How to Clear Your Mind and Sleep
In our world of high pressure and constant distraction, it can be very difficult to wind down and get our bodies and minds ready for sleep. Whether we’re checking emails, scrolling TikTok, or simply can’t slow our racing thoughts, the calm we need can be hard to cultivate – and the sleep we get may be less deep and restorative.
But poor sleep can really impair our ability to function – whether that means being mentally fit to perform the day’s work, or regulating our stress levels and emotions. So if you’re having trouble clearing your mind before bed, here are seven things you can try to ensure you get the rest you need.
Avoid doing things before bed that will wind you up
An hour or so before you intend to go to bed, it’s a good idea to put aside everything that is likely to perk you up or stress you out. That means don’t look at your bank account, don’t respond to work emails, don’t text your ex, and don’t watch something super intense and stimulating (like a horror movie) on Netflix.
And though it may not be entirely within your control, try avoid getting into emotionally intense conversations, especially arguments.
Insead of doing things that will activate you, you can….
Create a calm evening routine
Sleep hygiene experts generally recommend that you stick to a fixed bedtime every night for optimal sleep. As part of building this habit, it can be very helpful to have a regular evening routine that you begin 30 – 60 minutes before bedtime.
If you do certain things every night get ready by winding down.
Many of the strategies and tips that follow in this article can be integrated into a nightly routine, as can things like washing up at brushing your teeth. Try to keep your routine as consistent as possible.
And if you hit your designated bedtime and still feel super wakeful, it’s better to give yourself a bit more relaxation time rather than get in bed only to toss and turn (we’ll get into this more later).
If you have stuff on your mind, write it out
If your mind feels like it’s overflowing when you want it to be relaxing, journaling can rather literally clear it out. Write down the thoughts that are in the front of your mind, especially if those thoughts are worrisome or just generally difficult to unravel.
For people with anxiety, keeping a worry diary is a professionally-recommended way to try to break the cycle of frantic, circular thinking.
Do something physically and mentally calming
Alertness and anxiety are very physical experiences, which is why calming your body is an essential part of calming your mind. Just the simple practice of changing your breathing has been shown to have a major effect on your mental state.
There are many ways to relax your mind and body, and you can and should explore what works for you. But some great ideas to start with are:
- Do some gentle stretching or restorative yoga
- Take a hot bath
- Lie on the floor and breath deeply from your abdomen
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation
Engaging your senses in pleasurable ways can bring you deeper into any relaxation practices. You can put on some music or other sounds you find soothing, light a candle to create gentle warm light, or burn incense with a scent of your choice.
Have a snack
While it’s generally not recommended to eat a full meal right before you sleep, some people (very much including this author) can have trouble sleeping if they’re hungry – in addition to being uncomfortable, hunger is thought to be linked to alertness because that alertness is needed to help us find food.
So if you’re feeling super wakeful and your stomach is a little empty, having a snack can sometimes help settle you down. You should avoid sugar, which will give you a quick energy burst (the last thing you want), and instead eat foods that will fill you up without wiring you up.
Yogurt and fruit, whole wheat bread and peanut butter, some cheese, or trail mix can all make good midnight snacks.
Banish your devices to someplace far, far away
Or at the very least, don’t keep them right next to your bed. Anything that will beep or vibrate with incoming messages, or that you will be tempted to grab and start scrolling in a moment of wakeful frustration, should be kept off and out of reach.
For serious screen addicts, it can be helpful to put all of your devices in a completely different room. If you use your phone as an alarm, you can invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock instead.
Don’t get in bed until you feel relaxed
Even if your designated bedtime is 11pm, if 11 rolls around and you’re still buzzing, it’s better to delay climbing into bed so you can fully wind down first. Sleep hygiene experts agree that you want the place you sleep to be associated with sleep – rather than with tossing and turning and insomnia and anxiety.
Thus lying in bed for ages, getting more and more jittery, is counterproductive in both the immediate and the long term. Similarly, if you get in bed but then realize that sleep is nowhere in sight (or if you wake up in the middle of the night), it’s usually better to get up again for a while and do things that will calm you down.
You can repeat some of the relaxation exercises from your evening routine, try a new technique, or do something (like read a low-key book) that is pleasant but not super stimulating. Once again, just make sure not to get involved in something that will wind you back up and worsen your insomnia.