Anxiety and intrusive negative thoughts often pop up right before going to sleep. But why?

Stocksy txpcaaaa8b9mQV200 Medium 2063535

Do you ever feel as if your head hits the pillow at night and your brain immediately starts running a mile a minute? Tomorrow’s to-do list, stressful conversations from the day just gone, or even unpleasant memories from months ago? Many of us may experience persistent or intrusive negative thoughts which seem to pop up right before going to sleep, but is there any way to manage negative thinking when it seems so out of our control?

MORE: Discover why sleep is so important

Why do I experience negative thinking?

It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience and triggers are different, but there could be a few common factors at play when it comes to why we experience negative thinking and anxiety before bed.

For example, research tells us that many adults tend to display what’s known as a ‘negativity bias.’1 That is, we attach much more importance and attention to our negative experiences (such as an argument with a friend, or a mistake made at work) than we do positive ones. Some psychologists believe that our brains may have evolved this way to help us learn faster in the wild, however these days it may be doing us more harm than good.

If you’re experiencing intrusive negative thoughts at night — such as doubts about a relationship or big decisions to make — it’s important to remember that these are just that: thoughts. Many people struggle with unpleasant or negative thoughts which seem to come out of nowhere, and we may find ourselves subconsciously attaching weight to these thoughts that they don’t deserve. Engaging with these intrusive thoughts can create an anxiety spiral, which is the last thing you want right before bed!

MORE: Can what you eat help improve your sleep? Find out what nutrient may be able to help here

How to deal with negative thinking at night

Healthy thinking is an important part of healthy sleeping. If you can’t stop thinking at night and your anxiety is worse before bed, it might be time to try out a new bedtime routine designed to help calm your body and your mind.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Do one act of self-care every night: A bedtime routine that encourages a calm state is a great place to start. Do something you know you enjoy and that benefits your wellbeing, like taking a bath, reading under soft light or listening to some calming music.
  • Start to switch off: Disconnecting from technology before bed is key. At least half an hour before bed, turn off bright lights in the bedroom and stop using your phone.
  • Write down what’s on your mind: Before going to sleep, right down a list of things that have been swirling around your head that day. It could be things you need to get done, or it may be a negative thought that's been trying to push its way to the front of your mind. Either way, jot your thoughts down, acknowledge them and leave them be.
  • Try meditation or deep breathing techniques: Meditation and mindfulness can be extremely beneficial for a good night's sleep. If you're new to meditation, try downloading an app like Smiling Mind. These apps teach simple techniques for dealing with negative thoughts. For example, when you notice one trying to intrude, simply imagine placing that thought inside a cloud and then watch that cloud float away.

When trying to fall asleep, if you notice your body becomes physically agitated, you experience shortness of breath and a fast heart beat, you may be experiencing anxiety or stress. Note down how you feel, and be sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.


Did you know eligible Medibank members can earn rewards with the Medibank Live Better App? Like a gift card from our partners, simply by looking after their health and wellbeing.

Download the Medibank Live Better App to set your mindfulness goals and start earning points today.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652533/