How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

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How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

Does it feel like your mind is constantly racing?

When you close your eyes to go to bed, do you hear silence and feel calm, or are you bombarded with worries and thoughts rushing through your head like a hamster on a wheel?

“Monkey mind” is a term used to refer to that chatter of worry, fear, and doubt that we hear in our heads. Whether directed at ourselves or others, monkey mind can rob us of peace of mind, joy and happiness.

A restless mind has many negative effects that can include trouble sleeping, poor decision-making, anxiety and even depression when left to run amuck. Repetitive, ruminating thinking limits effective problem solving, and promotes procrastination, avoidance and withdrawal, only resulting in further problems.

You may have heard the expression “what you resist persists.” As long as we fight against the monkey mind, we give it more energy and make it stronger. As long as we try to beat our thoughts away, we make them bigger.

Everyone has monkey mind. It’s a part of being human, and it never goes away. So while it is impossible to banish the monkeys in your mind, you DO have the power to tame your monkey mind and keep it in order.

Here are 6 simple ways to quiet your mind:

1. Meditate

The single most effective way to still your mind is meditation. Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention to help you feel calm and give you a clear awareness about your life. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components; all share the same goal of achieving inner peace.

2. Breathe deeply

Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a very effective, yet simple method for overcoming stress and quieting your mind; one that can be done anywhere, anytime! When you take shallow breaths, it reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your brain cells and reduces your overall brain function. Taking deep breaths relaxes your muscles, relieves tension, and helps your brain function better.

3. Practice gratitude

Did you know that practicing gratitude causes real changes in your brain that enhance brain function and make you feel better? If you want your brain to work better, practice being grateful for the good things in your life. Writing down your grateful thoughts makes the practice that much more powerful.

4. Write it down

Try journaling or otherwise putting your thoughts on paper. This process gives those stressful thoughts a home – another place they can live besides your brain. Once those thoughts are expressed, they often no longer feel the need to wreak havoc on your brain so that you can mentally relax.

5. Exercise

Physical exercise is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to keep your brain healthy over time? Physical exercise not only boosts blood flow and other positive nutrients to the brain – it actually stimulates “neurogenesis,” the ability of the brain to generate new brain cells – especially the cells that help the brain self-regulate and calm down!

6. Add GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid)

GABA’s natural function is to reduce the activity of the neurons to which it binds and is vital to quieting an overactive mind. Dr. Daniel Amen’s GABA Calming Support contains clinically tested GABA shown to promote relaxation by increasing calming, focused brain waves, while also calming other brain waves associated with worry. Complimenting this clinically tested and natural substance are vitamin B6, magnesium and lemon balm, an herb traditionally known for its calming effects.

When you calm your mind, you can begin to experience clarity, happiness and a sense of well-being. Practicing these simple strategies helps give you your peace of mind back.

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

In our constantly plugged-in, fast-paced society today, it’s no wonder why so many people have sleeping problems. Some doctors and researchers have even called lack of adequate sleep a public health epidemic due to the number of sleep-deprived citizens today. In fact, according to a Gallup report, a staggering 41% of Americans don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

As you’ve probably heard before, our cells regenerate during sleep, allowing us to carry out all the necessary tasks of a day’s work. However, improper sleep can lead to poor mental and physical health. In fact, a groundbreaking study from the University of Surrey in the UK found that just one week of inadequate sleep can lead to changes in a whopping 700 genes in the human body.

Sleep deficiency can lead to chronic health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and cancer, just to name a few. Researchers found that the genes affected controlled inflammation, immunity, and stress response.

So, what can we do about this ever-growing sleep problem? For starters, it would help to learn how to fall asleep again, something that came very naturally to us as children. However, due to life stress and all the things that come along with “growing up,” many of us have simply forgotten how to fall asleep in a short amount of time. Our minds keep us awake at night, inducing anxiety and restlessness.

How to Train Your Brain To Fall Asleep in 1 Minute or Less

While clearing your mind before sleep may seem like a difficult task, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends a simple breathing technique to help you relax. He points to the 4-7-8 breathing technique as a natural sleep remedy for the nights when sleep seems to elude you. Below, we’ll discuss exactly how to do this breathing exercise.

