I should go to sleep. I have a long day tomorrow.
Am I likeable?
What am I doing with my life?
My parents are getting old.
Does life have a purpose?
Humbug thoughts like this tend to flock my mind, usually late at night, when I'm lying awake in quiet darkness.
You too are likely all too familiar with episodes like this.
Staying up worrying about random things and getting caught in a spiral of anxious thoughts, is more common than you think.
To the point where the old cliché, nothing good ever happens after midnight', might as well refer to the spiral of negative thoughts that come out of the woodwork late night.
Is there a way to curb these running thoughts and get some quality sleep?
FIT spoke to Dr Kamna Chhibber, clinical psychologist and head of mental health, department of mental health and behavioural science, Fortis Healthcare, and Dr Richa Mehta, consultant, clinical psychology at Max Hospital.
Why Do We Get Negative Thoughts at Night?
"People who have a tendency to overthink do have a propensity to have elevated anxiety at night."Dr Richa Mehta, consultant, clinical psychology at Max Hospital
If you aren't prone to anxious thoughts during the day, and find yourself swarmed with running thoughts that keep you up at night, some other factors could be at play here too.
For one, when you get into bed at night, switch off your gadgets and your social interactions are at its lowest, you are also more vulnerable to stray thoughts.
"The barriers of your mind tend to be on the lower side," says Dr Chhibber.
"This is something that ends up happening because by then, most of your tasks for the day are done and you don’t have the goal orientation to keep your mind actively engaged with something substantial."Dr Kamna Chhibber, clinical psychologist and head of mental health, department of mental health and behavioural science, Fortis Healthcare
This is also the time that people tend to reflect on their day, their life, and their many choices.
"All the other thoughts that you have been filtering out or not been giving attention to can come back into your attention at that point," adds Dr Chhibber.
"Nighttime anxiety can also happen because of some hormonal changes in the body", says Dr Mehta, adding, "this could be because of menopause, menses etc. So that could also be a factor."
The Way Out of the Labyrinth
Fix your sleep hygiene
"The first thing we tell people is that they need to practice good sleep hygiene," says Dr Mehta.
Sleep hygiene refers to having a fixed routine of when you go to bed and wake up.
"This creates a certain biological rhythm, and your body learns how to switch off and switch on at a specific time. Also, it’s important to turn off your gadgets at least an hour, or so before going to bed," says Dr Chhibber.
Distract yourself, do something else
And what if you're not able to fall asleep no matter how hard you try to? Try less, say experts.
"If you’re not able to sleep, don’t toss and turn. If you can’t sleep, step out of bed, do something that is relaxing. Shift your focus," suggests Dr Mehta.
Some relaxing activities that she suggests are,
Listening to calm relaxing gentle music
Meditation, deep breathing,
"Just do something that helps you calm down. And when you’re feeling more settled, then try sleeping again," she adds.
Create a relaxing nighttime routine
Having an unwinding routine can help you ease into bedtime and fall asleep easier.
"A warm bath, drinking a hot beverage before you go to bed because those tend to be relaxing for the body," says Dr Chhibber.
She also suggests reducing your exposure to stimulating content right before bed.
"When you get into bed, instead of listening to or watching stimulating content like news or watching a show, it would be better to reduce your level of stimulation by reading a book, or listen to music - something light and soothing, light instrumental music works best."Dr Kamna Chhibber, clinical psychologist and head of mental health, department of mental health and behavioural science, Fortis Healthcare
"Following some of these routines would be beneficial in the long run. It's not something that will help you bring about a transformation immediately, it would take time, but it’s about following this as a routine in the long run, and it also helps you manage your thoughts," adds Dr Chhibber.
Journaling can help
"Another thing we tell people is to journal," says Dr Mehta.
" Journaling is a great way of making sense of your thoughts and untangle them. It helps release, but also helps you reflect on them more objectively by noting them down."Dr Richa Mehta, consultant, clinical psychology at Max Hospital
"The next day, sit down and go over them. And you can work on those thoughts more consistently, and actively start changing the way we think," she adds.
While you are following all these things, quick fixes won't do much good if overthinking at night is a regular feature for you.
"You need to be simultaneously looking for if there are any patterns to your thinking," says Dr Chhibber.
"If there are certain topics, situations that are continuously coming up and bothering you, trying to figure out a way to be able to work through those situations is important."Dr Kamna Chhibber, clinical psychologist and head of mental health, department of mental health and behavioural science, Fortis Healthcare
If you feel like you are unable to take a problem-solving approach yourself, She suggests maybe taking the help of somebody would be helpful.
"That someone could be a friend, a family member who could help you build perspective and is able to understand where you’re coming from. You could also talk to an expert," she adds.