What to Think About to Fall Asleep

6 Min Read | By Ellen Conning

Last Modified 12 July 2023   First Added 9 November 2022

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Feeling sleepy? It’s time for bed! We get ourselves ready, with our own bedtime rituals. Whether that involves a full skincare routine or simply a quick wash, a special cup of chamomile or a big drink of water, we’ve done everything we want to do before we hit the hay. But, as we do, our minds start to race, thoughts flying all over the place. Did I get that paperwork done? Is the oven on? What’s going on in the world?

It can be difficult to still our minds and think about good things when we need to fall asleep. The clock ticking down can distract us and add to our worries, things that need doing plague the mind, and so many other thoughts can come and go that lead to us getting less sleep than we’d like. That’s why we’re taking a look at some good ideas to think about to fall asleep, as well as a quick overview of why our minds can go into an anxious overdrive right before we need to rest.

Why do our minds race when we go to bed?

When it comes to reasons why all those thoughts come crashing in as we’re gearing up for sleep, there’s usually one root cause: Anxiety. People who have anxiety disorders often have problems resting, and racing thoughts are usually the key culprit. You don’t have to have clinical anxiety for it to have an impact on your bedtime routine. Sometimes, a big change in our lives can leave us trying to mentally reorganise ourselves and get our minds back into their comfortable place. Until this happens, those stressors (like money, moving house, or even having a baby) can make our minds go 500 miles an hour right before sleep.


Mental health is important to address when dealing with these kinds of thoughts before bed, but another aspect that can impact us is our physical health. Certain medications can also cause an uneasy mind, and may even have insomnia as a listed side effect. Be sure to speak with your doctors about any sleep issues that come up during a course of treatment.

Lady with natural hair sleeping on white bed while smiling

4 ideas to think about when trying to sleep

Now we have an idea of what could be causing our racing thoughts, it’s time to plan out alternatives. Getting a grip on a runaway question can be hard, which is why having some tricks up your sleep can make a great starting point when we want to get our minds thinking calmly before bed.

1. Imagery distraction

A simple but classic one, imagery distraction is a great technique to reframe your state of mind. Putting yourself into a relaxing situation, such as a holiday or enjoying a delicious meal, and then immersing yourself in it can help improve the quality of your sleep once you drift off.

One big note of caution here is to not imagine any situations that are too energetic. Sporting events, for instance, can make you feel more awake after that immersive period and should be avoided.

Check out the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique for a guided mindfulness method that asks you to use all of your senses to drift off into a peaceful slumber…

2. Fun to-do lists

This may seem a strange one but bear with us. To-do lists can be stressful when they involve mentally negative things that need sorting, and that’s just the kind of list you need to stay away from when trying to fall asleep. Positive to-do lists, however, like the areas you want to visit on a holiday, or a fun event that’s coming up in the future, can help give your mind a pattern to relax into before hitting the hay. You can even prepare this beforehand as part of your evening routine, by exploring goals and aspirational events you want to hit up before you roll up for the night.

3. Positive affirmations

Often used as a part of a bedtime routine with meditation, we can also make use of positive affirmations to help us sleep. As dreams relate to our state of mind, moving our minds to a better state can also give us a better rest once we reach it.

What affirmations work for you will vary. We all have our own worries and concerns to address, but some good general ones are:

  • I am allowed to feel how I feel and know things will get better
  • Sleep is healing, and I deserve to heal
  • Mistakes made in the past don’t have power over my tomorrow
  • I deserve peace, love, and rest
  • I have done a lot today and deserve a good night’s rest

4. Imagine a story

Perhaps the most fun option is to create a world all of your own. We’ve talked before about how sleep and creativity are linked, and this is a good way to directly connect the two.

Your imagination can be as simple as one happy place you can imagine yourself interacting with, like a beach on holiday or a comfy family space. It could be a dramatic story that has its own characters and events that come and go. The world in your mind is your oyster, so feel free to go wild and fully indulge in creativity with it!

This works when you’re trying to sleep as it keeps your mind off of the daily stresses and worries that can shove away the big Z’s. It puts us in charge and gives us the ability to control everything in it, which in turn helps us relax. Neuroscientifically, doing this at night is the best time to work with repatterning our minds, helping us reduce emotional responses to negative situations and stress.

It also works because sleep onset is a known creative sweet spot, which is why we can often wake up with the solution to an issue we had on our minds when we sleep well. Making good use of this time to flex our imaginations and get relaxed is a perfect balance, so give this one a try if all else fails.

5. Nothing!

If a clear mind is what you need to fall asleep, then learning to blank out your thoughts is a powerful tool to have. Many sleep techniques focus on mental clarity. For example, the military sleep method uses progressive muscle relaxation and keeping your mind empty to get you to sleep in just two minutes.

Find out the best bedtime and wake-up time for you to get all the sleep cycles you need with our Sleep Cycle Calculator.

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