Leadership

Sleep expert suggests this simple 2-part strategy to stop your mind from racing

Woman lying in bed trying to sleep.
Sam Thomas | Getty Images
Woman lying in bed trying to sleep.

If you find yourself staring at the ceiling trying to quiet a racing mind, there's a simple two-part strategy that can help you get some much-needed rest.

In her new book "Sleep Sense," sleep expert Katharina Lederle describes a strategy based on principles from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is a type of therapy informed by mindfulness principles and designed by cognitive and behavioral therapists. This type of therapy, in part, can help people acknowledge and accept negative thoughts and make changes in their lives.

Whether you're currently trying to go to sleep or you've been dealing with anxieties from your day, Lederle says her suggested approach can help you "become less bothered by your thoughts and emotions" and fall asleep more easily.

Step one: Take stock of your thoughts and emotions

There are plenty of issues that can cause sleeplessness. You might be excited about becoming a parent or receiving a promotion. You might be anxious about losing your job or struggling through relationship issues.

Whether your thoughts are negative or positive, don't ignore them. Take note of the thoughts passing through your mind. As you do, take stock of the related emotions and sensations you might be feeling.

"Allow them to come and go and to be just as they are," wrote Lederle. "It's almost like sitting in an armchair and noticing whoever is coming into the room," she noted. "You don't talk or engage with them; you simply acknowledge them and let them be."

Step two: Accept those thoughts and emotions

Allow those thoughts to linger. This might be uncomfortable, but try to do it anyway. Your instinct might be to distract yourself or question whether your thoughts are valid or relevant. You might even be frustrated with yourself since you want to be sleeping and not thinking about the next day.

Let those frustrations go. Those frustrations are just distractions and a way to avoid acknowledging difficult thoughts.

Instead, accept whatever emotions you are feeling and whatever thoughts you are thinking. Once you accept these feelings, you will move closer to accepting other things you can't control, such as events that happened in the past and ones that will occur in the future.

Over time, you'll learn to be less bothered by your thoughts and emotions and be able to fall asleep much more quickly. "Adopting an accepting attitude, rather than getting annoyed with yourself or frustrated with [a] situation, will help you save energy at night which you will then have for the next day," wrote Lederle.

At its core, this method addresses more than just your racing thoughts. It changes your response to them. Understand that it can be hard to break out of the habits you already have in place. Your instinct might be to worry over the things that bother you or try to solve problems that you face.

"I know this isn't easy when you first try it," warned Lederle. "Accepting something we don't like is a very different response to how we usually respond to a problem."

Slowly, however, you'll change your habits. Soon, you'll break the vicious cycle you'd been facing and get the rest you need.

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