  1. First, make sure you have the right posture to allow for deep breathing. (Sit up straight, relax your shoulders, etc)
  2. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth. Keep it there throughout the exercise, even as you exhale.
  3. Exhale completely.
  4. Inhale through your nose to a count of four.
  5. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  6. Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight.
  7. Then, complete the sequence three more times.

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

It might take a few nights of practice for this to work, but the key is consistency. You might have trouble concentrating on doing the exercise at first, but just remember to set aside some time before bed so that you can focus on nothing but breathing.

So, why does this technique work so well, you ask? We have three main reasons. Firstly, it allows you to slow your breathing, which automatically makes you feel more relaxed. Secondly, you will have more oxygen coursing through your body by taking deeper breaths. Thirdly, concentrating on solely your breathing will teach you mindfulness, which many scientists have proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and racing thoughts.

Maybe we’ve forgotten how to sleep because we’ve forgotten how to breathe, but by practicing this breathing exercise, you’ll fall asleep quicker and have a more restful sleep.

You can also do other things to induce sleep, a few of which we have outlined below.

More Tips on How to Fall Asleep Faster

  • Don’t do any sort of work in your bed. You need to associate your bed with sleep and relaxation, not anything else.
  • Keep the house comfortable. Studies have shown that people sleep better when the thermostat is set to cool.
  • Write down any thoughts you might have before you go to sleep. This way, you can get out all of your stress and frustration before sleep so that you won’t lie awake thinking of everything under the sun that worries you.
  • Remove any distractions. Turn off your cell phone, TV, and other digital devices so that you can prepare for sleep and avoid keeping your mind active.
  • Try to keep your house quiet. However, if relaxing music helps you fall asleep, by all means, turn it on before bed.
  • Have a routine. Our bodies require a certain wake-sleep cycle in order to function properly, so go to bed at the same time each night, and wake at the same time each morning.

Remember, sleep is absolutely vital to living your best life, so honor your needs and prioritize your sleep. You’ll feel more vibrant and happy once you get a normal sleeping schedule down. Sweet dreams!

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING?

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

Numerous people face sleep difficulties every single night they go to bed. This is truly a tiring and time- wasting procedure through which they need to go regularly before they finally fall asleep. If you have insomniac tendencies and take more than an hour to fall asleep each night, you’re spending more than nine 40-hour weeks on that pointless activity every year.

Fortunately, there is a solution for these sleep disorders and we will now present it to you. Namely, it is a technique which helps you train your brain to fall asleep almost instantly.

However, before you attempt to improve your sleep habits, you need to make certain changes in your diet habits. In order to have better sleep, you need to eliminate the following common foods and beverages from your diet:

  • Coffee
  • Cola
  • Caffeinated Tea (green tea, decaf tea and white tea)
  • Chocolate (as well as cocoa and cacao)
  • yerba mate

Coffee seriously affects your ability to fall asleep and have a good sleep. Even a small cup of coffee in the morning can disrupt your night sleep. You may also sleep less restfully, and you’ll be prone to awaken more often throughout the night. Consequently, you may wake up tired and need extra sleep.

However, we have some good news for coffee lovers as well. If you simply enjoy your caffeine, you can add it back once you’ve gone through this adaptation training. Once you’ve mastered the habit of being able to fall asleep in 30 seconds or less, some caffeine during your day will not disrupt your sleep.

Training Process To Fall Asleep Faster

To fall asleep in less than 30 seconds can be achieved through a long-term process of sleep training. Do not expect to learn some easy trick that you can use right away to make this happen instantly. However, once you’ve trained yourself to this point, the process is effortless, since you will fall asleep almost automatically, without any difficulties.

Nevertheless, you may still find it difficult to relax and fall asleep immediately, especially after a stressful day, but most of the time under normal conditions, you will successfully achieve it in less than half a minute.

The training process may take a long time, sometimes months or even years, but it’s not at all difficult, and it needn’t take a serious time commitment. In fact, the training will most likely save you a significant amount of time. The only challenging part is maintaining consistency long enough to get results.

First consider that it’s possible for you to fall asleep faster, for instance, remember all those night when you were too tired to watch a film and fell asleep on the couch, or when you drifted off while reading. This is important since thus you can consider the possibility that your brain already knows how to fall asleep quickly, and if you create the right conditions, then you’re capable of doing this again. You just need to train your brain to do this more consistently.

