Do you brood in bed? How to keep nagging thoughts from nabbing sleep


For some people, their mind starts racing and gets caught in loops that lead nowhere, when it's time to sleep. The best way to deal with brooding is not to take the thoughts to bed with you. Photo: dpa

You're lying in bed, your mind is racing and you can’t fall asleep. And it’s already 3am, meaning you’ve got to get up in just two hours. And you’ve got important things to do the next day, which means you need to be sharp, which you won’t be, which is something else to worry about.

Sound familiar? First of all, brooding is normal and not necessarily a problem.

“Everyone broods now and then, ruminating without coming to any conclusions,” says Dieter Riemann, head of the Department of Clinical Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Freiburg Medical Centre in Germany.

But it’s important not to take these thoughts to bed with you, says psychological psychotherapist Markus B. Specht, director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Sleep Medicine at DKD Helios Clinic in the German city of Wiesbaden.

Riemann defines brooding as being caught in thought loops that lead nowhere – they just keep looping. The thoughts are usually negative: Worries, anxieties, what-ifs.

Many people begin brooding when it’s time to sleep. This is because they’re no longer distracted by their daytime activities, explains Riemann. So thoughts that had been pushed to the back of their mind often come to the fore.

Thinking in bed doesn’t have to keep you awake, though.

“A patient once told me that he liked looking back on his day, and fell asleep marvellously doing it,” Specht says.

Thoughts are a problem if they frequently keep you awake for long periods of time and you’re not well-rested the next day. This can make it hard for you to function.

What’s the solution? It may sound simpler than it is, but the best way is not to take the thoughts to bed with you. You can do this, for example, by sitting down before you go to bed and thinking about the things that are bothering you. It can help to write them down.

If you’re lying in bed and your thoughts start to go round and round, get up and do something. Simply sitting on the sofa and brooding there can help.

“You’ve got to uncouple brooding and being in bed, because your bed is for sleeping,” says Specht.

A more radical measure is to stay up all night.

When you go to bed the following evening, you’ll be so sleepy that you’ll drift off more easily, Specht says. You definitely shouldn’t do this if you’ve got to drive the next day, though.

There are various other ways to promote sleep.

“You’ve got to try out for yourself whether there’s a technique or method that helps you to relax and tune out those intrusive thoughts,” Specht says.

For some people, it’s relaxing to read or listen to an audiobook. This can be an effective antidote to thoughts that nag you, as it distracts you from them.

Don’t stress yourself by trying to fall asleep and obsessing about not being able to, Riemann says. If you constantly check to see what time it is, you’ll only make matters worse.

It may be comforting to realise that having too little sleep occasionally isn’t going to hurt you.

“Try to counteract sleeplessness with positive thoughts,” suggests Riemann. “You could tell yourself, ‘Not everyone needs eight hours’ sleep, and yesterday I didn’t sleep very well either but got by just fine.’”

Specht advises not using the TV as a soporific, or looking at any other screen around bedtime. They provide too much stimulation, he says, and even if they help you to fall asleep, your brain will process what you’ve seen and your sleep will be less restful.

It’s also a good idea to stop feeling that you’ve got to be online 24/7. During the daytime, you’re probably busy answering emails and making calls. In the evening, you should disconnect and allow yourself to decompress.

“If your mobile phone is at your bedside and vibrates whenever you get a message, it’ll naturally interfere with your sleep,” Riemann says.

It’s important to bear in mind, he adds, that constant brooding can be a sign of depression. If you suspect this may be your problem, you shouldn’t hesitate to consult your GP.

Chronic insomnia is diagnosed when you have trouble sleeping at least three times per week for at least three months, causing daytime disruptions in how you feel or function. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t seek medical help earlier, Riemann says. – dpa/Elena Hartmann

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Insomnia , brooding , bedtime , worry , anxiety , sleeplessness


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