Programme: How to sleep better

4. When your Thoughts Invade your Sleep

So, it’s finally time for bed. But as soon as you climb under the covers, the stream of worries begins. Does this sound familiar to you? You start to think about that tricky project at work, the discussion you had today that could have gone better, worries about your relationship or concerns about your loved-ones. One thought triggers the next and before you know it, you are overwhelmed by an unstoppable stream of thoughts and worries. You may also find that when you wake up the next morning, the worries you were so consumed by the night before don’t seem quite so severe in the light of day. 

There is a good reason for that! A lot is going on in your body while it is settling down to go to sleep. The area of your brain which regulates emotions and thoughts becomes less active. Effectively, this means that the ‘brakes’ are released and your thoughts are able to run wild. The restlessness and stress that tends to accompany these kinds of thoughts inhibits our production of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone that makes us feel tired. This leads us to feel wide awake, even though what we really want to do is go to sleep.

Here are some tips and advice to help to ensure that your thoughts don’t start running away at the moment that you are trying to fall asleep:

  • Plan in a 15-minute ‘worry-time’ each day. Save up your worries and spend that 15 minutes writing them down or talking them through with somebody. If you start to worry at any other moment, think of a keyword to remember your worry and return to the thought during your worry-time. 
  • Be aware that worries can often be intensified at night-time and may well seem less significant the next morning.
  • This can help to remove some of the weight of your worries.
  • Relaxation and breathing exercises can help to relieve restlessness, stress and worrying and can make you feel calm before going to sleep.There are a number of apps and youtube videos which will help you with these exercises.

See the ‘Learning to Think Differently’ programme to learn more about how to deal with negative thoughts.

“If I am lying awake at night worrying about things, I think of all the things which I would like to be kept awake by”
- Loesje

Reflect & connect

Answer these questions and share your answers with your online psychologist, your partner and/or a friend:

1. What keeps you awake at night?

2. What methods do you use to help you to fall asleep and are they effective?

3. When you start to worry, instead of trying to reject the worrying thought, try to simply acknowledge it. You could keep a journal by your bed and write down some keywords about your worries. This will allow you to put your thoughts gently to one side and come back to them at a later point.

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