Have you ever laid down in bed at night after a long, exhausting day? Your body is exhausted and you think you will fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow ….but you can’t turn off your brain? You need to still your mind so you can sleep.
How do you still your mind when it’s busy racing through the events of the day? Your inner critic comes out and not so nicely tells you everything that went wrong and then you start worrying too much and overthinking. Does any of this sound familiar to you? I’ll tell you what works best for me, along with some of the best ways to still your mind.
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Why Won’t My Brain Turn Off?
There can be many reasons why your brain won’t turn off when you lay down at night and try to sleep. We live in a stressful world that’s full of stimuli, stress, and screens. All these do not make a good combination at night. Many of us do not take the time to go through any sort of evening routine to unwind. We simply shut down the screen and walk right into the bedroom carrying our phones with us.
In doing so, we are not only carrying our phones with us but also the stresses of the day.
Related: 33 Practical Ways to Fill Your Cup When Life Gets Hard
What Are the Benefits of Making Sure I get Enough Sleep?
We live in an age of chronic sleep deprivation. It’s common for adults to not get enough sleep. (7-8 hours a night) As is often the case, what is popular, is not always right or good for us. When we sleep is the time that our body recovers. That’s the time that stress hormones go down, muscles regenerate, and we process the events of the day. According to the US. Department of Health, getting enough sleep can help you:
- maintain a healthy weight
- get sick less often
- lower your risk for diabetes and heart disease
- reduce stress
- improve your mood
- think more clearly
- get along better with people
- make better decisions
16 Easy Ways To Still Your Mind and Quiet Racing Thoughts
I have scoured the web and found 16 researched-back techniques to still your mind so you can sleep. I have personally found that I am a much nicer person when I get enough sleep. I tend to worry less and not overthink so much. I have more patience as well and can better silence my inner critic. I feel better and am able to deal with the stresses in my everyday life better as well.
Let’s start by learning some techniques on how to still your mind so that you can quiet your racing thoughts, even when they seem like a bunch of wild monkeys!
1: Use Your Bed Only For Sleep
We form associations with things and places. My desk is where I work. The kitchen is where I prepare food and eat with my family around the table. My bed is where I sleep. I try to only use my bed for sleeping. If I want to watch tv or scroll on my phone, then I sit on the couch or the recliner in the living room. Having associations with things makes it easier for your brain to transition to said activity when you are in a certain spot. Hence, if you use your bed for working, your body and your brain may soon start associating your bed as a place to work instead of sleep.
That being said if you lie awake trying to sleep for more than 20-30 minutes, get out of bed. Do something else until you get sleepy, then return to pillowy softness when you can enjoy it.
2: Write it Down
I’m a big fan of journaling. I’ve used it off and on to process my feelings throughout my whole life, but especially in the past year or so, I’ve been doing it on a more regular basis. It helps like nothing else to help me sort through my worries and process my thoughts. Most of all, it helps me to just let it go.
Even if I’m not worried about something per se, but instead trying to plan out the next day in my head, writing it down helps. If I am trying to still my mind, and stop it from running in circles trying to plan the next day, I will write down a to-do list. That way my mind can take a rest from trying to remember everything and remember how to relax instead.
Related: Find the Perfect Type of Journaling For You
3: Change the Channel
What do you do when you are driving down the road and a song comes on the radio that you hate? You probably don’t sit there and listen to it, especially not on repeat. You change the station so you don’t have to hear it right? Same thing when you are watching TV and you see something you don’t care for, you change the channel. We can learn to change the channel with our thoughts as well. Direct them to something else that you want to think about instead of what you are worried or stressed about.
Your wild monkey thoughts may insist on coming back and causing mischief. However, if you keep steering your thoughts towards something else, it will get easier and easier to direct them. Think about something that you are looking forward to, or something that you’d like to do. As you lay on your pillow, allow your mind to daydream and think about “what if…” You could make a travel itinerary for your trip around the world, you could decorate the inside of your own private jet or cruise ship, you could imagine what it would be like to go snorkeling or deep sea fishing. You get the idea. It takes just enough brain power to keep you interested but also helps you to relax.