This indicates that you aren’t falling asleep faster simply because you haven’t trained your brain to do so.

The essence of this approach is to urge your brain to drop all other activity and immediately transition into sleep when you desire to do so.. If there are few consequences for a lazy approach to falling asleep, then your brain will continue to be lazy and inefficient in this area. Without incentives to become more efficient, your brain will remain naturally lazy by default.

Our brain is never passive, even during deep sleep, and it operates in different modes of consciousness, including beta (waking), alpha, theta, and delta phases. When you lie in bed waiting for sleep, you’re waiting for your brain to switch modes. So, we usually dwell on other thoughts, lie and wait to fall asleep, while our untrained brain takes its sweet time making the necessary state change.

In fact, your subconscious may continue to bubble up thoughts and ideas to occupy your conscious mind, distracting you with mental clutter instead of letting you relax and slide into sleep. Even if your conscious mind needs to go to sleep, it is in fact your subconscious which determines when you fall asleep. So, if your subconscious mind does not hurry to fall asleep, your conscious mind will need much time to force it.

On the other hand, trained subconscious mind is obedient and fast, and when the conscious mind says to sleep, the subconscious activates sleep mode immediately. However, you must note that this will only happen if you’re feeling at least partially sleepy, because if the subconscious doesn’t agree with the need for sleep, it will still cause sleep difficulties.

The process to train your brain to transition immediately and without delay after your need for sleep appears involves using short, timed naps.

It is fully explained below:

First stage

When you feel drowsy at some point during the day, you should allow yourself to take a 20-minute nap. But exactly 20 minutes total, so it would be good to use a timer to set an alarm.

Begin the timer as soon as you lie down for your nap. Whether you sleep or not, and regardless of how long it takes you to fall asleep, you have 20 minutes total for this activity… not a minute more.

Now, you need to relax and allow yourself to fall asleep as you normally would. This practice has no special aim, so you should not force yourself, for all results are acceptable: If you just lie there awake for 20 minutes, good. If you fall asleep, it would be great. And if you sleep for some fraction of the time, that’s good as well.

After those 20 minutes, without lingering, you must get up immediately. No lingering, not a minute more. It is this part which is essential in this stage. If you’re tempted to continue napping after the alarm goes off, then put the alarm across the room so you have to get up to turn it off. It is a rule, so no matter what, get up immediately. In case you feel tired and sleepy, do not let yourself go back to sleep immediately, wait for at least an hour and take another nap later.

We believe the best time for this nap practice is during the day, but you can also do it in the evening. You may have your evening nap right after dinner, for people usually feel a little sleepy then. But this evening nap must be at least an hour before your normal bedtime.

The ideal practice is one nap a day, but you can do them at least a few times a week if you can.

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

In our constantly plugged-in, fast-paced society today, it’s no wonder why so many people have sleeping problems. Some doctors and researchers have even called lack of adequate sleep a public health epidemic due to the number of sleep-deprived citizens today. In fact, according to a Gallup report, a staggering 41% of Americans don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

As you’ve probably heard before, our cells regenerate during sleep, allowing us to carry out all the necessary tasks of a day’s work. However, improper sleep can lead to poor mental and physical health. In fact, a groundbreaking study from the University of Surrey in the UK found that just one week of inadequate sleep can lead to changes in a whopping 700 genes in the human body.

Sleep deficiency can lead to chronic health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and cancer, just to name a few. Researchers found that the genes affected controlled inflammation, immunity, and stress response.

So, what can we do about this ever-growing sleep problem? For starters, it would help to learn how to fall asleep again, something that came very naturally to us as children. However, due to life stress and all the things that come along with “growing up,” many of us have simply forgotten how to fall asleep in a short amount of time. Our minds keep us awake at night, inducing anxiety and restlessness.

How to Train Your Brain To Fall Asleep in 1 Minute or Less

While clearing your mind before sleep may seem like a difficult task, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends a simple breathing technique to help you relax. He points to the 4-7-8 breathing technique as a natural sleep remedy for the nights when sleep seems to elude you. Below, we’ll discuss exactly how to do this breathing exercise.

