How to Turn Off Your Active Mind

Highly emotional states such as stress, depression, anxiety-and even positive states such as happiness and excitement-can all put your brain into overdrive and cause bouts of insomnia. If an overactive mind is keeping you awake at night, here are some tips for turning it off.

Anything that arouses your brain or makes you feel agitated can also make it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. If your boss is hovering over you, your kids are acting up, your bank account is dwindling or your partner seems distant, the sense of anxiety or panic you feel may well be strong enough to keep you awake night after night, even if you are thoroughly exhausted. And just as these psychological problems can lead to insomnia, so can insomnia lead to a worsening of psychological problems.

Sleep researchers at Harvard Medical School point out that having sleep difficulties when you are experiencing psychological problems is most likely normal because the body is waking up in response to what it perceives as a dangerous situation. When you do sleep during troubled times, the normal stages of sleep are often out of balance so that you don't get enough of the deep sleep necessary for rejuvenation.

The first steps you can take to deal with insomnia and get your sleep-wake cycle back on schedule is to practice relaxation techniques and maintain a calm and consistent pre-sleep routine, such as staying clear of too much stimulation in the evening, and going to bed at the same time every night. All the usual advice for getting a good night's sleep applies, including making sure your environment is conducive to good sleep, with comfortable bedding and bedclothes, and no interference from sound or light.

  • Develop relaxing, pre-bedtime rituals, such as reading, listening to soft music, drinking herbal tea or meditating.
  • Take a warm bath. Warm water temporarily raises your body temperature, and as it drops, you will feel more sleepy.
  • Make sure you eat enough before you go to bed. Hunger is a discomfort that can interfere with falling to sleep and staying asleep.  If necessary, have a comforting light snack, such as a glass of warm skim milk, before retiring.
  • Adjust your room temperature so that it is on the cool side, but make sure you don't feel cold in bed.
  • Use a white noise machine if necessary, to drown out external sounds that can't otherwise be controlled.
  • When you don't have anyone to talk to about your worries, try to set them aside by writing them down on paper and telling yourself you will deal with them again in the morning.
  • If you continue to worry, get out of bed and do something non-stimulating, such as reading or writing.  Go back to bed when you feel sleepy.

If you've done everything to create a good sleep environment and still can't get to or stay asleep, speak to your family physician about insomnia and stress management or ask about a referral to a good behavioral psychologist. Psychological counseling can help you learn productive ways to work out the underlying problems that are causing your sleep difficulties.


Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine "Healthy Sleep"15 Dec 2008. Web 16 Dec 2010.

Kansas State University Counseling Services. "How to Get a Good Night's Sleep."  1997. Web. 16 Dec 2010.