Psychologist Questions Mental Health

At night, thinking prevents me from sleeping. Can I do anything about it?

It normally takes me 1-2 hours to finally fall asleep at night. I can't stop thinking and it's hard for me to divert my thoughts. Why does this happen and how can I stop it from happening?

16 Answers

This could be due to different factors. I would say if this is a new development, this could be a sign of anxiety. If it continues and begins to cause problems in functioning with relationships or at work, you should speak to your physician or visit with a psychologist to determine if there are any medical reasons to cause this and/or learn coping skills to manage your anxiety.

Brandi Buchanan, PhD
This is a simple, personal response from a trauma psychologist who tends to ruminate by nature... and finally found a dependable routine for falling asleep fairly soon and contentedly most nights. Turning off the TV and putting away computer/techno screens for several hours is an absolute must - and the most difficult part - a good measure of our anxieties. And do not forego the relaxing somatic aspects of progressively relaxing and refreshing the body, making it much easier to calm and still the mind.
Just thinking about relaxing is still thinking. So try building a simple, doable rhythm of down-regulating for several hours with soothing bath/shower, soothing music, simple slow stretches, lotions such as lavender known for calming, which will become a trigger to relax as you build a nightly routine. I use simple mindfulness  - Metta/Loving-kindness prayer, breathing slowly, laying on my side, because that position allows me to feel my breathing most clearly, — with just a few phrases, my mind is usually quiet and clear, and I often fall asleep in the middle of the process.
I had difficulty with distraction during meditation until a professor friend suggested pairing it with  slow movement - yoga, stretches. That was key for me. Perhaps blending touch, smell, sound, movement, and the anticipation of all of that, may be helpful for you. 
This is a common problem. Treatment depends on its etiology. In general, it is not a good idea to go to bed unless you fall asleep soon. So one thing is to go to bed later. Can also try herbal teas, meditation or deep breathing to relax. Next step is to take 10mg of melatonin about an hour before bedtime, also take 25 mg of Benadryl at the same time. If the combo does not work, then there are other more powerful meds which would require a doctor. At that point, I would suggest a consultation to figure out the problem (stress, anxiety, depression, some medical condition etc.) and come up with the best solution.

Dr Baudry
You may not be able to stop your mind from thinking, but it is possible to learn how to divert and relax your racing thoughts. The best technique comes from learning mindfulness meditation, where the practice involves witnessing the act of having a thought, and then returning to a focus on your breath. Your mind will naturally start thinking again, and each time you notice this you gently return to your breath. This practice offers a way to manage ones own thought process and return to the present moment, so you don't get lost in run-away thoughts. Calming the mind can also help you relax.
Typically whenever thoughts get in the way of falling asleep it is usually due to what the Psychologist Frederick Perls referred to as "unfinished business." This is a term meaning anything that is bothering you that has not been resolved. The brain wants to come to a solution to this unfinished business usually when we're most relaxed and unfortunately that means right we're going to bed. The best way to counter this is to deal with your unfinished business before going to bed. There are two ways of doing this. The first would be talking to a supportive person about what is bothering you, and the second would be writing about it. Try getting some practice with these methods to put that busy brain to rest.
I find that if I answer my thoughts in writing and even plan solutions, I can finally sleep.
Although you're calling it "thinking," it's more than likely that you are worrying. Worry is a precursor to anxiety. Journaling can be helpful, especially before bed. Taking the time to write down everything you can think of that is on your mind is a one way to get it out of your head and onto the paper. This exercise may help you to get some sleep. Prayer is one of the best ways to alleviate worry. It's not possible to pray and worry at the same time. Worry accomplishes nothing and steals everything. Prayer is a much more productive exercise. If you haven't given that a go, I highly recommend it!
I recommend contacting a psychologist to help acquire good sleep hygiene habits and allow the space for discussing what it is that keep you up at night in a safe environment, Dr. Hirshfeld
It can happen and does happen. In fact, to at least 40 million people in the US alone today have some type of sleep disturbance. So know that you are not alone. There can be many causes of sleep disturbance, which include, stress/anxiety, untreated ADHD, genetic factors, unmanaged pain, and host of other onsets. Even too much "screen time" can cause sleep disturbances. Our bodies produce a natural calming chemical called melatonin in order to help up sleep at night. If we are in front of a screen several hours a day and into the night, our body assumes that it is still daytime. Hence, it is not time to sleep. Have you tried any over the counter medications or a meditation practice prior to lying down to sleep?
I call it "relentless thought torture" but it's formally referred to as 'rumination'.

A skilled therapist should be capable of helping you process the thoughts rooted in unresolved issues and also give you a proactive approach using established therapeutic techniques and strategies.
Several suggestions:
1. Get out of bed if you do not fall asleep within 20 - 30 minutes and do
something else.
2. Only get into bed if you are sleepy.
3. Do not nap.
4. Get up the same time every morning.
5. Learn some relaxation techniques or see a stress management therapist
who could teach you relaxation techniques.
6. Use the relaxation techniques as soon as you get into bed.
Some people have stronger minds than others and if this is the case, you just need to get control of it and find out what works the best for you to fall asleep. Sometimes reading does work well. Light has a tendency to keep our minds thinking it is still light out, so the less lights, the better. Soft lighting and when you feel you are getting tired, turn off the television or put down the book. Do not take medication or drinks that may help you fall asleep.
Most typically people have difficulty with stopping an overactive mind at night because they are experiencing a great deal of stress and they tend to worry about life difficulties once they decide to go to bed for the evening. Some people find it helpful to keep a notepad next to their beds and to write down their worries on this pad while making a commitment with themselves to address these worries when they are awake the next day. Some how having the worries written down helps individuals to be able to relax and trust that they won't forget to take care of the issues when they are awake. Another technique that can be helpful is to say the word "stop" to yourself and quickly put your mind on a pleasant visual image. For example, think of yourself sitting in a very relaxing chair in your home or in a favorite place in your life. If these simple techniques are not helpful, you should consider making an appointment with a psychologist who would be able to assess your condition and provide helpful suggestions of ways to overcome your difficulty.
If this interferes with your sleep, it seems you are struggling with anxiety. It is important to work with a therapist to address your constant worry.
You have to give yourself permission to sleep. You are not getting paid overtime to problem solve. Use the Serenity prayer or music to relax. Restorative sleep is crucial for optimal functioning on a daily basis.
Yes, you can do something to stop that. Are you local to San Diego?