Four Ways to Calm the Mind Before Bedtime
Picture this—it’s 11:30 PM on a Tuesday. You have a full day planned tomorrow, which includes an early morning workout, an important meeting at work, and dinner plans with friends. You need to be up at 6:00 AM and know you should be sleeping, but instead, you’re lying in bed wondering if you locked the door, thinking about the guy who cut you off in traffic that morning, and constantly going over some endless checklist list in your head. Sound familiar? Great, so it’s not just me.
With many of us going full-steam ahead during our day-to-day lives, it’s no wonder that calming our brains before bedtime can seem like an insurmountable task. I totally get it. For years I struggled to go to bed at a decent hour, especially if I was bumping up against a lot of stress or anxiety. If I did manage to get to bed before midnight, I’d often find my mind buzzing with my neverending to-do list or worrying about an upcoming event. Looking back now, I realize that I wasn’t practicing healthy bedtime habits to calm my mind before going to sleep.
Over the last couple years, I’ve incorporated four habits into my evening routine that have made an amazing difference in how I approach bedtime. Not only do they help quiet my “monkey mind” (as I lovingly call it) but have also helped me become more present in my daily life.
I invite you to try one, two, or even all four of these tips and see how they change your bedtime experience!
Simple Tips for Quieting the Mind at Bedtime
- Power down screens an hour before bed
I know this can be a tough one, but it makes such a difference! With so many forms of technology available to us 24/7, it’s easy to be staring at screens right up until the time we close our eyes at night. The thing is - all that blue light emitted from our phones, tablets, computers, televisions, etc. interferes with our body’s ability to produce melatonin. Melatonin production increases at night in order to tell us, “Hey, it’s time to sleep now.” Without it, our brains aren’t getting the signals that it’s time to wind down and get some shut eye.
What’s more, usually our midnight screen sessions involve stimulating the brain in a way that makes it hard for us to quiet our minds when it’s time for bed. I mean, am I the only one who can’t sleep after watching Game of Thrones? By opting out of stimulating, late-night screen time, whether it’s a Netflix binge or scrolling on Instagram, we’re giving the mind space to quiet down and prepare for sleep.
P.S. I get that before-bed screen time can be a hard habit to break. What I’ve done to help me be successful with this is to replace my pre-bed screen time with another non-screen activity. For me, that usually means reading a book, taking a hot shower, or brewing some herbal tea and simply enjoying the quiet.
- Download the brain
I usually find my mind is racing before bedtime when I’m anxious about my schedule for the next day or worried I’m going to forget an important detail or deadline. The most effective solution I’ve found for this is to “download my brain” before getting into bed. This does not have to be fancy—simply jot down any worries, notes, random to-do’s, or whatever else running through your brain. You can do this in a journal, on a scrap piece of paper, or even on your phone (if it’s more than an hour before bedtime!). By gathering your scattered thoughts in a safe place, your mind is free to relax and prepare for sleep.
- Practice gratitude
Whenever I’m wrestling with stress, anxiety, anger, or any other emotion that’s keeping me up at night, I turn to gratitude. Because I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for over a year, I’ve seen how practicing gratitude can shift my emotional state and quiet my busy mind. I personally like to use my Vertellis Chapters before bed, as it gives me a structured, consistent way to reflect on my day and document what I’ve been grateful for over the last 24 hours. This not only brings peace to my mind and body, but it also helps remind me of how much good I have in my life.
- Do some 4-7-8 breathing
If you’ve done all of the above and your mind is still racing (I get it - I still have those nights sometimes), try this breathing exercise from Dr. Andrew Weil. A meditation teacher introduced me to this and it is a game changer. Since deep breathing relaxes the nervous system, it’s great for calming anxiety and quieting a busy mind.
Here’s my personal 4-7-8 breathing practice to help ease racing thoughts at bedtime:
- Lie in bed with the lights off. I personally like to lie on my back so I can take full, deep breaths.
- Inhale forcefully through the nose, filling up the belly and chest, for a count of four.
- Hold the breath for a count of seven. During this time, I like to ask myself, “What can I relax?” Can I release my shoulder blades? Neck muscles? Quads? Often we’re holding tension in our bodies and don’t realize it.
- Exhale forcefully through the mouth for a count of eight. Be conscious about releasing all of the air that you took in.
- Repeat three more times for a total of four rounds.
- Fall into a deep, peaceful sleep. :)
I’m always looking for new ways to quiet my mind before bedtime. Do you have any favorite tips or tricks? Leave a comment below to let me know!
Tessa is a US-based Vertellis team member with a penchant for writing. When she’s not typing away on her laptop, you’ll usually find her studying Shakespeare or spending time in nature. Three things she cannot live without: good food, good coffee, and good conversation.