How to get to sleep

5 Ways To Quiet a Racing Mind


That’s exactly how I started every morning when I was feeling the impact of burnout.

I was tired and exhausted during the day, and then my mind would be amped up all night  just racing.

I ended up laying in bed just about all kinds of details from:

  • What I “had to do” the next day
  • What I “should have done” during the day I just completed
  • Random worries about friends, family, our house, my job, my health…you name it

Well, after struggling with this personally I’m extremely well versed in how to quiet your mind so you can get a good nights sleep.

This is crucial because when you rest well:

  • You’ve got more energy for your work and your family
  • You’re happier
  • You let things bother you a lot less
  • You’re more flexible
  • And you just think better

Sleep Deprivation from a Racing Mind is a Growing Problem

Today sleep deprivation is becoming a more common problem.

Sometimes it is because we fill up every possible hour of the day and night with to-do’s.

Sometimes it’s the constant temptation of readily available technology.

But other times it’s because we just can’t fall asleep or stay asleep because our minds are racing with an ever cascading flow of stress and yet-to-do’s.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a proper night’s sleep for adults is 7-9 hours.

I don’t know about you, but when my mind is racing, getting 7-9 hours sleep is impossible.  According to Sleep in America polls, about 20{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} of Americans report that they get less than 6 hours of sleep on average   So, of course, this has become a big issue.  And it affects our daytime as much as our night.

What’s Happening When Your Mind is Racing

A racing mind is the stress that comes with you not being able to stop thinking.

You don’t have the opportunity to fall asleep because you can’t let go of those thoughts long enough to drift.

You’re mind is swirling around thought of past, future, and present.

In general when you’ve got a racing mind at night, your thoughts fall into 3 categories:

  1. What Should I have Done Today – You go over and over all those things that you wish you’d accomplished, but didn’t have the time or energy to.  Oftentimes, this leads to a negative emotional place where you start to beat yourself up for not getting enough done.
  2. What do I need to get Done Tomorrow– This, of course, doesn’t just encompass your workload, though that’s often the lead stress-causer.  It’s really just a hodge-podge of everything that turns your tomorrow into a daunting mountain.  And the temptation can be to jump up and get a head start.  But that will only leave you exhausted and far less productive.
  3. Losing Sleep over Sleep – That frustration and feeling of defeat when you realize how much worse your day will be tomorrow when you don’t get any sleep tonight.  And your thoughts start to focus on, “O my gosh, I should really be asleep right now!”  “Why am I not falling asleep?”

Why ‘Counting Sheep’ doesn’t Usually Work

The process of counting sheep doesn’t actually deal with any of the racing thoughts or the stress that accompanies them.

All it does is create a tug-of-war for your attention.

And the thoughts that win out over the sheep seem all the more important because it
appears that you can’t shake them even when giving it your best shot.

5 Methods of Quieting Your Mind When You Can’t Sleep

While there are a lot of resources out there for people who struggle with racing thoughts or an inability to sleep well, there are a couple things that I’ve found particularly helpful.

  1. Practice the Eckart Tolle Kung-Fu Way – It really helpful to bring you attention fully to the present when you trying to get to sleep.  A great way to do this I picked from  watching Oprah interview Eckhart Tolle. He held both hands out straight (like a Kung Fun Master), then he said outside the right hand is the future and outside the left hand was the past.  Now bring your attention to the distance between your two hands that represents the present.
  2. Create Inward Focus – Focus on the physical world that you can control.  Focus on your own body.  Start by turning your attention to your hands over and really thinking about what you’re doing to the exclusion of all else.  When that begins to work, move your elbows or roll your shoulders.  The idea here is to focus so much on your body’s movements that your thoughts begin to fade.  The added benefit being that these exercises will leave your body relaxed and ready for sleep.
  3. Breathe – Try taking deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth, holding each breathe for 3 seconds.  Notice the tension leaving your body on each exhale.
  4. Pattering Quiet Activities – Think about activities that calm you and put you in a more open minded or relaxed state.  For some people, it’s painting, reading, knitting, or puzzle books.  The activity shouldn’t be overly physical or mental.  Start making it a habit of this activity being the last thing you do before you go to bed.  If you mind starts to race, for on the activity you just completed.
  5. Recount Your Successes – Buy a journal and before you lay down, make a list of your successes from the day or the moments which you were grateful for.  This will slow down your thoughts and send out off to sleep in a positive mindset.

Note that the solution for each person varies depending how fast and frequently you find your mind racing.

So don’t be afraid to try any or all of these methods.

And if you stumble across a different one that works for you, feel free to comment and share it.

This is an article by Burnout Specialist, Ben Fanning. He helps frustrated professionals rekindle their passion for the job and get to the next level in their careers. He burned himself out working in several Fortune 500 companies, and now’s leading the movement against career burnout. He’s reignited his own career, and you can now apply his wisdom to your own by clicking here.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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