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5 Ways To Kick Away Negative Thoughts Before Sleeping

5 Ways To Kick Away Negative Thoughts Before Sleeping

It’s not just in your head. Thinking about negative and stressful things before bedtime really does keep you up at night.

There are probably few people out there that haven’t experienced this in some way. You have a stressful day, a lot to do tomorrow, or even random reflections about past events that you just can’t kick before bed.

You may even lose hours of rest regularly to negative thoughts that persist. It’s well-established in psychology that ruminating on the past or unpleasant thoughts is a risk factor for insomnia and even mood disorders like depression.

Some recent research has been focusing on how people can take control and purposefully redirect their repetitive or intrusive negative thoughts. From your bedtime to how you cope with stress, here are five helpful ways you can kick negative thoughts to get better sleep.

1. Head to bed earlier

I one recent study conducted by Binghamton University, researchers looked at participants’ propensities to worry, ruminate, or stress (all gauges of repetitive negative thinking) and at their sleep habits.

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They found that people who preferred to go to sleep late (evening types) had higher levels of negative thoughts compared to early sleepers (morning types). The same was true for people who slept for shorter periods of time overall.

If you aren’t getting at least seven hours of sleep each night or you tend to keep late hours, this means it could prove helpful to shift your sleep schedule earlier. Try gradually moving your bedtime up in 15 to 30 minute increments to create a schedule that allows you to get enough sleep. Keeping fairly consistent bedtimes throughout the week and practicing some of the other relaxation techniques below can make the transition a little easier.

2. Talk positively to yourself

One method of countering negative thoughts is to practice positive self-talk, popular with cognitive behavioral therapists. Essentially, negative self-talk involves habits like focusing on the cons of a situation and not the pros, personalizing blame, anticipating the worst, and polarizing between good and bad with no in-between.

The idea is that when you catch yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, you consciously work to assess its validity and move on. Instead of obsessing over things that went wrong, look for solutions to the problem or do something to refocus your attention. (Positive affirmation, a prayer, or exercise, maybe.) Thinking about things you are grateful for can also be mood-booster, and one study found higher levels of gratitude correlated with better sleep.

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Smiley Face

    3. Use guided relaxation or visualization

    Guided relaxation can be helpful for clearing your mind and taking the focus off of negative thoughts. Essentially, a therapist or a recording guides you through a step-by-step process as you follow along.

    There are a few different types of guided relaxation program, and different types may feel more helpful to you than others. Traditional guided relaxation will work through relaxing your body and focusing on breathing. Guided visualization/imagery has you visualize a scene to occupy your attention. Progressive muscle relaxation takes a more physical approach of gradually tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.

    These types of programs can be done with a professional therapist, or you can also find numerous free videos, smartphone apps and websites with helpful resources. The Dartmouth College Health and Wellness page is one good resource with a variety of free relaxation downloads.

    4. Breathe with purpose

    Breathing techniques are a well-established way to promote relaxation and minimize stress. Similar to guided relaxation, the idea is to follow a set pattern that places the focus on your physical body and off of the thoughts that are bothering you. Breathing also affects heart rate, which can help you feel calmer.

    These techniques can be helpful for relaxing in bed, but can also be used anywhere whenever you feel stressed:

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    • Diaphragmatic breathing (breathing deeply through your stomach and exhaling slowly)
    • Equal breathing (inhaling and exhaling for the same amount of time; counts of 4-6 seconds)
    • Resistance breathing (breathing in and out via pursed lips or your nose)
    • Breath moving (as you inhale, imagine you are moving the breath to the top of your head; as you exhale, move the breath to base of your spine)

    5. Relax to music

    Music relaxation is another way to clear stress and can help you focus your attention or clear your mind of negative thoughts. A recent review of several music therapy studies concluded that music therapy helped people with sleep disorders when used consistently.

    There are different approaches, but actual music therapy is performed by licensed professionals in a clinical setting for specific health/wellness goals. However, music can also be used for self-relaxation at home.

    If you prefer to go it alone, try some calming music without lyrics such as nature tracks, new age instrumentals, or classical music. Put the songs on, and focus on the sounds and rhythms, keeping your breathing calm. You could also listen to upbeat songs you like and sing along or lose yourself in the lyrics to change your mindset.

    One study from the British Academy of Sound Therapy tested several songs and identified 10 that proved very relaxing, so that playlist might be a good starting place as well.

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    Music and Headphones

      The habit of ruminating or mulling over negative thoughts isn’t always an easy one to kick. These five DIY relaxation strategies can be much more helpful than simply trying to suppress thoughts, which studies have shown time again to be ineffective.

      Practice different methods to see what meshes best with your personality, and place the focus on relaxing your body rather than on banishing the negative thoughts themselves. If intrusive thoughts are having a significant impact on your sleep quality or life, reaching out to a trained therapist is also a good option.

      Have a helpful relaxation tip or strategy that works for you? Share in the comments below.

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      Last Updated on March 30, 2020

      Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

      Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

      Feeling tired all the time?

      Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

      I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

      Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

      If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

      In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

      What Happens When You’re Too Tired

      If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

      Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

      • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
      • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
      • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
      • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
      • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
      • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
      • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

      Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

      Unfortunately, yes!

      Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

      Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

      Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

      Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

      Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

      Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

      1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
      2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
      3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

      The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

      It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

      Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

      Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

      If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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      Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

      Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

      But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

      Symptoms of fatigue include:

      • Difficulty concentrating
      • Low stamina
      • Difficulty sleeping
      • Anxiety
      • Low motivation

      These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

      Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

      How Much Sleep Is Enough?

      The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

      Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

      So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

      The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

      Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

      Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

      If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

      And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

      It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

      4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

      Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

      1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
      2. Exercising regularly
      3. Using stressbusters
      4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

      So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

      After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

      In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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      I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

      Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

      • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
      • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
      • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
      • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

      The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

      And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

      But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

      L — Living Healthy

      Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

      So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

      In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

      As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

      Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

      1. Unplug

      Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

      So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

      2. Unwind

      Do something to relax.

      Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

      3. Get Comfortable

      Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

      Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

      Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

      Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

      If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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      Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

      This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

      E — Exercise

      Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

      That’s what happened in my case.

      But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

      As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

      My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

      That made sense to me.

      So, I decided to swim.

      I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

      Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

      Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

      So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

      If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

      A — Attitude

      Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

      When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

      Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

      Breathing.

      But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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      Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

      1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
      2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
      3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
      4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
      5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
      6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

      This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

      When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

      Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

      N — Nutrition

      Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

      If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

      Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

      For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

      Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

      Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

      1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
      2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
      3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
      4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
      5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
      6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
      7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
      8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
      9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

      Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

      That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

      Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

      The Bottom Line

      If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

      If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

      If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

      • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
      • Regular Exercise You Love
      • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
      • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

      Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

      More Tips to Help You Rest Better

      Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
      [2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
      [3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
      [4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
      [5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
      [6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
      [7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
      [8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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