  1. First, make sure you have the right posture to allow for deep breathing. (Sit up straight, relax your shoulders, etc)
  2. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth. Keep it there throughout the exercise, even as you exhale.
  3. Exhale completely.
  4. Inhale through your nose to a count of four.
  5. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  6. Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight.
  7. Then, complete the sequence three more times.

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

It might take a few nights of practice for this to work, but the key is consistency. You might have trouble concentrating on doing the exercise at first, but just remember to set aside some time before bed so that you can focus on nothing but breathing.

So, why does this technique work so well, you ask? We have three main reasons. Firstly, it allows you to slow your breathing, which automatically makes you feel more relaxed. Secondly, you will have more oxygen coursing through your body by taking deeper breaths. Thirdly, concentrating on solely your breathing will teach you mindfulness, which many scientists have proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and racing thoughts.

Maybe we’ve forgotten how to sleep because we’ve forgotten how to breathe, but by practicing this breathing exercise, you’ll fall asleep quicker and have a more restful sleep.

You can also do other things to induce sleep, a few of which we have outlined below.

More Tips on How to Fall Asleep Faster

  • Don’t do any sort of work in your bed. You need to associate your bed with sleep and relaxation, not anything else.
  • Keep the house comfortable. Studies have shown that people sleep better when the thermostat is set to cool.
  • Write down any thoughts you might have before you go to sleep. This way, you can get out all of your stress and frustration before sleep so that you won’t lie awake thinking of everything under the sun that worries you.
  • Remove any distractions. Turn off your cell phone, TV, and other digital devices so that you can prepare for sleep and avoid keeping your mind active.
  • Try to keep your house quiet. However, if relaxing music helps you fall asleep, by all means, turn it on before bed.
  • Have a routine. Our bodies require a certain wake-sleep cycle in order to function properly, so go to bed at the same time each night, and wake at the same time each morning.

Remember, sleep is absolutely vital to living your best life, so honor your needs and prioritize your sleep. You’ll feel more vibrant and happy once you get a normal sleeping schedule down. Sweet dreams!

Does getting to bed feel like a nightmare? For many of us, as soon as it’s time for bed, the brain begins buzzing. We might experience racing thoughts or a thought or two that keeps gnawing at us. Then those thoughts can turn into worry thoughts about not being able to function the next day because we slept poorly. It can become a vicious cycle.

While there’s “no button to push” to deactivate our thoughts, of course, we can “create the right associations” to help us sleep well, says Lawrence Epstein, M.D., chief medical officer of Sleep HealthCenters and instructor in medicine at Harvard University.

Below, Dr. Epstein and sleep specialist Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D, share their insight on quieting your worries and sleeping well.

1. Realize sleep is essential.

For many of us, sleep is the last thing on our minds when it comes to living healthfully. And sleep is the first thing to get sacrificed if we’re pressed for time.

But not getting enough sleep can cause a variety of issues, including anxiety. It also prevents people from performing fully and at their best, Dr. Epstein says. Plus, sleep deprivation can increase your risk for health problems such as hypertension, stroke and diabetes, he says.

Once you realize that sleep is vital to your life, he says, you can work on sleeping well.

2. Have a regular sleep schedule.

Getting up and going to bed at the same time is key to good sleep. In fact, Dr. Epstein says that “the greatest promoter of being able to sleep is being in sync with your internal clock” or your circadian rhythms.

3. Create a pre-sleep routine.

Along with a consistent sleep/wake schedule, winding down before bed is one of the best ways to get your sleep back on track. As Silberman says, it’s “very hard to shut down your brain or quiet anxious or worrying thoughts when you’re on the go before bedtime.” You want to separate your day from the nighttime, she says.

Also, “Our body craves routine and likes to know what’s coming,” says Dr. Epstein, also co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. By creating a pre-sleep ritual, you’re establishing a clear association between certain activities and sleep.

For instance, if you read before heading to bed, your body knows that reading at night signals sleep time. If you take a warm bath before bed every night, your body recognizes that it’s time to slow down and relax.

Silberman suggests listening to calming music, stretching or doing relaxation exercises. If you’re watching TV before bed, make sure it’s at least a relaxing program, and not something like the news, she adds.

