How To Stop Your Mind From Racing At Night

photographed by Michael Beckert; produced by Sam Nodelman; modeled by Selah Fong; produced by Yuki Mizuma.
Some nights, you get into bed and your mind starts going over every single thing you've done, ever, since you've been alive. Or, it goes through every single thing you need to do the next day, the day after that, and the rest of your life, for good measure.
Sometimes, a racing mind is a sign of underlying issues like anxiety or even insomnia, but all of us have probably had nights where we just can't shut off our brains and get to sleep.
As frustrating as those nights can be, they're totally salvageable. Ahead, we've rounded up a few things you can do to sleep when your mind just won't quit running over the weird thing you once did in high school.
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illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Get out of bed.

It seems counter-productive, but Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, says that your bed "is only meant for one thing: sleeping."

He says that if you can't fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, the key is to get out of bed so that it doesn't become a routine for you to lie awake and let your mind run.
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illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Don't watch the clock.

Speaking of routine, Dr. Dasgupta says that if you keep watching the clock to see how long your thoughts are keeping you up, your body will start to adjust to being awake at whatever ungodly hour it is.

"The next thing you know, you're constantly waking up at 5:45 a.m. when you've set your alarm for 6 a.m.," he says.

Instead, try to get out of bed and do something chill and non-stimulating, like writing in a journal or moderate exercise like yoga.
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illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Avoid technology.

Even with functions like blue light filters that reduce the strain on your eyes, Dr. Dasgupta says, you're still encouraging an activity other than sleep — even if you think you're just using a sleep aid app.

"When it comes to sleep aid apps, I’m not worried that they're not helpful, I’m worried you’re tempted to check your email at the same time," he says.

And before you know it, you're thinking about all the messages you need to reply to, or you're going down a hole of tweets about whatever is going on in the world. You also should avoid binge-watching a TV show right before bed, even if you think having something play on TV will help you sleep. The last thing you want is to watch a cliffhanger for 13 Reasons Why right before you fall asleep.

Instead, Dr. Dasgupta suggests meditating, reading a (physical) book, or focusing on some breathing techniques.
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illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Designate "worry time."

Just like how you'd designate a time to study or get work done, Dr. Dasgupta says it could be helpful to set aside time to worry, or to sit on your couch and get through all the thoughts that might plague you once you get in bed.

"During that time, take the things that worry you, and put them into two columns, things you can control, and things you can’t control," he suggests.

You can also write down things you can accomplish and things you can't, in order of how important they are, and how you might be able to make them happen. Either way, putting them on paper might take them off your mind.
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illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Don't drink alcohol.

Dr. Dasgupta says that a glass or two of wine might knock you out at first, but it'll also make you more likely to wake up through the night to go to the bathroom, and for some people, once they're up, they're up — and thinking about everything under the sun.
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illustrated by Paola Delucca.
See a doctor if it doesn't get better.

As we mentioned, a restless mind could also be a sign of other health issues, both physical and mental.

"You could have a sleep disorder, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, anxiety, acid reflux, or other physical health problems," Dr. Dasgupta says.

Of course, a racing mind doesn't mean that you absolutely are suffering from a health problem, but if it's affecting your sleep and how you function during the day, definitely check with your doctor in case it's a sign of something more serious.
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