Can’t Sleep, Thinking Too Much? Here’s How to Stop Racing Thoughts at Night
Written by Maisie Bygraves on Aug 04, 2021.
Scientifically fact checked by Nick Witton, Sleep Scientist.
Are you finding it hard to get to sleep because you’re lying awake in bed thinking too much? Are you playing the same old thoughts on repeat each night? And are you thinking about things that are outside of your control?
We can assure you that you’re certainly not alone. Millions of people around the world suffer from the draining effects of racing thoughts at night. Thinking too much at night can not only lead to a bad night’s sleep, but worse still, no sleep at all.
Negative thoughts, stressful schedules and repetitive thinking, all contribute towards racing thoughts at night. It’s no wonder their persistent and intrusive nature interfere so heavily with someone’s sleep schedule.
People who don’t suffer from racing thoughts at night or other sleep disturbances, can often fall asleep within 10-20 minutes, whereas those with a busy mind can take hours.
Sleep.org describes how taking more than an hour to drift off to sleep could indicate (amongst other possibilities) that you’re having trouble relaxing before bed as a result of not being able to “turn off your thoughts at night”.
Luckily though, there are some simple ways to stop racing thoughts and as a result get to sleep more easily and faster. Ready to prioritise and optimise your sleep?
What causes racing thoughts at night?
There are many factors that contribute towards racing thoughts at night. Here are just a few:
Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are the leading contributors to racing thoughts at night. Any stress you take with you to bed will inevitably keep you awake and disturb your night’s sleep.
Stressors such as grief, professional woes and financial and family worries, can steal hours of sleep each week. And research has shown how these missed hours of sleep have resulted in people not being as happy or healthy as they could be. In fact, if they managed to get just an hour to an hour and a half extra sleep each night, they’d feel much healthier and happier.
Struggling to wind down and relax
Failing to relax and wind down before bed can make falling asleep extremely difficult. Wind down techniques such as meditation, a hot bath, reading, optimised lighting and Progressive Muscle Relaxation have been proven to help with length and quality of sleep. But with our modern, hectic lifestyles, it’s no wonder we struggle to wind down each night.
Being preoccupied and distracted
It doesn't have to be a negative stress-related thought that can cause you to miss out on sleep. Having an exciting busy schedule the following day, such as thinking about where to take your friends for lunch, or planning your birthday party, can all distract and preoccupy your mind.
What are racing thoughts a symptom of?
Types of Insomnia
There are different types of insomnia and a range of insomniac disorders, from chronic (over 3 months) to short-term. Insomnia is a medical disorder and normally clinically diagnosed.
Symptoms of sleep onset insomnia and short-term insomnia can include trouble initiating sleep, difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night or too early in the morning, as well as anxiety and constant fatigue. Around 30% of adults experience some mild form of insomnia in their lives.
Racing thoughts stress, anxiety and depression can cause sleep problems such as insomnia and as a result, insomnia can cause the mind to race. This type of repetitive cycle can be damaging for an insomniac sufferer’s sleep and their overall health. It’s a hard trap to escape.
Symptoms of stress include feeling low, lethargic, tired, tense and having trouble falling asleep or insomnia. In the same way racing thoughts can cause sleep problems, stress and racing thoughts follow a similar pattern. The more stressed you are the harder it is to quieten your thoughts and therefore the harder it is to fall asleep. And vice versa.
How to stop racing thoughts at night
To stop racing thoughts at night, you can start winding down at least 2 hours before bed, to alleviate stress and ensure you’re totally relaxed before you go to sleep. You can try listening to white noise, meditating, reading a book or soaking in a warm bath.
There are many relaxation techniques for sleep that you can try to relax your mind, however we’ve picked 4 of the most accessible techniques that you can easily do tonight. Make them your go-to methods to stop your thoughts racing.
1. White noise
Listening to white noise can help stop racing thoughts by giving your brain another focus - a calming distraction. It helps you to fall asleep faster and is often recommended for sleep disorders and insomnia. Listening to white noise is a way to ‘calm’ your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for thought analysis and making choices.
White noise has the same intensity throughout its audible frequency range and helps to distract your brain from other noises that can cause over-stimulation when trying to sleep. Examples of white noise include a fan and static from a TV set.
How to listen to white noise
- Head to your app store.
- Download MyKokoon and follow the instructions.
- Browse our Disrupted Sleep audio.
- Select the 20-minute White Noise track and relax.
2. Soaking in a warm bath
The basic idea of warm-water bathing at night is based on the core body temperature fall that occurs, which signals the pineal gland to signal the production of melatonin.
A warm bath not only gives you time to relax and wind down before bedtime, it can also help you breathe more deeply and slowly. Helping to calm your body and mind and gain control of any racing thoughts. Plus, the warmth of the water can make you feel more sleepy and increases your chances of nodding off sooner.
Studies have shown that bathing a couple of hours before bedtime at around 40°C to 43°C, can help you fall asleep 10 minutes faster than usual.
How to enjoy a warm bath
- Run the bath so it covers your body and ensure it’s warm/cool enough so it feels comfortable to lie in.
- Add any bath salts or calming essential oils, such as lavender.
- Breathe deeply, focus on the warmth of the water, scent of the oils and focus on any positive thoughts.
- Head to bed soon after and drift off to sleep.
Another successful technique to stop repetitive thoughts is meditation. Meditation helps turn negative thoughts into positive ones, whilst encouraging a better night’s sleep. Many studies have shown that meditation increases sleep quality by decreasing ruminative (deep) thoughts and decreasing emotional reactivity - both triggers of racing thoughts.
How to meditate
Start with a guided meditation to help take you through the process, step by step. You’ll find a relaxing guided meditation called Mindful Moments on the MyKokoon app.
- Download MyKokoon and follow the instructions.
- Browse our Meditation audio.
- Lie in bed or some place cosy and select the 18-minute Mindful Moments track. And breathe.
4. Read a book
Although it may seem like a stimulant, reading a book can really help to stop racing thoughts at night. Racing thoughts tend to focus on negative things rather than positive thoughts, so by reading a lighthearted, funny or scientific book, not only does it act as a distraction, but it can also lift your mood and alter your mindset for the better.
A study found that six minutes of reading before bed or during the day can reduce stress by 68%. So, not too much time needs to be invested.
3 Books to read before bed
- Dreamland by David. K. Randall.
- The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez.
- A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French.
Start calming your mind for sleep
If you find it hard to fall asleep because you’re worrying about things outside of your control, then these tips on how to stop racing thoughts at night will be the perfect remedy. By tweaking your wind down routine and introducing small changes such as white noise, a hot bath, meditation and reading before bedtime, you can start to ease racing thoughts before and during sleep.
If you need help masking any external noise during your new wind down routine and whilst you sleep, then it’s time to try our Nightbuds. Nightbuds use noise-masking technology, so any disturbances whilst you’re reading, meditating or tuning into Kokoon’s white noise audio, can be masked. They also monitor your sleep, so you can see how your sleep is improving, night after night.