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How To Stop Your Racing Mind While Trying to Sleep (GUIDE)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jan 30, 2022

Does your mind race while trying to fall asleep?

This is one of the most common causes of sleep issues and insomnia.

Most of these cases are due to anxiety, but there are a few other possibilities as well.

I’m going to give you a high-level walkthrough of how to deal with a racing mind, and how to fix it in the long run.

What Causes Your Mind to Race?

The first thing anyone with a racing mind needs to do is figure out the root cause of it, which can be different for everyone.

Generally, there are 3 main causes of a racing mind:

  • A need or habit for mental stimulation - This is common for over-thinkers who constantly feel the need to consciously solve problems or imagine stories.
  • Worrying about something in your life causing anxiety - Any source of stress can cause you to worry about it: career, relationships, your future, etc. Some people stress about the problem itself, others experience stress trying to think of the perfect action to take.
  • Doing something too stimulating before bed - These are typically obvious things like studying too much, playing a stimulating game, or watching an action movie.

We’re going to focus on the first 2 cases since they are not always obvious and both have different solutions.

Case 1: Dealing With a Habitual Racing Mind

This has become a much more common problem as the use of mobile devices has become a part of life.

For most of our days, we’re constantly expecting notifications from email and social media, that give your brain a small bit of rewarding stimulation. Over time, you naturally develop habits to keep thinking about stimulating things.

The solution is to retrain your mind to be “okay” with being quiet.

In other words, develop the ability to be mindful, which many lack.

How To Develop Mindfulness To Quiet Your Mind

When you are mindful when trying to go to sleep, there’s no urge to think about anything, your conscious mind simply observes any thoughts, stress, or fatigue passively.

The challenge is that you can’t force this consciously, and if you are able to start to feel sleepy, it’s easy to get excited and start thinking about that.

You can obviously practice while trying to go to sleep, but if you want relatively quick results, you need to practice mindfulness regularly during the day. Just 10-20 minutes to start with can go a long way.

You can technically learn to be mindful doing any activity, but meditation is typically the best starting point for people. There are tons of books on mindfulness meditation, and helpful apps to help you get started like:

Case 2: Sleep Anxiety Causing Your Mind to Race

Most people don’t have much downtime during the day, so it’s not surprising that when you do get a few minutes, your thoughts go straight to your biggest worries.

If this is causing you sleep problems, you can develop sleep anxiety (i.e. worrying about not getting enough sleep), which can spiral out of control and lead to insomnia.

How To Fix This Type of Anxiety

Depending on how bad the situation is there are a few “quick” things you can do that aren’t solutions, but can provide some short-term relief:

  • Weight blankets - While it depends on the individual, weighted blankets can improve anxiety for many people.
  • Relaxation activities - Doing things like yoga, massage therapy, and meditation can reduce general anxiety.
  • Mindfulness training - As discussed above, being mindful can also help with observing stressful thoughts without focusing on them and having them spiral out of control.

But there’s a lot of research on sleep anxiety, and the best solution is clear: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

There is even CBT specifically for sleep anxiety and insomnia.

Do you need to see a professional therapist for CBT?

It depends on how bad your sleep issues are. If you have insomnia, getting professional help is always recommended.

For minor issues that pop up once in a while, there are online CBT courses that are more affordable. Research has shown that good online CBT courses are almost as effective as in-person sessions.

And if you can’t afford anything, you can still examine your thoughts on your own and try to determine why they are illogical or unhealthy.

The Biggest Challenge At Fixing Sleep Anxiety

One tough part of sleep anxiety is that you don’t know what your thought triggers are until you think about them at night and they mess up your sleep.

Unfortunately, you can’t deal with these thoughts while trying to get to sleep, so you need to do it later on during the next day.

Writing down your thoughts and insights from any CBT sessions can be really helpful. You can review these before bed to minimize any sleep anxiety.

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Stop a Racing Mind?

Unless the cause is some obvious poor sleep hygiene (i.e. gaming right before sleeping), there’s no easy fix.

Developing mindfulness or reducing sleep anxiety takes time.

Most people will start to see significant improvements within a few weeks. However, it’s important to keep working on it, typically for months to really get to a healthy point where sleep issues won’t come back in the future as soon as something stressful happens.

You essentially need to undo bad habits and thought patterns that have built up for several years, so it’s going to take time and patience.


Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.