Picture this: You’re cozy in bed, the lights are out, the room is quiet—and you’re tired. In fact, you could barely keep your eyes open a half-hour ago when you were streaming your favorite show. But now your mind is churning out so many thoughts, you can’t fall asleep. What gives?
If this sounds familiar, you certainly aren’t alone: Studies show that insomnia affects approximately one-third of the world’s population, which means there are literally billions of people out there struggling to get the sleep they need. While there are many issues that can contribute to sleeplessness, an anxious mind is one of the most common challenges people suffering from insomnia face.
To help you settle down enough to sleep, here are five ways to quiet your mind and lull your body into a primed-for-rest state:
1. Clear Your Mind
Why do our worries ramp up after dark? “It’s rare to be alone with one’s thoughts until night. Because we don’t process much during the day, it hits us in the quiet of night,” explains Dr. Stephanie Hartselle, a psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at Brown University. As a result, we get worked up just as we’re supposed to wind down. One way to combat this? Before going to bed, jot down what’s on your mind. Dr. Adam Perlman, meQuilibrium’s Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer, recommends keeping a pen and pad by your bed: “Whether it’s something you don’t want to forget to do, or something you’re stressed about, rather than ruminating about it, write it down,” he says. “This takes it out of your head so you can let it go.”
2. Press Pause
“You are allowed to interrupt your own thoughts. It’s not rude,” says Sarah Gamble, a licensed acupuncturist. She counsels her clients who have trouble sleeping because of an overactive mind to remember that middle-of-the-night thinking never pans out. “We’re going to think about this again in the morning—after we’ve had some rest.”
“If you try to think back to what kept you awake a week ago, a month ago, you probably don’t even remember,” adds Dr. Perlman. “Such rational thinking is challenging in the moment, but it helps to put things into perspective.”
3. Scan Your Body
Of course, your mind doesn’t just shut off—you have to give it something else to focus on so that it doesn’t start racing again. And the perfect thing to pay attention to is your body, says Gamble. Do what’s called a body scan meditation, where you systematically send your attention to each part of the body, starting at the head and working, inch-by-inch, down to your toes. “Notice any places where you feel tightness, numbness, warmth, cold, or any other physical sensation,” says Gamble. Whatever feeling you may discover, you don’t have to fix it. Just send your breath there until you notice the sensation change; then, continue on to the next body part.
4. (Mentally) Rock Yourself to Sleep
You may be too old for a caregiver to rock you to sleep, but you can give yourself a similar effect through visualization, says Rebecca Shafir, an executive functioning and personal development coach. Try imagining yourself skiing down an easy slope, doing a series of S-shaped turns. Tune in to the gentle shifting of your weight as you turn. “Any monotonous rhythm you can imagine creates a mental rocking effect that can help you fall asleep,” she explains.
5. Try Again Tomorrow
If you still don’t manage to get a decent night’s sleep, remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. “The truth is, you’ll be tired but you will get through the day,” says Hartselle. This is about more than just a pep talk: A Colorado College study found that students who were told they slept deeply performed better on a cognitive test than students who were told they didn’t sleep as well—and which group the students fell in had nothing to do with how well they actually slept. The takeaway? When you resist the urge to panic about lost sleep, your sleeplessness will take less of a toll. Remember: There’s always tomorrow night.
Kate Hanley is the author of How to Be a Better Person and Stress Less and a personal development coach. She writes regularly on how to manage stress and take care of the many important parts of life. Visit her at katehanley.com.