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How to stop overthinking at night and fall asleep: expert advice

Yulia PoteriankoLife
ou can tackle insomnia independently using psychological techniques

Most of us are familiar with the situation: you go to bed, turn off the light, get comfortable with a blanket to fall asleep, and then unpleasant thoughts start swarming in your head and keep you awake. This causes incredible stress, and in the morning, in addition to feeling sleep-deprived, you also suffer from severe nervous exhaustion. In the worst cases, this can last for years and even seriously undermine your health. But scientists know how to turn off negative thoughts before bedtime.

The Science Alert publication described effective ways. Alexander Sweetman, a researcher at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University (Australia), helped with this. To choose the right one, you first need to understand the nature of insomnia.

What is insomnia?

Scientists estimate that up to six out of ten people are experiencing some form of insomnia right now. One in ten has experienced these symptoms for several months or years.

Insomnia includes problems falling asleep at the beginning of the night, waking up at night, feeling tired during the day, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, or a bad mood. At the same time, a person suffering from this problem begins to feel some kind of vigor when they go to bed. But why does this happen?

According to sleep researchers, the more time we spend in bed doing things other than sleeping, the more our brain and body begin to realize that the bed is the place for these non-sleep activities.

And it's not just about feeling restless. Using a cell phone, watching TV, eating, working, arguing, smoking, or playing with pets in bed also has an impact. And soon you may notice that getting into bed doesn't trigger relaxation but rather increased alertness and concentration. This is called "conditioned insomnia". There are at least five ways to solve this problem.

Relearn to associate the bed with sleep

To re-establish the psychological connection between the bed and sleep, you'll need what's known as stimulus control therapy. And you are perfectly capable of doing it on your own if you follow these steps.

  • Use the bed only for sleep and sex. All other activities should take place elsewhere, preferably even in another room.
  • Go to bed only if you feel sleepy. The signs of drowsiness are heavy eyes and a desire to lie down and fall asleep. If you don't feel this way, do something else, for example, relax in another room, take a bath, read a book, listen to slow music, etc.
  • If you still can't fall asleep after 15 minutes, get up and do something that will help you relax. You can even do some housework or do some light yoga exercises; it doesn't have to be intense. Avoid anything that is too stimulating, such as work or computer games.
  • Repeat the previous two steps until you are able to fall asleep for about 15 minutes. It may take a few cycles, but over time, your body's natural need for sleep will increase, and you should eventually be able to fall asleep as soon as you get to bed.
  • Get up at the same time every day, regardless of how much sleep you've had, the day of the week, or other circumstances.
  • Avoid long daytime naps, which can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.

Experts say that even a few days of such therapy will help restore the connection between the bed and sleep and also break the link between the bed and anxiety.

Distract yourself with pleasant thoughts

Negative thoughts in bed or worrying about the consequences of insomnia can make us feel more tense and prevent us from falling asleep on our own. So try an exercise called "cognitive refocusing." Immerse yourself in pleasant memories or dreams, replay your favorite episode from a movie or TV show in your head.

Ideally, it should be a memory that you can recall very clearly and that evokes neutral or slightly positive feelings. Memories that are overly positive or negative can cause increased mental activity, so they should also be avoided.

Relax and drift off to sleep

Relaxation therapy for insomnia is aimed at reducing concentration and improving sleep. One good way is to gradually tense and relax muscle groups throughout the body. This is called guided progressive muscle relaxation. It helps you to focus not on your thoughts but on the sensations in your body and achieve the desired level of relaxation.

You can also try breathing exercises, soothing music, visual imagery, or other relaxation activities that work for you. Avoid working late or using screens before bed as part of this process. Set aside time without your phone or computer to relax before you go to bed.

Move all your worries to the morning

Allow yourself time for strong emotions at the beginning of the day so that you can process these thoughts and not face them at night. It can help to write down everything that is bothering you. If you feel anxious at night, just remind yourself that all your worries have already been recorded on paper and are waiting for you to work through them at a scheduled time, but the next day.

Know that it's normal to wake up at night

Short-term awakenings at night can cause feelings of anxiety. If you experience them, remind yourself that this is a variant of normalcy, not a sign of unhealthiness. Sleep consists of different cycles that repeat throughout the night. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes and contains different stages of surface sleep, deep sleep, and dreaming (REM) sleep. The majority of our deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night, and surface sleep in the second half. And in fact, everyone has short awakenings all the time, but most people don't remember them the next morning. So let it go.

What if these tips don't work?

If none of these techniques work for you, it's a good reason to see a professional, for example, a psychotherapist who can help you understand the causes of emotional tension and help you get back to sleep even without medication. Find an online program to help you get better sleep or a session with a psychologist. Consult your family doctor to diagnose health conditions that may be related to insomnia. Try to solve the problem in other ways before resorting to sleeping pills.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL talked about devices that can help you fall asleep.

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