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22nd Apr 2022

Here’s why you tend to overthink at night and how to fix it

Danny Jones

How to stop overthinking at night

A few thoughts on how to stop overthinking at night and why we all do it from time to time

We’ve all been there: staring up at the ceiling or constantly scrolling on our phones whilst hoping some magic switch will suddenly send us off to slumber. Fortunately, there is some science behind this common problem and a few potential ways of fixing  it.

It can be difficult to get a proper night’s sleep when it feels like your head’s racing at a million miles an hour and according to Carley Symes from the Counselling Directory, this essentially comes down to our thoughts catching up with us at the end of a day.

‘Why am I overthinking?’

“Our days are filled with things to do and process and think about right from the get-go”, Symes told Huffington Post, adding that “the only time we really start to switch off from those things is when we are laid in bed, getting ready to go to sleep. So it makes sense that all those things we haven’t had space for throughout the day take hold.”

She goes on to explain that “when we get tired at night, our mind wants to open up to process all our ‘stuff’ as we dream. As we start to drift into our sleep these barriers drop”. In short, thoughts, concerns and worries begin to bleed into the forefront of our mind as our subconscious and conscious begin to overlap.

Overthinking in bed
Credit: iStock

This is what can make it feel like you’re losing control – because you kind of are.

As your brain is no longer occupied with work and everyday life, it suddenly has free space to fill – and does so by trying to process what information is needed and not from the past 24 hours.

Symes suggests that our brain is “trying to learn from mistakes” and “keep us safe by connecting dots to feelings we have felt before to see if there is a pattern, and file what needs filing.”

What you can do to try and stop overthinking

Eve Menezes Cunningham, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, went on to tell the outlet that one of the most promising ways we can try to stop overthinking in the evenings is to practice mindfulness.

The advent of mindfulness (essentially a form of meditation and attempt to remain more awareness of things going on around us) has really grown in recent years and the best part is, it really isn’t that hard to start getting attuned with it.

Combat overthinking and anxiety
Credit: iStock

Cunningham says that something as simple as giving ourselves regular breaks throughout the day – whether it be going for a walk, having a snack, listening to some music or making yourself a brew – can really help you focus your awareness and mean there’s less contemplating/empty space to fill up come bedtime.

In addition to active mindfulness and meditation, journaling your thoughts, saying them out loud or even speaking to a therapist or a friend and adopting healthier habits should mean that “the rumination at bedtime will be less intense” – the rationale being that you’ve given yourself time to think those thoughts that keep you up at night, earlier in the day.

As well as other sensible lifestyle changes you can make – such as making sure you get the right nutrition, exercising, good hygiene (which burns off excess stress hormones); cutting down on your screen time and caffeine intake past a certain time – you can also look at adopting “anchors“.

How to stop overthinking before bed
Credit: iStock

“Anchors are sensory triggers that allow you to tap into a feeling of the present and calm your nervous system,” she explains, adding that having something present to connect with helps “ground us away from the past and to where we are now.”

Some examples include soft toys or objects (hence why children develop attachments to these items), a good book, a favourite song or even just focusing on your breathing and your other senses – the same reason people often use lavender on their pillow when they’re trying to get to sleep.

They’re all at least partial remedies we’ve all heard of before, the trick is finding the right combination and focusing on them at the right time so things don’t pile up at the end of the day.

It goes without saying that we’re not experts and this is by no means a fool-proof guide on how to stop overthinking but hopefully you’ll find some of these suggestions helpful and at least take some comfort in knowing there’s a psychological explanation.

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