With the shorter days and longer nights of winter, you’d think it would be easy to get more sleep. But our always-on-the-go lifestyle tends to ramp up our brain activity to the point we just can’t seem to shut down for the night.
If you find yourself lying awake night after night with your mind wandering too much to fall asleep, these seven tips will help you get your brain back into hibernation mode so you can finally get the rest you need.
1. Write Your Worries on Paper
Do this well before bed by simply jotting down all those pesky worries and unfinished tasks in a notebook. This will clear them from your head and lessen the chances of waking up to ponder them. Be sure to make your worry list well before bedtime (you don’t want to write the list right before bed, as they’ll still be fresh in your mind when you want to sleep).
If you still find that you wake up with racing thoughts, keep a notepad by the side of your bed to write down thoughts in the middle of the night.
2. Deep Breathing
Quiet your mind chatter by taking slow, deep breaths and purposefully focus on each breath as you do so. Feel your lungs expand, your chest rise, the air flowing through your nose... then slowly exhale and repeat until you’re asleep.
3. Distract Your Brain
If your brain keeps wandering to anxiety-inducing thoughts, distract it by focusing on something else. Try to think of celebrity names that start with “A” or ‘sing’ your favorite song in your mind. Another trick is to put your fingers on the inside of your wrist to feel your pulse then simply focus all of your attention on that.
4. Remove Disturbances from Your Bedroom
It’s important to minimize things that may wake you up from a sound sleep (allowing your mind to start wandering). Common sleep disturbances include pets, a snoring partner, light pollution, temperature (typically too warm) and noise. Try adding pink noise to your bedroom and using an eye mask to create a quiet, dark environment conducive to sound sleep.
5. Think Positive
Turn your wandering nighttime mind from stressful thoughts to positive ones. Focus on an enjoyable event in your life or imagine yourself in your favorite location, such as at the beach or hiking through a forest. Mentally transfer yourself to your happy place.
6. Get Out of Bed
If you’ve tried the above tips and still can’t sleep, don’t force yourself to lie in bed. Get up, grab a cup of chamomile tea and read something (calming). When you feel yourself nodding off, get back into bed.
7. Try GABA — a Natural Brain Quieter
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter known for its inhibitory effect on nerves, essentially helping them to calm down.
Low levels of GABA are linked to mood and anxiety disorders, which is why some anxiety medications and hypnotics like Ambien and Lunesta actually work by increasing GABA activity. However, these drugs are linked to serious and bizarre side effects (like sleep eating, sleep sex and sleep driving!), so I can’t recommend their use.
However, GABA in its natural form can be invaluable. When you don’t have enough GABA, you may have racing thoughts and other feelings of anxiety that make it nearly impossible to sleep. GABA is known for essentially shutting off brain activity and reducing feelings of anxiety that keep you awake.
When taken orally, one study found as little as 100mg of GABA works effectively as a natural relaxant, inducing relaxation and diminishing anxiety within one hour of taking it.