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Do you have night thoughts?

What are night thoughts? We could call them bed thoughts, because that’s where they find us. Night thoughts are the sad, scary, painful, worry-filled, doom-blasting, peace-destroying, hope-obliterating thoughts that come upon us just as we start trying to fall asleep, or when we wake up in the middle of the night, or when we crash awake too early in the morning.

With night thoughts, there we are, in the dark, carried away by sadness and fear, and we jump into a hamster wheel of worry, thinking the same unproductive thoughts over and over. Actually not thinking at all, but merely rehearsing doom thoughts, sharpening the knife edge of terror thoughts until at last, exhausted by this run in the hamster wheel of worry, we face the day not wanting to face our problems at all.

We think these thoughts are thinking. After all, even the best of us have problems and concerns. Is that lump cancer? Am I in trouble at work? Is my kid going down the tubes? Have I lost my looks? Are we about to run out of money? Is my marriage going down the tubes? Will my spouse find out about my lover? Will my lover find out about my spouse!?!

Now, yes, these, and many more, are the problems people have. And in life, the answer to problems is solutions. That’s what you do to problems. You solve them. Or, at least, you address them. You try to understand them so you can make them more manageable.

So, to be blunt, as painful as night thoughts are, they’re also really stupid, and we need to cut them the fuck out. There’s no need to have a single one of them.

Here’s the good news. You can release yourself from your bondage to night thoughts. It’s not as hard as you might have thought. You just have to decide to do it, and to follow these steps.

One. Acknowledge when you’re falling into a state of night thoughts. Merely having a negative thought in the middle of the night is not “night thoughts.” If you have a negative thought and you come up with a solution you can put on your to-do list for tomorrow, you’ve resolved it and saved yourself from the state of night thoughts, which is when you feel caught in a process of worry that has taken on a life of its own.

Two. Tell yourself, “Be productive.” This is the all-important step. This is what gets you out of night thoughts. After the momentary shock of a night thought has worn off—the coming into your mind of a problem—focus on finding solutions, choose one, and comfortably go back to sleep. A plan is as good as a solution. Or you can do something. You can get up and Google some needed info. You can put a couple of items down on a to-do list. You can send someone an email.

Three. When you’ve run out of productive things to do—which usually takes no more than 5 to 20 minutes—then you have to shut down your brain. To say to yourself you WILL NOT spend two seconds in the torture chamber of nights thoughts. do you do that?

Actually, it’s worth noting that refusing to participate in night thoughts was a big deal. Very productive in itself. Now in this step, you do what you have to do if it turns out you can’t simply let go, and most of us can’t simply let go. There’s the hamster wheel of worry, beckoning. So okay, your mind wants something to be busy with. Fine. You’ll give it something to be busy with. But it won’t be the torment of worry. Instead you’ll turn your mind to something boring but engaging. Engaging enough to keep it busy, boring enough to let you fall asleep.

Let’s call these “sleep-making thoughts.” What can they be? Oh, good grief, they could be anything. Anything! You could

  • Count backwards from 1,000

  • Try to remember the names of everyone you’ve ever known

  • Sing in your mind all the songs you can think of

  • Visualize how exactly you get from one place to another, for all the places you go to

  • Recall as many good memories as you can

  • List all the things in life that make you happy or grateful

  • Think about how you’d teach someone to do something

  • Think of as many words as you can beginning with A, then with B, then C, and on through the alphabet

Now, hey, none of these may be great ideas. You might think of something much better to get your mind onto an engaging but boring track. Whatever works for you!

The key is to DO this. Night thoughts will disappear from your life if you refuse to give them life. You have two good choices. Be productive: don’t churn and stew in worry but come up with solutions or at least the ingredients for solutions. Or distract yourself from the useless pain of night thoughts. And you’ll finally be at peace.

This is what people who overcome night thoughts actually do. You can do it too.


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