How to Calm Racing Thoughts at Bedtime

Sometimes counting sheep doesn’t quite cut it. Michelle Maldonado shares a practice to ease into sleep when our thoughts keep us awake.

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Q.

I can’t stop ruminating before bed—which doesn’t lead to a good night’s sleep! How can I use my practice to get some rest?

A.

If you can, set aside a few minutes to meditate before you go to bed, or to journal if that’s your preference—but give your mind some time to unwind. Our minds hum, even when we’re tired, so give yours an outlet so that you’re not stuck in rumination. And then, when you do get in bed, try a body-scan meditation. That can help you ease into quality deep sleep.

If You Wake Up in the Night

Activate your parasympathetic nervous system with a simple breathing practice.

  • Inhale slowly, to a count of four.
  • Then, exhale even more slowly, to a count of eight.
  • Repeat this pattern for as long as you need to.

This kind of breathing activates the vagus nerve, which reaches from the base of your skull to your colon and is the major nerve of your parasympathetic nervous system: the part of your nervous system that helps calm the body.

If that doesn’t work, and you just can’t stay in bed, then you can always get up—don’t hold yourself static, spending time and energy fighting your alertness and being insistent on going back to sleep. Allow your body and mind to be where they are and find a calming activity—such as journaling or reading—that will allow your energy to dissipate so you can get the rest you need.

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