5 Ways to cope when you can’t get your brain to shut off so you can sleep!

I didn’t handle stress very well this week!  I think cortisol was pumping through my veins way too much.  How about you?

Isn’t that usually the case? 

I really wanted to make a conscious effort to limit my stress and lower those cortisol levels. 

I shared that list last week of all the good ways to lower our stress.  I made a goal to concentrate on getting more sleep.

Then I did some technology work on my blog and that caused my stress to go off the charts! 

Not good! 

I even hired a virtual assistant to take on those tasks.  But even she had trouble.

I was all set to get some extra sleep to help me cope with stress. But there I was lying awake in the middle of the night.  I had gotten up to go to the bathroom and boom- just like that my brain was spinning.  Spinning that crazy tech stuff around and around. 

My thoughts went from ‘It won’t work. I’m just not smart enough’ to ‘what am I worried about?  I need to trust God more and stop worrying.  Worrying is dumb’

Does that ever happen to you?  You find yourself awake in the middle of the night trying to figure something out? 

It’s so frustrating when we can’t get our brains to shut off!

So instead of talking about how sleep helps us cope with stress. 

How about we talk about how to cope with those middle of the night sessions when our brains just won’t shut off?  Sound like a good idea?

Here are 5 strategies to help us get back to sleep.

1. Write down your worries.  Now this is something we need to do in the evening to prevent those worries from taking over. 

Write down all those thoughts that are spinning around in your brain.  It’s therapeutic to get it out of our brains and onto paper.  It sends a message to our brains that it doesn’t need to keep reminding us. 

We can write down all those things we imagine might happen, those worst-case scenarios and the to do list for the next day.  Include the should do list – you know those things that we feel guilty because we haven’t done them yet.  We can even write down those worries we have about far into the future. 

We all have different worries that pop into our minds.  Just get them out of your mind and onto paper.

Sometimes that helps us realize that we don’t have lots to worry about – just reoccurring ones that keep popping up. 

Or it may help us realize that we do have control over some worries and we can make a plan of action.  For those we have no control over we can make a plan to relax and let them go.

2.  Practice deep breathing.  If we pair deep breathing with counting it keeps our brains busy. 

One technique suggests we take a deep diaphragm breath in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, breath out for a count of 8.  If we find our mind wandering to our worries just let it go and instead concentrate on breathing and counting.  The deep breathing signals our bodies and minds to relax.

3.  Use imagery – find a safe place.  We all have a memory of a time when we felt safe and relaxed.  Go to that place in your imagination. Sleep therapists suggest we really use our imaginations and get into the scene using all our senses.

I am going to imagine a long summer walk on a country road.   I start from my cottage door.  What do I see, is it sunny?  How does the wind feel on my skin? What sounds do I hear, any birds or squirrels?  Are there any smells, wood smoke or chainsaw exhaust?  I walk carefully along my country road taking it all in and enjoying the peace I feel on that walk.

Sleep therapists state that our minds may try to distract us with those nagging worry thoughts as we are in our imagined scene.  Instead of trying to push those thoughts away just acknowledge them and then turn your attention back to your imagined scene.  I could imagine stopping on my walk to feed the chickadees and to feel their tiny feet on my fingers and hearing their wings beating in the still air.  That’s a scene I never get tired of and always gives me joy.

I encourage you to take some time and come up with your own safe place, your imagined scene.  Then when you are awake in the middle of the night you have a plan.

4. Concentrate your thoughts on gratitude.  Emma McAdam, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says when we awake in the night with worrisome thoughts it is because our brains have a fear of scarcity.

Our brain has a perceived view that there is not enough of something – maybe money, strength, time, health, energy, power or patience.   To combat those thoughts Emma suggests we turn our attention to gratitude.  It doesn’t change the situations but it focuses our thoughts on what is good. 

This helps our brains believe in abundance and that things are going to be O.K.  When we think about the things we are thankful for: a warm bed, soft blankets, good food, family that loves us, the beauty of new fallen snow, health, sight and the list goes on and on. 

This turns off the fear approach and helps our mind and body to relax so that we can drift off to sleep.

5.  Try a meditation or sleep app.  I really like Abide.  Abide uses Christian meditation with words from the Bible.  I use the guided meditations for falling asleep.  I choose gentle rain as the background sound as I listen to the soft-spoken narrators. 

I let the meditation play for 30 minutes and then it stops on its own. I am usually back to sleep before the meditation is over.  There is a free version for you to try with limited meditations.  I purchase a one-year membership and it has been worth every penny! 

If you want to hear a sample go to YouTube and enter – Abide – Sleep in Peace: Psalms Meditations.

So I feel like I have some strategies for those middle of the night wakeful times.  I am going to use the imagery and go for that summer walk down the country road.  I will continue to use the Abide sleep meditations.

Today’s little step:  Pick one or two strategies to use for those middle of the night wakeful times.

I’d love to hear which ones worked for you!

Peace be with you,


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2 thoughts on “5 Ways to cope when you can’t get your brain to shut off so you can sleep!

  1. I am going to practice imagining a safe place. Dixie, your imagery of feeding the chickadees while hearing their wingbeats is beautiful. I will probably be on my porch swing, swaddled in my blankets, watching the birds on my feeder. Downy woodpeckers, carolina wrens, gold finches, cardinals, and, one of my favorite, nuthatches!

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