and sailing off down the river once more.
Even now, just writing about this experience once more reminds me of everything that happened that day. I can almost feel the sun, smell the fish cooking, and I feel uplifted remembering how we laughed and joked.
If your brain is overactive and this is causing you problems with sleeping, why not try to see what happy memories you’ve got stored at the back of mind.
Okay, you may not be dealing with your problems as we did in the scenario above, but you are giving your mind something else to think about, and something that is likely to help you remain calm and relaxed.
3. How Grateful Are You?
Gratitude journaling is something that may not be new to you. And once again, this was something that I avoided doing for a very long time.
I’m not quite sure what it is, but all this “getting your feelings down on paper” seemed a bit too strange to me.
It just wasn’t the done thing.
And yet here I am a few years later and I find myself writing on a daily basis.
Writing about the things you are grateful for is much the same as taking yourself off to your happy place, but it also acts as a reminder.
A reminder that we see and experience things every single day that we take for granted.
I mean just the fact that you are here reading this article now means that you have access to the world wide web, you have electricity, you probably have WiFi too, you have the ability to read, and the list could go on.
These are things that I know I take for granted, but then I’m reminded that not everyone has this luxury.
In fact, just thinking about my visit to the fishing village on the east coast of India reminds that the people I met didn’t have half of these things.
By spending some time each day just writing about the things you are grateful for, no matter how trivial or meaningless they may seem, has a wonderful way of lifting the mood.
And in truth, this is what you’re aiming for if you’re trying to shut your brain off at night – a way to take all the stress, anxiety and worry out of your life, and to have something happy and wonderful to focus on.
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Just get into a habit of keeping a gratitude journal.
You could start off with as little as 3-5 things a day that you’re grateful.
Today, so far:
- I am grateful for how my morning cup of tea tasted, it was lovely.
- I am grateful that I felt energized after my morning workout.
- I am grateful that I reminded myself of the trip to the fishing village – great memories.
It’s a simple practice, but one that can pay great dividends once it becomes a regular habit.
There are many reasons why your brain just won’t shut up at night and I’m sure the sleepless nights probably figure quite highly in your thoughts too.
I’m not someone who ever thought that they would spend time writing on a regular basis (just look at me now), but I have found it has had a profound effect.
If you regularly find that by the time you’re going to sleep you can’t seem to get your mind to be quiet, then please at least try one of the above writing exercises.
You don’t need to spend a huge amount of time doing it.
You can get all your worries down on paper, much the same way as you would talk to a friend or loved one about your problems.
You can remember a time when you were really happy and just write about the experience and everything that comes to mind.
Or you could list a few things that you’re grateful for things, perhaps things that you take for granted.
It may not seem like much, but don’t be like me and resist the urge to get your thoughts down on paper.
It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever done to help quieten down my mind and get a good night’s rest.