How To Manage Thoughts That Get In The Way Of Sleep

Having trouble falling asleep? Your thoughts may be getting in the way. Anxiety is often characterised by excessive worry and is one of the main culprits interfering with our sleep.
Dr. Lillian Nejad is a clinical psychologist and author based in Australia with 20 years of experience treating adults (18+) with mild to severe psychological issues.
trouble falling asleep
Dr. Lillian Nejad is a clinical psychologist and author based in Australia with 20 years of experience treating adults (18+) with mild to severe psychological issues.

When worry leads to trouble falling asleep — and staying asleep —, you feel fatigued during the day, which makes you feel less capable of dealing with life’s demands resulting in even higher levels of anxiety and stress.

Learn to break the worry–sleep cycle by using the following strategies.

Trouble Falling Asleep: Ways To Get Rid Of The Worrying Thoughts

1. Acceptance

You can expect to lose sleep under certain circumstances, like when you have a big exam, presentation or interview the next day; when you are planning your wedding; when you have a newborn, and when you are dealing with difficult times in your life due to illness or loss. During these times, the best thing to do is accept that you will have trouble falling asleep and lose sleep.

Accepting the reality of your situation takes the pressure off trying to get to sleep and may make your feel more relaxed. And it’s worth noting, if you are able to lie in bed in a relaxed state, it can be almost as restorative as sleeping all night.

2. Contain Your Brain

Worrying is a common occurrence (especially for parents), and part of our normal daily (and often nightly) thought processes.

Bedtime is the most inconvenient time to worry for you, but not for your brain. There are no distractions, you are not multi-tasking, so suddenly our brain says, “Hmmm, it’s nice and quiet, seems like a good time to worry!”

Read more: Worrying at night can lead to feelings of anxiety. Learn about the 54321 grounding technique that helps to anchor your mind in the here and now.

To keep your brain in check, satisfy its need to worry during the day—when and where it suits you most. Use the following three strategies together to contain your brain:

Worry place

Decide where is the best place for you to worry. It should be somewhere you have access to everyday, most likely a room in your house, but not your bedroom. Once you decide where your worry place is, this is the only place you allow yourself to spend significant time to process your worries.

Worry time

Set aside a particular time of day to worry. Be specific, e.g. 10-11am. Discipline yourself to worry only during your worry time in your worry place.

Worry container

Use this strategy to help you contain your worries to your time and place. Clearly, you are going to have worry thoughts pop in your head at all times of the day and night so here is what you do. Carry notecards or post-its and a pen with you and whenever you have a worry, write it down and put it in a container (if you’re out, this may be your wallet or handbag and if you’re at home, you may have a specific worry box or jar that you can put your notecards into). Make sure to keep some notecards and a pen near your bed, for worries that take place before sleep.

By writing down your worry and putting it in a box (or jar or bag), you are literally containing it until your designated worry time. This means your brain can be rest assured (pun intended) that you will attend to this worry when it is appropriate. During your worry time, in your worry place, you can read your worries from your container. You may find that by the time you read them, they are no longer worth worrying about! But if they are, use your worry time effectively by focusing on solutions.

Read more: Writing can help you heal and take back control. Discover the magical benefits of writing that can transform your life.

healthy sleep habits

3. Relaxation

If you feel stressed during the day, this can impact your sleep at night. A state of relaxation is incompatible with tension and there are a variety of ways to achieve a calm mindset before bed like gentle stretching, mindfulness and meditative practices, soothing music and relaxation exercises.

Relaxation exercises, like Progressive Muscle Relaxation, have been shown to be an effective sleeping aid, but don’t stop there. Regular practice (at any time during the day) can reduce your overall levels of stress and eventually help you achieve a relaxed state more quickly and easily.

Read more: Explore how to activate the relaxation response to regulate your stress-levels.

Relax with these popular guided meditations by Dr. Lillian Nejad. Also, discover our free collection of music and meditation for relaxation that calm body and mind.

  1. Mindfulness Of Thoughts As Clouds In The Sky Dr. Lillian Nejad 14:10
  2. Clouds Visualization Dr. Lillian Nejad 10:03
  3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Sleep Dr. Lillian Nejad 15:01

 4. Gratitude

It’s clear that negative pre-sleep cognitions can have a negative impact on sleep; but what about positive thoughts?

It turns out gratitude is related to positive sleeping patterns including decreased time to fall asleep, better sleep quality and duration, and less daytime dysfunction. Not only will a daily focus on gratitude improve your sleep, research shows that a grateful mindset can also increase happiness, life satisfaction and resilience, improve overall health, and reduce anxiety and depression.

So, you can add  starting a gratitude journal to your pre-sleep evening routine. It is as simple as writing down three new things that you are grateful for every night.

Read more: Sometimes writing down things you are grateful for just isn’t enough. Discover how to move beyond the page of your journal and start living a live of gratitude.

In the space of only a few weeks, you’ll find that your mind becomes more naturally attuned to the positive aspects of your life making you more resilient to sleep-blocking thoughts and also giving you the best chance to have a good night’s sleep.

Think well, sleep well.

Explore hundreds of free guided gratitude meditation practices creating awareness for the things and people to be grateful for and leading to contentment.

More guides to improved sleep:

How to fall asleep faster
What causes insomnia?
How to improve the quality of your sleep
What is the best sleep aid?
How to enhance your bedtime routine
Is meditation a solution for sleep apnea?
How to sleep better
Falling asleep with bedtime stories

Meditation. Free.