When You Can’t Sleep and Your Mind is Racing: What To Do

Devin Burke, your guide to better sleep and founder of Sleep Science Academy, lays out five strategies to calm a racing mind When You Can’t Sleep.

Before we discuss these five strategies, I want to mention that you should have a place to carry out the plan I will describe. Your place should be outside of your bedroom and bed.

The Plan

If you are awake for more than 20 minutes, leave your bed and bedroom for your chosen place because you do not want to anchor hyper-arousal, restlessness, or stress to your bed. 

You don’t want to watch the clock, just feel it out and estimate the time.

Move to your place, which should be comfortable and low-lit, to execute what I will share with you – your plan.

#1 – Write down your thoughts.
This strategy is effective because our mind moves much faster than our hands. Writing out your thoughts helps slow the mind down, putting the body in a more relaxed state and allowing it to do what it knows how to do, which is sleep.

I like to say sleep happens when you get out of your way. Writing your thoughts down can allow this to occur. And it is usually our thoughts that cause a racing mind which causes us to wake up thinking about things we need to do, should have done, or want to do.

Getting these thoughts out of your head and onto a notepad is a highly effective strategy and plan.

#2 – Bed Breathing
Bed breathing, also known as box breathing, is a simple technique where you envision yourself in bed, inhale for a count of five, hold for a count of five, exhale through your mouth for a count of five, and hold it for a count of five. 

Doing this at least 12 times proves to move your body into the parasympathetic rest response, allowing sleep to happen. But you don’t want to fall asleep where you are practicing this. When you begin to feel sleepy after practicing this technique, you should go back to bed and allow sleep to happen.

You don’t want to train your body to go somewhere and do bed breathing than sleep through the night, wherever that may be. You want to activate that sleepiness and then get back into bed. It is essential to understand this principle.

#3 – Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR is precisely what you do, progressively relaxing the muscles in your body. How do you do this?

There are many guided PMR meditations online that can be helpful. But essentially, what you do is intentionally contract body parts and then relax or release those body parts. Like bed breathing, this gets your mind off whatever you are thinking about and helps push out the tension and pressure which often accompanies a racing mind in the middle of the night.

This technique is straightforward and effective. And again, we don’t use these techniques so we can sleep because that attaches an expectation. Sleep happens when we allow it. You are merely practicing those things that create the greatest opportunity for sleep to occur, not to make sleep happens.

This concept is another critical distinction and reminder.

#4 – Binaural Beats
Essentially, binaural beats harmonize your brain frequencies to put you in a relaxed state. This strategy can be very effective for certain types of auditory people.

Listening to certain types of music infused with particular layers of audio can relax the mind, and the body will follow in a relaxed state where sleep can happen. Again, there are many online resources for this strategy, including many on YouTube.

#5 – Mental Energy Break (MVB)
While this strategy is not an in-the-moment tool, it should absolutely be part of your plan and something you should do throughout the day. This is because we build up tension and pressure in our minds and bodies throughout the day, often unconsciously.

This accumulation does not mean you are having a stressful day. You could merely be focusing on a task. And that focus creates a buildup of tension and energy that you want to discharge.

Take a breather when transitioning from one task to another; A bit of space, a moment of presence between tasks for specific breathing exercises, or a glass of water. There are many different ways you can take a mental energy break.

I like to walk or play with my dog, pause for a quick meditation, or go outside and do something active.

To Recap

You have a place and a plan where you take action on a technique, not so that you can sleep but so you can create the best opportunity for sleep to happen. You may choose one or more of these five strategies that will best help you make that opportunity for sleep to occur.

Final Thoughts

Whatever strategy or strategies you select to help relieve the stress and tension to allow your mind and body to relax and invite sleep, having support and guidance can be very beneficial.

Our team of professional sleep coaches and the uniquely empowering Sleep Science Academy program provide a proven comprehensive plan to help you achieve a lifetime of restorative sleep. Contact us today to learn more and take a crucial step in relieving your sleep challenges.

You can learn more about our process and Dynamic Sleep Recalibration (DSR) in this brief article.