How to calm your thoughts so that you can fall asleep
Updated: Oct 22, 2019
When we launched Sleep Well, we asked for people to share their sleep stories with us.
Kim was one of the first people to do just that.
She wrote that she found that the TV actually helped her to fall asleep. If she did not go to bed with the television on, she would find herself thinking about her worries, making falling asleep very difficult, if not impossible.
Has this ever happened to you?
When I was younger, I used to love falling asleep on the couch in front of a television. However, now, I know that the television screen emits blue light that does actually push back the time when a person falls asleep and, being a night owl, I really do not want my bedtime to be pushed back even later than it already is. So, falling asleep in front of a television, especially with the giant screens that we have now, is something best to be avoided.
YET, the one thing that helped Kim, a self-confessed night owl, to fall asleep was that the television distracted her from negative thoughts and concerns. In addition, I personally liked the white noise of the television when the networks went off air at night (yes, this happened during the pre-digital age).
So what can you do to stop your mind from racing and calm down enough to fall asleep, without the television?
Know that you can calm your mind. However, first, you'll have to break the television-at-bedtime habit. Breaking this habit, though, will require an alternative strategy to help you fall asleep.
If your worries are occasional and caused by situations that you find yourself in temporarily, here are some techniques designed to help you to relax and fall asleep:
Setting the tone for good sleep
Some people feel that breathing exercises are helpful. Others have noted that focusing on how they are feeling and just taking note of them helps them to relieve stress. Others take this further by journalling their thoughts. Once done, they feel that they can focus on winding down for the evening.
A good idea might be to begin your "wind-down" time with these techniques so that you can signal to your body that it is time to rest. Just having a routine helps to prime your body for rest as you begin to associate these activities with preparing for sleep.
Shuffle Your Thoughts
Use a mobile app such as mySleepButton, which helps you to fall asleep by using your imagination to visualise random words, an activity that has been found to promote sleepiness. For more about the science behind mySleepButton, have a look: www.mysleepbutton.com.
Listen to a Story
You may want to listen to an audiobook or a story. As a child, we used to have our parents read to us at bedtime. Now, we can use audiobooks to lull us to sleep. Many audiobooks even have settings that automatically shut off the app after a prescribed time so that it closes automatically after you have fallen asleep.
You could also listen to a bedtime story that was designed specifically to help you wind down and sleep. For instance, Headspace has sleepcasts, which are basically bedtime stories set to ambient background sounds. The ambient sounds can be adjusted to be made louder or softer than the narration.
A similar app to Headspace is Calm, which has sleep stories that are narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey. So, if you have ever wondered what it would be like to have a famous actor read you a bedtime story, now you can find out!
Please make sure to use night mode on your mobile, turn it over, or keep it farther away from your bed so as to avoid blue light that it may, otherwise, be emitting.
However, what if your worries are longstanding, serious, or related to depression?
In cases where your worries and concerns are particularly distressing, intense, and long-term, experts recommend seeing a health professional for treatment or counselling. Anxiety, burnout, and depression can profoundly affect your sleep. Moreover, your mental and emotional health are so important to your well-being that you really should prioritise seeking appropriate help. This step is likely critical to stopping the cycle of worry, insomnia, more worry, and more insomnia.
Professionals can provide you with treatment for insomnia including cognitive behaviour therapy, which has been found to be particularly effective. If necessary, your health provider may refer you to a sleep clinic or prescribe you appropriate medication. Then, you can supplement this treatment with good sleep hygiene, tools, resources, and community for support.
It is critical to seek out professional help because research has shown that sleep deprivation can trigger depression as well as be symptom of it. So, it is important to determine whether it is triggering mental or emotional health concerns or vice versa.
I know that seeking counselling and medical help may be absolutely necessary for you to overcome insomnia. Please take heed, do take care of yourself, and please do see someone about it.
Seek support and find people who are supportive of you as well.
Debbie Gallant, who runs a public Facebook group that raises awareness about mental health, reached out to Sleep Well about her Facebook group Mental Health Matters Fear Less Love More. You may want to consider seeking community and support in this group or in similar groups.
The key is to find all the support you need to help you overcome the root cause of your insomnia, especially when your mental health is being negatively affected.
If you have a sleep story to share or a question that you would like explored, message us. Remember that if you have a story or a question, you are likely to find other people who have similar ones. Your story may just help another person who is experiencing a similar issue. So don't be shy and reach out to us.