4: Phones Make Bad Bed Buddies
Don’t bring your phone to bed. I know that most of us are quite attached to our phones, but the light from them stimulates the brain. Some phones have settings that can reduce the amount of blue light if you are not quite ready to turn it loose at night. My phone usually is in my bedroom because I use it for an alarm clock in the morning. However, in general, I have been trying to turn off the screens before I go to bed and it’s making a difference in my quality of sleep.
5: Deep Breathing
There are different official breathing exercises to help you sleep. You may have to try a few of them to find what works best for you.
What I have found most helpful personally is laying on my back with my eyes closed hands in a comfortable position, either on my stomach or beside me and breathing through my nose. I take a long inhale in, and a long exhale out trying to feel my belly flatten on the exhale and concentrate on deep breathing. I think “calm” or “sleep” or try to focus on keeping my mind blank. When I do this, I’m usually asleep before I know it.
6: Intentional Relaxation
One day, I got the bright idea to try some yoga for my core. Never having done yoga before, the last “exercise” surprised me. It was to lie flat on my back on the floor and let all the tension from the routine drain away. I had to stay there for 5-10 minutes. Initially, when I read it, I thought it was a waste of time.
My muscles were screaming after completing a routine that looked very easy in the pictures. I was very glad to lay down on the ground for a bit! I let all the tension drain out of me. I imagined all the stress and the tension draining out of my body like water going to the floor. I very nearly fell asleep right there on the floor.
You don’t have to go through a whole yoga routine to get the benefits of intentional relaxation. When I was a kid and couldn’t sleep, my mom taught me this method that I will teach you.
She told me to scrunch up every muscle in my body and then relax. She started at my toes and told me to say in my head while she said aloud, “Toes, relax, toes, relax” and repeated this statement over and over until my toes were so relaxed I wondered if I still had toes. She then went to my feet and on to my ankles, up my legs and I was asleep before she got to my chest. I still do this on nights where I cannot seem to relax. The only kicker is that if part of you tenses up, you go right back to the area that tensed up and start over there.
7: Calming Music or White Noise
I love white noise when I sleep. For us, it’s usually a fan. We have also had a fish tank in our room that provided white noise while we slept. It blocks out other types of noise, I and associate the sound of our fan with sleep. (I also sleep better in a slightly cooler room. It’s hard to sleep if it’s hot. ) I had a roommate when I was in college that did the same thing, but with calming music. Try them both and find what works best for you!
8: Focus Your Mind on Nothing
Remember in technique #5 I mentioned trying to focus my mind on nothing? Some people use that as part of a meditation exercise. I shy away from the word “meditation” because it means different things to different people. However, I do try to focus on nothing from time to time when I need to relax and still my mind. Our brains are like a muscle – the more we train it and use it, the better it works for us instead of against us. Focusing on nothing is a way to tame your wild monkey thoughts and get them to be still and rest.
I just close my eyes and I think about the blackness I see in front of me. I try to keep my thoughts there and try to keep my mind from wandering. Like trying to do a plank, it’s ridiculously hard at first. Never fear – it gets easier the more you do it and you will find yourself being able to hold it for longer periods of time.
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9: Read a Book
I used to read a lot before bed as a teen. The problem was that many times I would read while sitting in my bed. (See technique #1) I would usually be so interested in the book, that I stirred my mind and lost sleep over the book instead of using it as a way to still my mind.
Instead, pick a book that is soothing. Read in the recliner or on the couch. Just read for fun. One of the great things that I like about books is that they are great de-stressors because for me they always helped to refocus my mind. I thought about the story rather than whatever problems or worries I was dealing with. I could use it as a new “channel” (see technique #3) to change to when I needed to still my mind.
