5 Tips to Stop Your Mind from Making Mental To Do Lists All Night Long

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

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I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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Good morning, friends!

As you might remember, I am working with Kohls on their Make Your Move campaign, which is all about moving more, stressing less, and eating and sleeping better. For my first post, I shared how I plan to move more in 2015. My second post was about our Happiness Board, which helps me stress less and be more positive in my everyday life, and my most recent post was all about my favorite kitchen tools that encourage me eat better. This blog post is all about sleeping better, which is an area that I definitely struggle with. My brain never shuts off, so I often spend a lot of time laying in bed (sometimes for hours) making mental To Do lists. I’m totally aware that I do this and that it prevents me from falling asleep, so I came up with some ways to help me quiet my mind.

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Ok, right off, I’m going to tell you guys that some of these things probably sound a little weird. Maybe even a bit goofy? But, hey, take ”˜em or leave ”˜em. They work for me and my manic brain most of the time!

How to Stop Your Mind from Making Mental To Do Lists All Night Long

The beautiful bedding pictured above is from Kohls. I want it. 

Read. This is my go-to strategy for when I can’t sleep. Even reading for just 10 minutes will usually make me tired, so it definitely helps me when my brain is wired. Instead of tossing and turning for hours, I’ll whip out my iPad or an issue of US Weekly and read until I’m sleepy.

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I focus on my third eye. My ”˜think about pink elephants‘ trick has since morphed into focusing on my ”˜third eye,’ which is taken from my yoga practice over the years. The third eye is located between your eyebrows and is associated with intuition, concentration, and focus, so it is really helpful for calming my mind. I just think about it and nothing else, which means I can’t keep making mental To Do lists, and I will eventually fall asleep.

I keep a note pad and pen by my bed. Since I’m always thinking about what I need to do, I leave a pad of paper and a pen on my bedside table. (This journal with lined pages is also super cute for writing down To Do lists.) Anytime I think of something I need to do, I jot it down, so I don’t keep running it through my head over and over again. Basically, once it’s written down, I know I won’t forget about it, so I can relax.

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I contract and relax my muscles. This sleep tactic is old school. It’s actually from an overnight retreat back in high school. I’ve randomly used it from time-to-time over the years, but, recently, I started doing it again. Ok, here’s how it works. First, imagine yourself laying on the sand of a warm, tropical beach; you are totally relaxed. Start at your toes: Contract all of them for 10-15 seconds and then relax them for the same amount of time. Then, move up to your ankles””flex them for 10-20 seconds and then relax. Continue to do the same tighten and release as you move onto your calves, quads, glutes and then your fingers, hands, arms, shoulder, neck, and finish with your face muscles. In theory, you’ll be so relaxed, you won’t even make it there!

I think about being super comfortable. This one is a little hokey, but it works sometimes! I simply think about how comfy and cozy I feel in my bed. I focus on the cuddly blankets and how my head is positioned on my pillow. I listen for Murphy’s soft, rhythmic snoring and move around until my body feels just right on the mattress. I keep reminding myself how comfortable I feel and all of those happy thoughts just make me fall asleep.

Question of the Day

What is your go-to tactic for quieting your mind when you want to sleep?

This post is sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of Kohl’s.



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64 Comments

  1. I always take deep breaths while imagining I’m laying on the beach listening to the ocean waves. I keep a notepad on the nightstand too. I need to try the muscle one. Thinking of lying on warm sand alone might do the trick.

  2. TakinG a few minutes at the end of the day to plan out the next day always helps. If I can’t sleep I’ll journal or read. Sometimes I’ll massage my feet with thick lotion to help me relax and I focus on pressure points.

  3. I LOVE that bedding! I do a short 10 minute bedtime meditation on YogaGlo or My Yoga Works. It really helps me calm my mind and relax and I benefit from a teacher leading me through the meditation. I’ve been known to fall asleep during the meditation!

  4. I do the contracting/relaxing thing too! I actually have a head-to-toe guide on my ITunes for when I really need to relax. Counting backwards sometimes works too. I can’t read because I get too hooked on whatever I’m reading and end up staying up too late.

  5. I have no problem falling asleep (any time, anywhere…)- for me it’s staying asleep after 5am. Every weekday morning I struggle with “Should I just get up and do some yoga? Fold some laundry? Maybe I’m still tired?” Never happens on the weekends- only during the week. I’m going to try contracting/relaxing my muscles- maybe that will do the trick!

  6. A little spirituality helps — handing over the feeling of responsibility for too many things to some higher power, and acknowledging that we just have to go with the flow more often than not.

    And a hot cup of cocoa. 😉

  7. I’m terrible with the mental lists!! I try and write everything down before going to bed, think the day through and then just let it be. I know LOTS of people who keep paper and pens by their bed to write things down. I also try and watch a funny comedy on Netflix before bed so it calms me down (we are currently watching Frasier). The routine really helps.

  8. I’m a big fan of reading before bed. I just bought a little clip on light for books so that I can read while my bf sleeps 🙂 I think I read this trick from you a few years ago– count backwards from 300 by 3’s? I do that sometimes when I reallllly can’t stop thinking about random stuff before falling asleep!

