What to do if you feel your mind just won't shut off

It’s a fact of life, we like to think. We use our brains to resolve problems, generate answers and get a resolution. Once we’ve been through that process we often feel better, but from time to time the thoughts in our heads keep going and going and going.

Like a recent weekend.

My sleep schedule looked a bit like this: 8:30pm — get ready for bed; 9.15pm — get into bed; 9:30pm — hopefully asleep; 9:45pm — still hoping to be asleep; 10pm — wide awake staring at the ceiling wondering what that funny noise is; 10:30pm — still awake, still staring at the ceiling, slightly annoyed that the deep breathing of my partner lying beside me is a clear indication they are sleeping soundly; 11pm — should I get out of bed? Should I watch television?; 12am — huffing and puffing and tossing and turning in silent rage I am still awake.

If you have trouble turning your mind off at night, you are not alone. In fact, as you get older your sleep becomes lighter and more easily interrupted. It is estimated that around 9 per cent of Australian adults suffer from a sleep disorder.

Scientists believe the body’s awake and sleep modes are dictated to by two process models. The first is the process that promotes your desire to fall asleep (Process S) and the second is the process that keeps you awake during the day (Process C). The circadian rhythm also plays its part.

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When your rhythm is interrupted you can be prevented from falling asleep at night, which can in turn make you overly tired during the day. Repetitive actions of this nature can have a detrimental effect on your health.

While there is no magical switch that can turn off the activity in your mind, there are some things you can do to help quieten it.

Ariana Huffington, author of The Sleep Revolution, says one of the ways in which she reduces the thoughts crowding her mind is through an effective ‘transition to sleep’.

“Thirty minutes before bed, I turn off all my electronic devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom. Then I take a hot bath with Epsom salts and a candle nearby — a bath I prolong if I’m feeling anxious or worried,” she says.

“Sometimes I drink a cup of chamomile or lavender tea, and my nightstand holds things that help me unwind, like flowers, an analog alarm clock, physical books (poetry, philosophy, novels) that have nothing to do with work, and a picture of my daughters.”

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Huffington says each stage helps her shed more of the stubborn daytime worries.

Anxiety has a way of changing the way you think — sometimes it can make you think more negatively, while other times it can make you obsess over things you shouldn’t obsess over. Anxiety can cause you to have racing thoughts that you cannot seem to control.

Other ways you can help calm your mind:

  • Write our your thoughts
  • Focus on a distraction
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  • Exercise (before bed time)
  • Train yourself to accept
  • Create a ‘boring’ routine.
  • Meditation has also been found to assist in calming the mind and allowing sleep.

    Do you have trouble sleeping because your mind is full of activity? How do you calm it? Do you have any tips or tricks for others who might be struggling to switch their mind off? Share your thoughts with us.