The goal of this pre-sleep routine is to relax your body and prime it for sleep, Dr. Epstein says. So if you’re going to bed at 10 or 11 p.m., “set aside 30 minutes or an hour for pre-sleep time,” he says.

4. Write down your worries — earlier in the day.

For about 10 to 15 minutes a day, “Write down what’s on your mind at an earlier time and what you’re doing about it,” says Silberman, who’s also author of The Insomnia Workbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Sleep You Need. To kick-start your worry session, she suggests simply asking yourself, “What are the things that come to my mind when I’m lying in bed at night?”

If a worrying thought comes up right before bed, you “can mentally check it off,” and either say to yourself “I’ve dealt with that,” or “I’m dealing with it,” she says. This usually helps to create a “sense of relief.”

Avoid writing up your list before bedtime, Silberman says, because you want to have enough separation from your thoughts at night.

5. Use your bed for sleep and intimacy.

Create a clear association between your bed and sleep, Dr. Epstein advises. In fact, if you’re having trouble sleeping, he even advises against reading in your bed. He says it’s OK to read in your bedroom but avoid the bed.

Similarly, both experts suggest not watching TV in bed, using your computer, doing paperwork or texting on your phone. These activities stimulate your brain, instead of relaxing you.

6. Create an optimal environment.

Creating the right environment for sleep includes keeping your room dark, quiet and at a moderate temperature, Dr. Epstein says. Again, this helps people to relax.

7. Busy your brain with mental exercises.

Being able to distract yourself from your worries can be enough to help you fall asleep, Silberman says. A mental exercise helps your brain focus away from your worries, she says. It can be as simple as “thinking of fruits and vegetables with a certain letter.”

Another idea Silberman suggests is to focus on the details of a particular object, such as its color, shape, size and what it’s used for. Or you can recite lyrics from a favorite song.

8. Focus on the positive.

When you’re lying in bed worrying, it helps to turn to more positive thoughts, Silberman says. You can “focus on good memories and happy events.”

9. Practice relaxation exercises.

Relaxation exercises are very helpful in reducing anxiety and racing thoughts, Silberman says. Exercises to try include progressive muscle relaxation (going through each muscle group and tensing and relaxing it) and deep breathing.

10. Participate in physical activities.

Exercising regularly helps with sleep, Dr. Epstein says. It’s also a major anxiety-reducer. But make sure you exercise a few hours before bedtime, he notes, since physical activity can be stimulating.

11. Think about what’s stealing your sleep and boosting your anxiety.

Ask yourself if your habits are interfering with your sleep or fueling your anxiety. According to Dr. Epstein, the biggest sleep saboteurs are caffeine and alcohol, both of which also boost anxiety.

He says that people just don’t realize that caffeine’s effects can last four to seven hours. Also, remember that tea and chocolate contain caffeine, too.

“Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it fragments your sleep and makes it less restful,” he says. Also, certain medications can disturb sleep. If that’s the case for you, talk to your doctor about taking your medication at a different time or taking a different medicine altogether, he says.

12. See a sleep specialist.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything to no avail, find a sleep specialist in your area who does cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the number one recommended treatment, Silberman says. You may be surprised to learn that sleep disorders such as insomnia can be treated in as little as several sessions and don’t require medication, Silberman says.

There are very specific treatments for sleep, so it’s important to see someone who’s a qualified sleep specialist.

In general, remember that sleep is a priority in your life. It helps you perform at your best and be healthy, Dr. Epstein says. Consider what habits may be increasing your anxiety and try the techniques above to help you relax and get ready for bed.

Photo by Lisa Yarost, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

Before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, millions of people were already having trouble getting their eight hours of shuteye each night. The overload of new information, and emotions can worsen this situation for those already struggling with ZZZ and adding new members to the night owls club.

Besides the important sleep hygiene tips by the National Sleep Association, here are some simple tools that worked for me when I struggled with insomnia and depression, and now are helping my clients sleep like a rock.

Morning tips

Declutter your mind

The main reason people can’t fall asleep at night is because they have an overload of information in their heads, and they are not necessarily all stressful thoughts. A new business idea for example might keep you awake at night.