10: Start a Relaxing Evening Routine
We are incredible creatures of habit. Having a habit is like automating a task. When you get into a routine, you go through the same motions and your body and brain know what to expect. Hence, you can go through the tasks on “autopilot.”
You can harness the power of habit when you start a relaxing evening routine. As you go through your routine nightly, you will start to still your mind as you go through the steps. In all honesty, I need to work on refining mine. What do you include in your evening routine? I would love some advice and ideas!
11: Prep for the Next Day
I always prep for the next day the night before. This includes things like ironing my husband’s shirt for the following day, I also pack school lunches for the kids and my husband if they need them. Then, I try to make sure the dishwasher is started, so I can empty the dishes the next day. I try to have the next day somewhat planned out, if not on paper, then in my head.
You can see more details about what I do for the next day in this post about “Tips for an Efficient Morning Routine.” It’s not your usual morning routine post, though. It’s basically, “How to Get Out of the House As Quickly As Possible”
When I am prepared for the next day, it helps to still my mind so I can rest.
12: Reduce Lighting
According to a study discussed on WebMD, bright artificial light can suppress the release of our body’s sleep hormone, melatonin. Though we usually use lamps at night instead of the bright overhead lights, I didn’t realize how much of an effect it had.
To quote from the study “exposure to room light during the usual hours of sleep suppressed melatonin levels by more than 50%”
When you are developing your evening routine to still your mind, think what a powerful effect that dimming the lights could have! Sometimes simple things make a big difference.
13: No Caffeine after 2 pm
I know, I love my coffee too. Believe me, this one was a bummer to me too because if I stay up too late then 2 pm is usually about the time that I start dragging. According to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, caffeine taken 6 hours before bedtime, still has an effect on sleep.
If you stop caffeine by 2 pm and go to bed at 10, that gives it 8 hours to work out of your system. Remember that you should consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day. (The equivalent of 4 cups of coffee.) You can read more about the effects of caffeine on the body and see a chart that estimates how much caffeine different types of products contain.
You may find it hard to still your mind when you still have a stimulant (caffeine) running through your system. If you need a quick pick-me-up during the day, try to get your caffeine in before 2 pm.
14: Get Some Sun Before Noon
We are talking about sleep and how to still your mind, and here I am talking about getting some sun! While it’s not a quick fix on how to still your mind, exposure to sunlight before noon can help to reset your body’s internal clock, as well as have other health benefits. It also helps to lift my mood, especially if I combine it with going for a walk.
Thought a heavy meal can disrupt your sleep, according to Healthline, there are things that you can eat to help you sleep better. If you find your stomach rumbling before bed, try:
- Chamomile Tea
- Tart Cherry Juice
- Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout)
- Passion Flower Tea
- White Rice
- Cottage Cheese
All of the above-listed foods have something in them that helps you sleep better, such as melatonin, tryptophan, and/or antioxidants. You will be able to still your mind better if your stomach is not rumbling from hunger.
16: Listen to a Podcast or Audiobook
Not everyone likes to read. (Or you may find yourself like my teenage self and find that when you read a book you find yourself losing sleep over a book instead of getting more.) If reading a book does not help to still your mind, you can also try listening to a podcast or audiobook. This can also help relax you before bed and help you sleep.
(I have heard great things about Amazon’s Audible program if you love audiobooks. You might try your local library as well or simply search for an interesting podcast.)
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The Last Thing You Need To Know About How To Still Your Mind
There are many things we can do to still our minds. Quieting our racing thoughts and turning off our brains can seem hard when you are laying in bed and staring at the ceiling. However, there are some fairly simple things that you can do before bed to help you relax such as dimming the lights, reading a book or listening to an audiobook or podcast, and using white noise. You can also do a few things during the daytime, such as getting some sun before noon and cutting caffeine intake after 2 pm to help us rest better when we lay down at night. What is your best advice for creating a relaxing evening routine, or what do you do that stills your mind? Leave me a comment below!
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8 Sleep Experts on What to Do When You Can’t Turn Off Your Thoughts At Night