COPING WITH RACING THOUGHTS AT BEDTIME
In today’s busy world, children and adults often have a difficult time unwinding at bedtime. Thoughts about the day or tomorrow may interfere with your ability to fall asleep. These thoughts may at times feel uncontrollable, as if they are “racing”. Other people may not have difficulty falling asleep, but then wake up with troubling thoughts. The following strategies are being offered to help you/your child fall asleep, and then go back to sleep if awakened in the night.
- Have a regular bedtime routine, aiming for same time every night. Our bodies develop a rhythm, and we are more likely to fall asleep when we stick to that rhythm (schedule). Children may ask to stay up later on weekends. Try not to alter more than 30 minutes from regular bedtime.
- Take a warm/hot shower/bath closer to bedtime. The warm water helps produce tiredness at the end of the day.
- No use of visual electronics (“screen time”) 30 minutes before bed. Studies have demonstrated that any kind of screen time delays the onset of sleep. Instead, engage in an activity where lights are not so stimulating.
- Try using lavender (essential oil associated with sleep) or other pleasing scent.
- Use a meditation/guided meditation/visualization before bed to help “quiet” the mind. (Apps – “Stop, Breath, and Think”, “Mindfulness”, “Calm”, “Headspace”, “Pacifica”, “Digipill – Sleep, Relaxation, and Mindfulness). Sit in a favorite comfy chair, light a candle, and relax!
- Use of “white noise” to help drown out other noises in house if others are still awake. There are apps with white noise, or you can purchase a small machine from a company such as Brookstone. In addition to white noise, you may find the sound of ocean waves, light rain fall, or forest sounds more appealing.
- Try to get more physical activity during the day. Studies have demonstrated that regular exercise helps with falling asleep at bedtime.
- Listening to audio books before bed can help to induce sleep and provide a distraction from the thoughts. Just make sure that the book is not too interesting or exciting! (classic audiobooks from www.librivox.com)
If racing thoughts begin despite these strategies, try:
- Deep breathing. Simple – really just focusing on your breath. Just focus on your breathing and the rise and fall of your chest.
- Guided meditation (same apps as above)
- Imagine balloons flying away or clouds moving. As each thought enters, imagine attaching it to a balloon flying away or cloud quickly moving it away. Using your thoughts to imagine this helps to take away from the thought itself.
- Focus on your senses. Think about what are you feeling, seeing, hearing. This serves as a distraction from the thoughts.
- Focus on the present. Try not to think about yesterday – it’s done! Try not to think about tomorrow – it’s not here yet! I know, easier said than done. Just try to remember that most problems are not solved by us ruminating about them at 2AM!
- Try progressive muscle relaxation. Focus on tensing and relaxing your muscles, starting at the top of your head and working your way down to your toes. Tense the muscle group for five second, then relax for five seconds.
- Try mental activities as a distraction. Do math calculations. Or think of a favorite day and all of the activities and senses of that day. What did you do, what did you see, how did it feel? What did you hear?
- Try this breathing exercise. First, inhale at your normal rate – that is count one. When you exhale, double your exhalation rate – that is two. As one gets more relaxed both rates may lengthen. Inhale one count, exhale 2 counts. That is one pair. Inhale one count, exhale 2 counts; that is 2…. and so on…
Continue counting the inhalation/exhalation rate and the pairs. If you forget what number you’re on, that’s okay, just go back to one and start over again. If you fall asleep and then wake up again, that’s okay, just start back at one.
With this breathing technique, you are doing a number of things at once: employing a relaxation breathing pattern ratio of 1:2, counting your inhalation and exhalation rate and also counting your pairs of breath inhalations/exhalations. What this does it helps you focus your mind on breathing and counting, not on what your thoughts are that are keeping you awake.
And remember… try not to beat yourself up about NOT falling asleep. Avoid passing judgment on yourself. Try not to add to your anxiety by thinking about the sleep you are not getting. That is not helpful, and counteracts the relaxed state you are seeking.
Do you have any other suggestions that you have found successful?