Can’t sleep? How to avoid overthinking at night

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Reclaim your sleep with these top tips from a leading psychologist and mindfulness expert.

By Becky Fletcher

We’ve all had those nights when we just can’t switch off. If catastrophic and anxiety-inducing thoughts keep running through your head, it can be hard to get to sleep. Before you know it, it’s 1am and you’re wondering how many hours left until your alarm goes off.

Overthinking at night keeps us awake and stop us from getting the sleep we need to feel refreshed and energised for the day ahead, but what causes it? We speak to therapist and SIMBA resident psychologist Hope Bastine, about why we overthink at night and, more importantly, how to stop it:

Why do we overthink at night?

Overthinking at night is largely down to the brain processing what has happened to us during the day. Because our days are now filled with so much and we’re taking in more information, we don’t have the gaps to process our thoughts throughout the day.

Overthinking at night is largely down to the brain processing what has happened to us during the day.

‘We don’t have the time and space during the day to process what’s happened and to evaluate and make sense of it. Sometimes the only time we get to do that is when we’re in bed,’ says Bastine. ‘A lot of people tell me that as soon as they’re in bed, all their thoughts start rolling around in their head – it’s a blizzard and they’re suddenly remembering all the things that they should have done.’

The rise in technology

Gadgets could also play a part in our inability to fall of to sleep. ‘Technology activities the beta brainwave state that is present when we’re alert, attentive, engaged in problem solving, decision-making and engaged mental activity, etc. and can be anxiety-provoking,’ explains Bastine.

Moral of the story? Ditch the phone, the tablet and laptop a while before bed.

How to stop overthinking at night

If you can’t switch off and struggle to fall asleep, or you wake up a lot in the night with negative or persistent thoughts, help is at hand. Being able to sleep better could be as simple as leaving an hour before bed to relax.

✅ Make time for a wind-down

Having a ritual of at least an hour to relax before you actually plan to go to bed is really important.

‘Whether you’ve got in from a gym workout or a late night in the office, you still need that wind-down time to process your day. This time allows you to activate the alpha brainwave state,’ says Bastine. ‘If you don’t have time to have a full hour, then just pick two of your favourite things you do to relax and switch-off. For me it’s making some herbal tea, lighting a candle, sitting and meditating.’

Having a ritual of relaxing before you actually plan to go to bed is really important.

Bastine says this pre-bed ritual needs to happen regularly. ‘We’re habit-forming creatures – so association, repetition and routine is the language of the brain.’

✅ Chat your thoughts away

A really good way to stop overthinking at night is to chat things through with a partner, family member or friend. ‘It’s one of my top recommendations,’ says Bastine. ‘Have mindful communication – a genuine heart to heart, connected and meaningful conversation. Not “what I did today”. It’s not about even trying to fix problems, it’s just speaking, hearing and listening.’

Bastine explains that it’s a great technique to help process the day and the added connection to someone allows you to feel happier overall.

‘We work so hard, so when we come home tired and don’t get time to appreciate what we’re working hard for, we become resentful and negative. That connection starts to stimulate the oxytocin release, which activates the arousal state that might actually lead to some quality sex and a good orgasm that, in turn, could improve your sleep…’

✅ Try journal writing

If you haven’t got anyone to chat to – or just prefer to write than have a conversation with someone about your thoughts – try journal writing.

‘If you’re writing negative thoughts, just be conscious of what you’re doing,’ advises Bastine. ‘Set the intentions and close that book, so you say goodbye to those thoughts. Don’t put it on the bedside table, but in the drawer out of sight, and out of mind. If that works for you, by all means do it.’

If you haven’t got anyone to chat to, try journal writing.

However, it’s also a good to balance this with positivity. For example, you could try: ‘writing down three things that went well during the day or three things that you’re grateful for. It can be simple, such as spending time with your child or the sun that hit your face first thing in the morning.’

✅ Don’t block your thoughts

If you can’t sleep and your mind is on overdrive, you might try to block the negativity running through your mind, but this could be doing you a disservice.

‘Blocking thoughts is kind of a taboo in meditation and mindfulness, because our distress comes from the resistance to the unpleasant and the clinging to the pleasant and our fear of losing something,’ says Bastine. ‘When we accept the law of impermanence and appreciate that everything passes including both the pleasant and unpleasant, that is they key to happiness.’

Net Doctor

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