During a difficult situation, including a pandemic, this overflow of information might feel denser, because there’s a mix of emotions with uncertainty, and stress (positive or negative).

Sit in silence

Sit quietly for a couple of minutes in the morning to be with yourself. Notice your breath and how you are feeling. You don’t necessarily have to sit and meditate, just take some time to ground yourself and notice what’s up. Every day is going to be different.

Go for a morning walk

Sleeping better starts with your morning routine. The first rays of light are important to produce melatonin, the hormone that tells your body later on that it is dark outside and time for bed. Walking will also support your digestive functions and produce happiness hormones.

For this reason, the main recommendation I give my friends and clients is to take the time to declutter their mind, first thing in the morning. Journaling is the best way I learned to take the load off my head and feel clearer and calmer.

Evening

Dim the lights and turn off the sleep stealers

Create a night routine to tell your body that it is time to sleep. Set a time to slow down and stop creating. Dim your lights and put aside anything that activates your brain, especially if you have a creative one.

Electronics, lights, and pets can be sleep stealers. Smartphones, for example, distract and stimulate you. They emit blue-spectrum light that can inhibit our body’s production of melatonin and make our brains think that it is still sunny out.

Legs up the wall and breathe

Lie down on the floor with legs up the wall (or up in your bed or a chair). Place your hands on your belly and inflate it as you inhale, as though you were inflating a balloon. When you exhale, release the air. If it feels comfortable, try to make your exhales longer than your inhales.

Practicing this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes at night can help improve your blood circulation and get your body out of fight or flight mode.

Mudras: Calming gestures

“Mudras” are gestures that can be done with the hands, or parts of the body to promote health, balance, and spiritual connection.

The positive effects of mudras can be perceived in minutes, thanks to the thousands of nerve endings on the hands.

Follow these simple instructions while lying in bed, sitting for meditation, or any other time you need some grounding.

Adhi Mudra is one of the most calming gestures, perfect to support a good night’s sleep.

Make soft fists with your hands with the thumbs tucked inside.

Rest your hands (palms facing down) onto your sides or on top of the thighs.

Relax, breathe and enjoy this mudra for 2-3 minutes or until you fall asleep.

**Caution: As this gesture can lower blood pressure, people with low blood pressure should carefully monitor the effects.

Yoga nidra: The secret sleep gem

The best part? You must only sit or lie down and listen to it.

If you prefer, you may lie with your feet up, while breathing, holding adhi mudra and listening to yoga nidra all at the same time.

The goal is to condition yourself so that your body’s rhythm will naturally prepare you for sleep.

No content on this post or site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

Those voices inside your head won’t be quiet: all you can hear is your boss telling you to have those reports complete by Friday, or your daughter reminding you there’s soccer practice this Saturday, or a parent’s voice telling you they need your help cleaning the house this weekend.

Most of us have somewhere to be each day, not to mention the everyday fire drills we get put through at work or at home. It can feel very overwhelming, and our minds can get noisy. Some of us even have echoes of voices from experiences from the past.

How do you deal with all that mental clutter?

Mental clutter is something I’ve worked on my entire life. I used to feel like, no matter what, I constantly had some sort of mental clutter—I always had something going on in my mind. If it wasn’t something new causing that anxious, chaotic feeling, it was something from the past creeping back into the present to haunt me. Some days were worse than others, but it was there every day.

And then, after fixing several other parts of my life, I was able to cut down on the mental clutter:

Health. Your mind and your body aren’t standing in separate corners of the room: it’s much easier for a physically unhealthy person to experience a poor mental state. The brain is a delicate organ and we must treat it right. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen. I was impressed with Amen’s in-depth explanation of the ties between the human brain and the human body.

I notice I feel more anxious when I have an empty stomach, have not exercised in a few days, eat junk food, and don’t get enough sleep. I discovered once I changed these things, the mental clutter began clearing away.

Improving my health was an important first step.

Circumstances. If you’re like me—the old me—then you’re saying to yourself you can’t change your circumstances. And with that attitude, we’re right.

Once I decided I’d had enough of the mental clutter, though, I had no choice but to change my circumstances—I had no choice but to remove myself from circumstances that added to the problem.

I stopped associating with certain people, changed my spending habits, downsized my possessions. I started with myself, and, in time, changed my circumstances.

