3 Things to Do When You Can’t Fall Asleep Because You’re Overthinking…Everything

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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What better time to start fixating on your biggest worries than 11 p.m. when you’re trying to fall asleep? As soon as your head hits the pillow, maybe you start dwelling on an unresolved argument with your partner or keep replaying that awkward thing you said to your boss. Or perhaps you’re anxious about the future, obsessing about tomorrow’s schedule, or haunted by existential dread.

No matter the specifics, ruminating on negative experiences can keep you wide awake, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, sleep researcher and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, tells SELF. That’s because “focusing on things that are stressful might spike your cortisol [the stress hormone] or blood pressure,” Dr. Robbins says. Basically, when you have anxious thoughts, even if you’re safe and snuggled up in bed, your body can go into high-alert mode, making it impossible to relax, as SELF previously reported.

That doesn’t mean you’re destined for a night of tossing and turning, though. Below, Dr. Robbins shares her top three strategies for quieting your mind when you start overthinking at bedtime.

If you’re worrying about stuff you have to do the next day, write it down.

Maybe you can’t stop thinking about finishing that project, responding to those emails, and preparing for a presentation by the end of the day tomorrow. Or you suddenly realize that you forgot to do laundry and get groceries—so now you’re trying to work out how you can possibly fit those extra chores into your hectic morning schedule.

“Sometimes our to-do lists can keep us awake,” Dr. Robbins says. When looming tasks are weighing on your mind, she suggests putting them on paper to get them out of your head. This might sound counterintuitive (Won’t writing out my worries make me focus on them more?), but one study published in 2017 suggests that jotting down the stuff you need to do can decrease anxiety and help you fall asleep faster.

There isn’t much research on why, exactly, this works, but Dr. Robbins has a couple theories. For one, taking a few minutes (time you would have spent ruminating anyway) to organize your scattered thoughts in a notebook (or your phone’s notes app) might help you realize your schedule isn’t as daunting as it seemed. Plus, listing tomorrow’s tasks may signal your mind to stop worrying now that there’s a concrete plan in place, she adds. (The study above found that the longer the list, the quicker participants dozed off, so try to get specific.)

Count your blessings instead of sheep.

Writing down (or even just mentally noting) what you’re thankful for—like your health, your loved ones, or even small things, like achieving a PR on your morning three-mile run or receiving a compliment about your hair from that random person at Starbucks—can also halt bedtime overthinking, Dr. Robbins says. In the moment, this exercise can interrupt your stressful thoughts with more calming ones, which can shift your focus and help you relax, she explains. And regularly practicing gratitude has also been shown to decrease rumination and worry and increase sleep quality.

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