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How to “Turn Off” Your Brain So You Can Sleep

✎ Written by: Denisa Cerna ✓ Fact-checked by: Kaija Sander, Ph.D.

Here’s a tossing and turning statistic for you: Over 14% of US adults have trouble falling asleep, and some have even reported that they experience sleep disturbances every single night. What’s more, about a quarter of people do not meet the recommendation of getting seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, no matter how many sheep they count to catch those z’s.

The reason why this happens can range from bedtime worry and stress to factors grounded in your circadian rhythms (the changes that happen in your body following a 24h-cycle, such as your sleep-wake cycle). Your circadian rhythms are sensitive to light and temperature, which means that when you go to sleep and how you go about doing so matters.

Whatever your source of sleep troubles, there are some effective ways of changing up your bedtime routine and making sure your body and mind are ready for a good night’s sleep.

Together, we’ll have a look at how to:

Optimize Your Mind for Sleep: 3 Tools

One of the primary reasons you may struggle with falling asleep is due to heightened levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Your cortisol levels should be in sync with your circadian rhythm, peaking in the morning (rousing you from sleep) and reaching their lowest around midnight.

However, many people suffering from insomnia have been shown to experience high cortisol levels at sleep onset, leading to anxiety at night and sleep difficulties.

The following activities could help you decrease your cortisol levels in the evening and “turn off” your brain so you can sleep (figuratively, of course - your brain never completely stops).

1. Do Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental, curious, and kind way – is a highly effective tool for clearing your mind of clutter and relaxing at night.

Moreover, is it good to meditate before sleep? Yes, when practicing mindfulness and meditation, you are lowering your cortisol levels, activating your body’s relaxation response (as opposed to the stress response), decreasing rumination, and improving emotional self-regulation. This may not only help you fall asleep but can also boost your sleep quality overall.

While there are various kinds of meditation (e.g., vipassana, yoga meditation, visualization), mindfulness meditation has been used in clinical trials to help fight insomnia and promote sleep quality.

To do a simple mindfulness meditation before bed:

  1. Find a comfortable seating or lying