Over time things change, and instead of letting them change on their own, or letting things change me, I decided to change myself.

Some of those changes were difficult.

I stopped associating with a few folks who encouraged bad habits, and the world didn’t stop spinning.

I set new expectations with friends and family, and they supported me.

My circumstances are completely different now from what they were a short while ago, and I’m infinitely happier. Don’t take this the wrong way: I’m not suggesting everyone needs to quit their job or take dire actions, but please understand your problems likely aren’t as bad as you think.

Don’t be fooled by anyone: you are in control of your circumstances; you are in control of you.

Past troubles. This was one of my biggest issues: my haunting past. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve let people down, and I’ve made dumb decisions. I’ve been extremely hard on myself, unnecessarily hard, neurotic about the mistakes and bad decisions I’ve made.

I’d often fall asleep replaying my whole day in my head, searching every interaction and conversation for mistakes so I could improve myself.

Now every time I feel anxiety caused from some past experience, I ask myself a few different questions:

Is that situation relevant now?
Was that situation even that serious?
Am I blowing it out of proportion?
Was that situation in my control?
Does what that person, family member, or friend said actually have validity, or are they just acting out?

These questions helped me discern the things that mattered and didn’t matter, so I could stop being so hard on myself. I also had to learn what things were in and out of my control. If something was out of my control, I accepted it so I could focus on the things I could control—the things I could change.

What makes you tick? To find out what made me tick, I drew a vertical line down a piece of paper. I labeled the left side “Bad Days” and the right side “Good Days.” For each scenario, “Good Day” or “Bad Day,” I thought of the foods I ate, people I saw, places I visited, etc. I couldn’t remember every detail, but it gave me a few places to start.

To get better, I knew I needed to identify the problems, and then find the appropriate tools to combat them. Those tools can be different for everyone, but don’t expect to fight the voice in your head on your own.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.

Written by: Juliann Scholl

Updated March 26, 2021

If stress has ever kept you tossing and turning at night, you’ll agree that stress and sleep problems seem to go together.

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (1), causing an increased heart rate and high blood pressure that keep you alert (2) instead of letting you sleep. Even when you do manage to fall asleep, this sleep may be of poorer quality and you may wake up more frequently throughout the night. Since poor sleep can increase symptoms of stress (3), these sleepless nights can turn into a vicious cycle.

How to Fall Asleep Faster When You’re Stressed

Learning new ways to manage your stress at night may improve your sleep. In turn, you’ll be better-equipped to handle whatever life throws at you.

Use Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques (4) can help lower your blood pressure, slow your breathing, and make you feel calmer. To help prepare for sleep, you can choose from a variety of coping methods that aim to elicit a relaxation response. Useful techniques include mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing, as well as techniques that incorporate a physical component such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong (5).

Manage Screen Time Wisely

Smartphones, tablets, televisions, and computer screens emit blue light that can keep you awake at night (6) by lowering levels of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. As part of your wind-down routine, sleep experts recommend avoiding electronic devices (7) in the lead-up to bedtime. Wearing special glasses that block blue light (8) may reduce the impact of screen time on your sleep-wake cycle, but if you can, go one step further and make your bedroom a screen-free zone.

Drink a Warm Glass of Milk

Many people find that a soothing cup of milk or herbal tea (9) is just the thing to help them nod off at night, although the research isn’t clear on why milk appears to promote sleep (10). To improve sleep quality, try to cut down on caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, especially in the evenings. If you frequently find yourself waking up to go to the washroom, you may also choose to drink less fluids (11) overall before bed.

Avoid Heavy Meals Before Bed

A recent study found that eating within three hours of bedtime (12) may lead to more nighttime awakenings. Eating a heavy meal right before lying down can also cause heartburn (13), with accompanying discomfort that may make it even more difficult to sleep. If you suffer from heartburn, try to avoid fried, spicy, or acidic foods close to bedtime. For those who have trouble sleeping through the night on an empty stomach, the best option is to enjoy a small, nutritious bedtime snack (14).

