thoughts keeping you up at night

3 Tips for Sleep when your Thoughts are Getting in the Way

I came up for the idea for this post, ironically, as I found myself lying in bed at 3am thinking about what to write for my next blog post.  After a few minutes of allowing my mind to wander and come up with new ideas for the next BIG smash blog post, I realized that it was only a couple more hours until I needed to get up for work and that now was not the time to be brainstorming. It was keeping me up, and I needed to be well-rested for a day ahead with plenty in store.  There was a better time and place to be thinking, and in bed at 3am was not the time nor place.  I immediately realized that THIS was exactly what I wanted to write about and picked up my phone to jot down a few of my ideas so that I could access what I came up with at a more reasonable time of day.  It took me about 2 minutes to jot down a few ideas.  I then put my phone down, closed my eyes, and drifted off to sleep.

So much of what keeps us up at night – when we’d rather be sleeping – is a brain that won’t shut off.  Stress, to-do lists, and unfinished tasks find their way of creeping up on us when what we really need to be doing is resting.  Although stress and anxiety associated with everything we need to get done in life can get in the way of allowing the brain to shut down, there are a few things we can do when we find ourselves lying in bed awake at night thinking about what we’re going to say in our  morning meeting.

1 – Write it down.  Get a pad of paper or use your phone to write down things that are bothering you, problems that need to be resolved, or things that need to get done.  After you’ve put them on paper, give yourself permission to set them aside for the time being.  I promise, they’ll be there waiting for you when you get up.

2 – Try thought stopping.  Thought stopping is a technique that is more helpful for some than others, but might be worth a shot.  It involves recognizing that a thinking pattern is unproductive and either trying to stop the thought or replacing it with more positive thoughts.  You can imagine yourself putting up a wall between yourself and the unhelpful thoughts or you can simply tell yourself to “STOP”.  Suppressing painful thoughts and memories should not be a long-term strategy or something you utilize as an ongoing way of dealing with problems.  Resolving difficulties by facing them and exploring effective ways of coping with them should be the goal.  But as previously mentioned, there’s a time and a place for that.  It’s okay to put your problems aside temporarily when the moment is not appropriate for dealing with them.

3 – Use imagery. If you find that you’re still having a hard time dealing with distracting thoughts, use imagery to help yourself drift off.  You can do this by using a guided imagery app or podcast on your phone.  If you don’t want to use technology, you can do it on your own by imagining a a calming scene.  Picture yourself on a beach or anywhere in the world you might like to be.  Using sounds like rainfall or waves can also help.  Calm is an app for meditation and mindfulness that provides “Sleep stories, guided meditation, and music” that might help you fall asleep. There are plenty other free apps offering similar services that can be accessed by browsing your phone’s app store.

More importantly, BE PROACTIVE.  The tips I suggested can be helpful when needed in-the-moment, but the best way to prevent ruminating thoughts at night is to deal with them in a healthy and effective way during the day before you even get to bed.  Write your to-do lists in advance, find ways to get better organized, and talk about the things that are bothering you with a supportive family member, friend, or therapist. Decreased stress, anxiety, and worry typically translate to better sleep.

It should also be noted that some issues surrounding difficulty with sleep, such as insomnia, may call for the expertise of a sleep specialist or medical doctor.

Feel free to reach out directly to Joel Schmidt, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the Carrollwood area of Tampa, FL by sending a message or by calling or texting 727-258-5231. 


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