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Overcome Overthinking for Better Sleep

18 October 2022

50% of people aged between 45 and 55 admit to losing sleep because of repetitive thought cycles, which has a negative impact not just on their daily performance, but on their mental health overall.

Overthinking at night is common across all age groups. Whether you’re a teenager worrying about upcoming exams, or a seasoned CEO ruminating over the next financial report - letting your thoughts interrupt your sleep can be detrimental to your to-do list.

Those who sleep suffer performance loss across a number of metrics. They tend to have lower moods and have a harder time getting all of their daily tasks done - which just adds to the late-night thought cycle.

If you are stuck in this rut and want a way out, the good news is that there are a number of proven techniques to help you to stop overthinking and start getting better quality sleep.

Get it out of your head and onto paper

A classic technique. If your head is full of thoughts that are distracting you while you are trying to drift off, the best way to stop them is to transfer your thoughts onto paper.

This is a great technique if you find yourself thinking about things you need to do, rather than random thoughts that may be about anything. The ‘to do’ list is a regular night time visitor for many sleepers. It is often in the quietest of the night that our minds are free to roam undistracted, which means it happens to remember - or remind you - of things you need to do, or have forgotten to do.

These are thoughts like taking the bins out, getting the kids outfits for the next party, making sure to pick up extra bits on your next food shop, sending off that important email to your colleague - the list goes on….and on and on…while the most important thing you really need to do at that moment is sleep.

The best way to combat this is to keep a pen and paper by your bed. Allow your mind to wander for around 30 minutes, and vigilantly jot down any thoughts or ‘to dos’ that pop into your mind.

Once they are on paper, your brain can relax a little and move on to something else. You will be writing down quite a lot at first, but as these thoughts are allowed to leave your mind you will begin to relax and sleep will come easier.


Meditation

Despite being thousands of years old, meditation was considered ‘up and coming’ in the recent new age market - but now everyone is doing it. That is because it has proven time and time again to be an effective way to still the mind in times of high pressure.

And yes, trying to sleep with a racing mind can be a high-pressure situation.

There is nothing worse than knowing you have to wake up at a certain time to do something important - to catch a plane or a train or an important meeting - and fear of missing your alarm stops you from getting the sound slumber you need to start the new day on top.

Meditation is the number one anxiety remover. It works by stilling the mind, observing intrusive thoughts without judgement and helping you become more comfortable with letting some of your thoughts go.

Try meditating just a few minutes before you go to sleep. Usually, meditation is performed sitting upright and crossed-legged, but that is not a strict rule. Meditation can be performed perfectly well lying down, in fact, many prefer it. After lights out, lie in your bed without the intention of falling asleep, but with the intention to meditate. Start with a few minutes, then work your way up to 10 or even 20 minutes. Focus on your breathing and let all disturbing thoughts filter out of your mind.

Beginners may be best starting with a guided meditation to refocus. There are thousands of free guided meditations online for free - a lot of them are specifically for the sleep-deprived.

Read compelling fiction

Reading before bed is a very common tactic for better sleep, however, depending on what you read it can be a hindrance.

If you decide to read non-fiction, or worse - some report or literature from work - then that is going to set your mind off again and the thought cycles maybe even worse.

Instead, opt to read either something boring that you are not particularly interested in or fiction that triggers daydreams.

Fiction that you love can be uplifting, inspiring and positive. That's a great way to end your day. Plus since it is fictional and not in any way related to you or your life, any thoughts you have about the story after you put the book down will be short-lived and not so emotionally triggering.

However, this technique can be tricky if the storyline takes a turn that is relatable to a personal experience. That's why it is important to select titles that are action-packed and fantastical, that take you to other worlds and places that give your mind a break from the daily grind.

Be sure to always read an actual book instead of anything from your phone or laptop to avoid blue lights - which also keep the brain awake at night. If you prefer to read from an electronic device, opt for a kindle or other e-reader that has the blue light filter applied.

Overthinking at night strikes us all at one time or another, but some suffer more often and have lower health outcomes as a consequence. By using one, or all, of the techniques above you can improve your sleep over time and develop some good positive habits that will help you to wake up feeling refreshed and revitalised.