It’s the end of the day, you’ve completed everything you need to do, and it is finally time to rest. Just after lights out, your brain starts to think, problem-solve, worry, regret, or dart from one thought to the next. “Did I complete that thing? What is tomorrow going to look like? Did I make a fool of myself in that presentation?”.
Suddenly you are flooded with thoughts that are part of the “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve, what-if” family. Bedtime rumination is a form of anxiety that often occurs when we try to relax. The problem with rumination is that it provides us with a false sense of control over our worries. In reality, rumination is the process of getting stuck in a thought loop or spiral, at a time when we should be resting.
Here are some tips for dealing with bedtime rumination
- Winding down
Allow adequate time to wind down from your busy day. Stop all stimulating activities several hours before bed, including exercise. Allow relaxation-based activities in the hour before bedtime.
- To-do list
Write down a to-do list for the following day or week. This way, if you begin worrying about an upcoming task or situation in bed, you can gently remind yourself that you have written it down and you will address it tomorrow.
- Acknowledge your thoughts
Often, we tell our brain to shut up when it is keeping us awake at night. Unfortunately, we cannot simply turn our brain off, nor can we stop thoughts in their tracks. If you are experiencing recurrent distressing thoughts, acknowledge you are doing so. Recognising the thought spiral you are in can help distance yourself from these thoughts.
- What is in my control right now?
Asking yourself this question can help you to recognise unhelpful thoughts and thought patterns. While lying in bed it is unlikely that you are going to get up and take action of thoughts you are having. Therefore, acknowledge your thought and come back to it tomorrow.
- Practice acceptance
Often the problems we ruminate about are in the past or cannot be solved. When these types of thoughts pop up, acknowledge your concerns and tell yourself it is ok to let the thoughts be. Accepting our thoughts changes the relationship we have with them. Often we feel angry, frustrated, anxious or upset when we can’t get rid of a thought. Sometimes the thoughts reappear several times in a night. This is where it is helpful to acknowledge and accept that your thoughts are just thoughts that will come and go. The more you practice acceptance, the less of a threat your thoughts will be.
- Creative imagination
Rather than distracting yourself with TV or your phone, try to be creative with your thoughts. To take your mind off your worries, you might enjoy thinking about a creative project. For example, planning what a future holiday might look like, planning your upcoming birthday party, designing your dream room or home, or any other ideas that you feel positive thinking about.
- Mindfulness & Meditation
Practicing mindfulness and meditation can be a great way to let go of troubling thoughts. Letting go of thoughts is easier said than done, and requires some practice. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t let go of your thoughts straight away. There are plenty of free meditation clips online that can guide you through the process of letting go of thoughts. Give this a try at bed time.
Remember, there is no one size fits all. Different strategies work for different people. If you would like some further support in exploring what may be contributing to your rumination, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Sometimes bedtime rumination is part of a general anxiety issue. If your rumination is disturbing your sleep, causing you significant distress, or you simply wish to further discuss these challenges with a psychologist, support is just a phone call away.