How to Stop Thinking When Trying to Sleep

We all know that sleep is a really important part of our lives. And as much as many of us would like to be superhuman and stop “wasting time” on getting a full night of sleep, it really is necessary for keeping our brains working well during the day.

If you’re like a lot of people, getting to sleep at night can be difficult. Even though your body is tired and you put yourself to bed at a reasonable time, it can still be challenging to shut off your brain and get yourself off to dreamland. While some people seem to have an automatic “switch” that they can turn off to stop thinking, many other people can’t seem to get the hang of it.

How to Stop Thinking and Go to Sleep

If you aren’t one of the lucky ones that has a magical switch in your brain that allows you to turn it off and immediately fall asleep, then you may need to engage in some sleep strategies. It’s important to see these as tools that you can try, but if they don’t work you can toss them out. This will keep the exercises from becoming stressful and adding another reason to worry and keep you awake.

5 Tips: How to Sleep Well Without Thinking Too Much

Some of these are things you can do when you’re already lying in bed trying to sleep. Others you may need to plan out ahead of time in order to get the most use out of them.

1. Counting Sheep.

No, really. There’s a reason behind the old legend that counting sheep will help you to get to sleep! The theory goes that long ago sheep herders had difficulty falling asleep because they were worried for their sheep. So in their minds, they began counting them to make sure they knew that they were all safe. This kept them from ruminating in worry.

Okay, so maybe sheep doesn’t work for you, but there’s still something to the counting part. Doing something with your brain so that it can remain on autopilot helps it to stay busy and keeps it from whirling out of control. But because what you are doing is a bit boring (ahem, counting sheep), you’re likely to drift off to sleep because there’s nothing interesting or stressful about it.

Some people find that counting backwards works better to keep their mind engaged on the task (and disengaged from worry). Others find that simple arithmetic, such as starting from a thousand and counting backwards by threes or sevens gives them just enough of a boring distraction to be able to fall asleep. Alphabetizing a list of things in your mind is another option. Reciting lyrics to a soothing song or poem is another strategy that works to help some people get to sleep.

2. Keep A Worry Journal.

If you struggle with negative thoughts keeping you awake at night or you’re having trouble with anxieties and worries, you may want to consider taking a few minutes earlier in the day to write down your thoughts and concerns. This will allow you to process through them in a healthy manner during the day. And if you have a sudden moment of genius or just thought of something imperative that you must remember the next day? Keep a pen and paper by the bed. Write down the thought and leave it. Then, when you’re trying to fall asleep you’ll know that they are written down and you’ll be able to rest in the realization that you can pick your problems back up in the morning.

3. Practice Sleep Hygiene.

This is just a fancy term for giving yourself time to prepare for bed. If you’ve been going 100 miles an hour all day and hope to just crash into bed and immediately fall asleep, that’s just not a realistic expectation. Your body and brain need at least an hour (two is better!) of restful time in the evening to disengage from the world and activity before you are ready to really go to sleep.

Try strategies such as putting your work away, turning down the lights, taking a warm bath, reading a non-stressful fiction book, engaging in non-confrontation conversation with family or roommates, or working on a crossword puzzle. Get into your pajamas and send the message to your body and brain that it’s time to relax. If you give yourself time to prepare in advance, you’ll sleep better when it’s time.

4. Adjust Your Electronics Usage.

You’ve probably heard it before: those blue screens are sucking your brain dry. Okay, so it’s not really that bad, but they may be doing you more harm than you realize when it comes to being able to go to sleep at night. The blue lights in televisions, laptops, smartphones, and tablets are all like drugs that give your brain a bit of a buzz. Two hours before it’s time to go to sleep, retire the electronic devices (yes, even your precious cell phone) into the other room. Your brain will be much more ready to sleep and less likely to spin around as you’re resting.

5. Don’t Work in Bed.

Your brain easily imprints feelings with places. If you make a habit of using your laptop in bed while you work, your mind will begin to associate your bedroom space with work and stress. Use the bed only for sleeping and sex, and any other activities should be taken to an office, desk, or even kitchen table. Even just mild reading may be better if you do it on the sofa or in a comfy chair, rather than in bed.


Sleep may not seem all that important until you can’t seem to get what you need! Engage in these tips to retrain your brain for sleeping at the right time. When you do, you’ll find that your body is happier and healthier, and your mind is more focused and energized. Being able to stop thinking and go to sleep is absolutely worth it!

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