Nighttime mind wandering is a key contributor to insomnia and sleep disorders. This mental restlessness not only affects your ability to fall asleep and recharge your internal batteries, but also contributes to difficulty concentrating during the day, reduced task performance, and increased stress.
Nighttime mind wandering often correlates to dwelling on the past, worrying or trying to plan things out for the future. It’s an easy habit to get into and a difficult one to break.
Here are 9 simple tips you can try to help you reel in your nighttime mind wandering and align yourself for better sleep.
1. Identify thought patterns
If you find yourself regularly staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night thinking the same loop of repetitive thoughts, it’s time you become a little more proactive by becoming less reactive.
Instead of getting frustrated or mad that you’re awake, notice which themes keep circulating your mind. Are you stressed because of something work related, is it a relationship issue, health, or family? Instead of trying to control your thoughts or shut them down completely, just take a step back and notice as they pass by.
Once you’ve take the time to acknowledge your thoughts, you can learn to observe them without getting attached. This allows you to become aware of thought patterns and also your tendencies to act on them. Instead of tuning in to your wave of constant mental chatter, you allow the stream to pass by without reacting. Your attention stays rooted in the present and you mindfully disengage from the tendency to get caught up in repetitive thought patterns.
2. Make a list if actionable steps
Sometimes, you just have a lot on the go.
Work, family, relationships, personal life… and at times, it can definitely be overwhelming.
One of the most useful ways to make sense of your busyness, is to write it all down.
Take a few minutes to sort through your mental chaos by simply sitting down and writing out what needs to be do. Once you have clearly identified what needs to be done, start to focus on the steps you need to take to start getting things off of your list.
Understanding that lack of restful sleep can both cause and be caused by too much stress, it is important to identify and when possible, reduce your stress load.
3. Set a bedtime routine – and stick to it
Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from having a bedtime routine.
Keeping a nighttime routine including going to bed and waking up at the same time (even on weekends) is beneficial for regulating your sleep.
Try to unwind early from your day before you even enter your bedroom to start sleeping. If your mind is still racing and your body hasn’t had a chance to relax from today’s busyness, it’s going to be hard to fall asleep.
Start a bedtime ritual to help keep you on track. Set a time to start reading, journalling, or whatever it is that helps you get settled before sleep.
Soothing music has been found to help improve sleep quality, duration, efficiency and reduced disturbance.
4. Be careful using technology in your bedroom
If you find yourself working from your bedroom or checking messages in bed right before going to sleep, it might be time to ditch the technology.
In addition to emitting electromagnetic radiation, cellphones are also known to disrupt sleep patterns.
A recent study found that extensive use of cellphones, televisions and computers delayed sleep and wake schedules.
Supporting research has found that people who use technology too close to bed time often experience poor sleep. The lack of quality sleep in this study was found to be a predictor of anxiety and depression.
5. Watch your diet
An afternoon coffee might keep you going for a few more hours at the office but can also keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep at night.
Even small doses of caffeine can negatively affect your sleep if taken too late in the day. If you plan on consuming this stimulant for example having a coffee, tea, or chocolate bar, make sure that you have it at least 6 hours before bedtime to avoid disruption.
6. Simplify your sleeping quarters
Messy rooms can be bad for your mental health. In addition to increasing stress levels, they can also adversely affect your sleep and make you more tired during the day.
Remove any unnecessary clutter from your sleeping space. If you don’t have room to store your personal belongings in an organized manner, get rid of it!
Having too much stuff around creates a chaotic environment and can make it harder for your mind to unwind. Reduce the amount of clutter in your room and make sleeping quarters as cozy and comfortable as possible.
7. Get more exercise
If you’re tired and overly busy, even the mere thought of exercising can be exhausting.
Yet if you muster a bit of energy to go for a walk, jog, or spin class, you might be surprised how exercising helps you feel better and unwind at the end of the day.
Exercise and personal fitness are known to improve overall health and lower stress levels.
Physical exercise has also been linked to improved sleep quality, sleep duration and better improved alertness throughout the day.
8. Get outside
Spending time outside is great for your physical and mental health.
Whether you’re out in backcountry camping or taking a jog around your neighbourhood park, exposure to nature has been linked with numerous benefits.
A study conducted in Zurich, Switzerland found that individuals who were spending time outside were seeing great benefits to their health and overall sense of well-being. The research identified that people were recovering from stress, reducing physical discomforts (such as headaches), and feeling an improved sense of balance in their lives simply by spending time in outdoor areas. The benefits experienced were even greater for individuals exercising in these outdoor spaces.
9. Practice being at home
If your life is full of to-do lists and hectic deadlines you’re likely to fall into a schedule of go-go-go.
For many people, busyness has simply become a way of life. The continual act of doing whether at work or at home can make it very hard to unwind.
Some people even feel guilty about taking time to sit and be when they have so much on their plate.
Unfortunately, this kind of pressure and associated thinking can create lots of stress, late night mind wandering.
It’s important that you find time to practice being at home. This includes following your return from work, or even after finishing your chores in your living space. Take pleasure in whatever it is that makes you happy in this familiar and special place. Enjoy a quiet cup of tea, reading a book, walking your dog, or gardening.
Not only can this help you unwind at the end of the day, but it can bring you a lot of mental peace and promote relaxation.
Nighttime mind wandering can become a difficult habit to break.
In addition to interfering with your sleep, it can negatively impact your cognitive function, work performance and health.
Learning how to disengage from your mental chatter mindfully is an effective way to help you regain more peaceful rest and relaxation.
Try these 9 tips and let us know which ones work best for you!
Photos by Ben Blennerhassett and Alexandre Godreau