How to Calm Your Mind at Night

By Lindsey O'Connell

Tell us if this sounds familiar.

You’re exhausted and can’t wait to get into your cozy bed, yet the moment you try to settle in, your mind starts to go over all the things you didn’t get to that day. Or, you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the following day. The next thing you know, it’s been two hours and you’re still awake. 

Our busy brains can be one of the biggest sleep saboteurs. These unprecedented times are adding heightened anxieties that can exacerbate the issue. To make matters worse, researchers at the University of California Berkeley have found that a sleepless night can trigger anxiety up to 30% versus a full night’s sleep which can calm emotions.

This leaves us with a tricky conundrum. We need sleep to keep our anxiety at bay, yet our anxiety is keeping us up.

So, what do we do? 

We talked to leading sleep experts to get their top tricks to calm our minds at night. 


Create a Nightly Bedtime Ritual 

You all know we love a bedtime routine, so it bears repeating. Just like you would do for a child, you want to go back to basics and set up your own nighttime rituals.  “Do the same things before bed so your brain knows it has to start preparing for sleep,” says Colin House, Intellibed’s sleep expert.  

Some things to add to your routine could include:

  • Turn off all your screens at least 30 minutes before bed and dim the lights
  • Read 
  • Meditate
  • Journal to get out all the looming to-dos populating your brain 

All of the experts we spoke to said we should go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time each day. “Our bodies need routine in order to sync our circadian rhythms. Create and maintain a bedtime routine,” says Lauri Leadley, CCSH, RPSGT, co-founder of Valley Sleep Center. She also recommends you start your day off with an alarm that is gentle and soothing, not a sound that creates tension. 

Check out how NL founder Keri Glassman sets herself up for sleep success here! 

Try Progressive Relaxation

Dr. Thanuja Hamilton recommends progressive relaxation for those middle-of-the-night wake-ups. The process involves actively relaxing each body part from head to toe by tensing it up and then relaxing while breathing out. “You end up taking your body to an even more relaxed state than it was at rest,” explains Dr. Hamilton, who is medical director at Jefferson University Hospital Sleep Lab. “The hope is that you can distract yourself while relaxing. The goal is that you fall back asleep before getting to your toes.”

Avoid the Temptation to Reach for Your Phone

Limiting exposure to blue light will help your body fall asleep naturally. “Before bed, download your favorite meditation (we recommend MindTravel meditations) and add them to your Amazon playlist,” says Murray Hidary, the mastermind behind MindTravel. “This way, all you have to do is say, ‘Alexa, play MindTravel Sleep’ and you’ll be able to relax without picking up your gadget.”

Focus on Your Breath

Meditation is a great way to help calm your mind. But, if you have a partner, you may not want to play a guided meditation and wake them up. Hidary recommends a simple box breath technique that you can do in silence. You breathe in for four counts, hold it for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts, etc. “Meditation is simply bringing your focus to the present moment,” he says. “Any time your brain wants to put its attention on the sleep you’re not getting, the things you forgot to do today, or worse … work, put your focus back on your breath.” If you really need that guidance, headphones can help.

“You can also utilize imagery by imagining yourself somewhere you love, like a beach,” says Leadley. “Sync your breath with the sound of the ocean waves. See, hear, and smell all the things around you in this beautiful, calming place. This will help detour your thoughts and worries so that you can relax and drift off to sleep.”

If after 15 minutes you’re still awake, Leadley suggests that you get out of bed and read under a dim light until you feel sleepy, and then return to bed. 

Don’t Beat Yourself Up About Not Sleeping

Obsessing about the fact that you aren’t sleeping can further your inability to fall back asleep.  Studies have shown that it’s not the total of uninterrupted sleep that makes a difference, but rather the aggregate total,” says Hidary. “So, if you find yourself in a pattern of waking up in the middle of the night and needing to nap in the middle of the day, give yourself the rest that your body—and your brain—needs.”

Have Sex

Yup, you read that right. More than one of our experts recommended having sex before  going to bed. The hormones that are released when you climax boost oxytocin (the hormone that makes you feel closer to your partner) and lowers your cortisol (stress-related hormone) levels.  So, you’ll be feeling happy and relaxed, which are two great helpers in igniting sound sleep.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

About Lindsey O'Connell
Former Editorial Director, Nutritious Life

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