Take a Hot Shower

Incorporating a hot shower or a warm bath (15) into your bedtime routine triggers a natural cooldown process afterwards. This drop in temperature (16) mimics the natural fluctuations of the sleep-wake cycle and may decrease the time it takes you to fall asleep.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise is an important stress-reliever, and regular exercise can help improve sleep. That said, some people find that exercising too close to bedtime (17) can interfere with falling asleep. To allow time for your core body temperature to return to levels that are favorable for sleep, try to wrap up intense exercise sessions at least 90 minutes before bedtime (18).

Use Aromatherapy

Certain scents such as lavender (19) and peppermint (20) show promise for their ability to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. To ward off stress before bedtime, try aromatherapy with essential oils or give yourself a mini foot massage with lavender cream (21).

Write Down Your Thoughts in a Journal

Many people find that journaling about their worries helps them manage stress. By scheduling a set time every day to write down what’s on your mind, you might be able to prevent the racing thoughts that bother you while trying to fall asleep.

Listen to Music or Nature Sounds

If traffic or noisy neighbors are making it impossible to sleep, consider masking the sound with earplugs or a white noise machine. One study found that nature sounds (22) provide an especially relaxing soundscape, but you can experiment with different sleep sounds to see what works for you.

Create a Relaxing Bedroom Environment

The frustration of not being able to sleep can cause you to develop stressful associations with your bed. Certain sleep hygiene habits can help counteract these feelings and reinforce the idea that bed is for sleeping:

  • Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only, and keep work out of the bedroom.
  • Keep the bedroom cool and quiet.
  • Develop a bedroom routine and stick with it every day.
  • Turn off all bright lights, including alarm clocks and phone notifications.
  • Avoid looking at the clock when you’re trying to fall asleep or if you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Start winding down an hour before bedtime by dimming lights and switching to quiet activities.
  • Set your alarm for the same time every morning, even on weekends.
  • Get out of bed if you can’t sleep after half an hour and do a calming activity in another room until you feel sleepy.

In many cases, these home remedies can help you sleep better when stressed. If sleep is still elusive, consult a medical professional. They may be able to provide you with further therapies for insomnia, or check for any underlying sleep disorders.

Train your brain to snooze on command with these smart tricks from a sleep expert

How to declutter your mind to sharpen your brain and fall asleep faster

You already know the age-old remedy for a restless night of tossing and turning. But if jumping livestock don’t quite ease you into a deep sleep, there are better ways to relax your rampant mind in bed.

Here are three simple mental exercises you can do to fall asleep faster, from Men’s Health sleep advisor W. Christopher Winter, M.D.

(And for 2,746 cool tips and techniques that won’t just help you sleep, but also sharpen your mind, flatten your belly, and keep you healthy for life, check out The Better Man Project. It’s a jam-packed user’s guide for guys from the Editor in Chief of Men’s Health.)

Take a Time Out

When you hit the sack, you probably feel like you have to start snoozing in 5 minutes flat, says Dr. Winter. “But it’s okay to be in bed for a few minutes and just think about things when you’re falling asleep,” he says.

Relax, and remind yourself that your body will eventually shut down—because it needs to at some point, Dr. Winter says. Instead of counting down, simply kick back and enjoy having a completely clear schedule for the next 7 to 8 hours.

Nail the Bullseye

To take your mind off of falling asleep, Dr. Winter suggests playing a mental game that’s a little tricky, but not overly stressful. For example, visualize yourself throwing darts—and see if you can hit 30 perfect bullseyes.

“Going over something repeatedly in your head can trick your brain into thinking you’re actually doing it,” Dr. Winter says.

So if you hit all 30 targets, you’ll be better off the next time your buddy challenges you at the bar. But if you only make it to two before you conk out—congrats, you’ve achieved your real goal.

(For more cool sleep science, check out The Best Sleep Positions. See what your go-to bedroom move says about you!)

Create Your Perfect Getaway

Which locale would you rather escape to: a beach house or a mountain retreat?

Dr. Winter asks his patients to close their eyes, start with an empty plot of land, and design every detail of their perfect getaway when they hop in bed.

Think big: “How you would orient the house? If you have a rough outline, play around with it. Furnish it and decorate the inside of it,” Dr. Winter says.

Filling your mind with something positive takes your focus away from trying too hard to fall asleep. You’ll be dreaming in no time—and hopefully sipping Mai Tais on your swanky tropical property.