  9. I love these tips! I have so much trouble falling asleep at night. One trick that I have (because I need to be listening/watching something to fall asleep) is to put on a show that I’ve watched every episode of and put that on. For me, that’s usually The Office or How I Met Your Mother. I’m not focused on the show since I’ve seen it, and for some reason they always put me to sleep!

    I’ll have to try out some of your tips, especially the muscle relaxing one!

  10. My husband and I swear by having a white noise/sound machine turned on every night. It’s lulls us to sleep and is so comforting. Ever since we started using one we’ve had the best sleeps and have woken up feeling super rested.

  11. I have a meditation that is sort of similar to how you relax and contract your muscles. I think about a really peaceful, beautiful place I visited once and start with slow, rhythmic breathing exercises and then focus my awareness starting at my toes and then working my way up. I can’t remember the last time I got past my knees… it’s so calming!

  12. the yoga move “legs up the wall” helps me sometimes. like laying with your back on the ground and you feet in the air. I heard that the change of blood flow helps you relax.

  13. I also think about how comfortable I am in my bed. I thought that was so weird! Glad to hear someone else do this too.

  14. I need new bedding so bad… I love that set.

    I “paint it black”. If my mind is racing and I can’t sleep, I imagine painting everything I’m “seeing” black until all I am visualizing is black. It has helped for years!

  15. Reading definitely helps unless your husband gets you wrapped up in binge watching a tv show! ugh! ; )
    I’ve found a cup of tea with collagen and a magnesium supplement definitely help! The magnesium especially for turning off the racing mind part. You should try it! Ask your doc first though of course!

  16. I am totally the same way!! I hate just looking at the clock wondering when I am ever going to fall asleep. I have a daily to-do list sheet and I go through my next day and write down any events, meetings, and to-dos before I go to sleep. This helps me to relax and realize that I have my next day all mapped out. I also like to listen to soothing music. It helps focus my mind so I can sleep.

  17. I count by a weird number (4, 6, 7) when I need to stop thinking. For me it is a perfect thing to do where I sort of have to focus on what I am doing, but it is also mindless and repetitive. I eventually just fall asleep. I have passed this practice onto my 5-year old son who has been having nightmares. I told him to focus on number before falling asleep and it seems to be helping. He just picks a number to count to and usually falls asleep before hitting it. We are both numbers people though.

  18. I absolutely keep a notepad by my bed, and I try to plan out my next day before I even turn off the lights. I write down anything that might be stressing me out so that I can just focus on it the next day. And if I’m lying there and can’t fall asleep and can’t figure out why, I honestly just play Candy Crush to zone out, and then that usually calms my mind enough to fall asleep quickly.

  19. i’ve had a TERRIBLE time with this lately. i make a list on my phone which i know you’re supposed to be off your phone but it’s easier than turning on a light and writing something down haha

  20. I’m in my yoga teacher training now and have learned so much related to calming the mind and breathing techniques. My favorite one so far is just to focus on the breath. Taking a slow deep inhale through the nose and then exhaling through the nose for double the time. Example: Inhale for count of four, Exhale for count of eight. It really does work!

  21. I found lately that focusing on my breathing seems to help. Breathe in for a count of 5 hold for 5, release for 5. It seems to relax me and I hardly get thru very many cycles before I fall asleep. I think it is supposed to be 4,7,8, but I just made it easy for me and went with 5,5,5

  22. I love this! I think a notepad helps, bc usually if I can’t sleep it’s because I’m worrying about a million things on my to do list that I’m afraid I’ll forget. Also, no social media/email right before bed makes a difference.

  23. Its funny, with a 4-month old, some nights my sleep is limited. But you know, I feel most tired when he sleeps through the night! For instance, he slept from 8:15pm-5:30am yesterday! So proud of him, haha. I, on the other hand, kept on waking up and checking the baby monitor! ggrrrr I’m thinking this is because my body is just so used to waking up at all hours of the night. Help! Do you still use your baby monitor? I’m scared to ditch it because I’m afraid the one night I don’t use it, he’ll need me! Gah! #mommyissues

    1. Yep, we use it every night, but Mal has since moved it to his side of the bed because I used to obsessively check it and not sleep!

  24. I’m so guilty of this. And then I go blank in the morning when I really want to get my To Do list together. I find that reading really is a great call. It only takes about 10-15 minutes of reading in bed to put me into a deep sleep, ha!

  25. Reading never fails to put me to sleep within minutes (even if it’s a super interesting/exciting story). I can’t do it on the iPad though, or any electronics before bed. I need to be away from the screens for awhile before falling alseep. Recently re-discovered the library. Free books/sleep aids. Good stuff!

  26. Reading never fails to put me to sleep within minutes (even if it’s a super interesting/exciting story). I can’t do it on the iPad though, or any electronics before bed. I need to be away from the screens for awhile before falling asleep. Recently re-discovered the library. Free books/sleep aids. Good stuff!

  27. I remind myself to be in the moment and that my job in that moment is just to sleep. I guess this idea gives my brain the permission to relax – it’s not “slacking off” or harming the things I’m worrying about, but instead it’s contributing to the success by resting.

  28. The best technique for me is to focus on my slowing down my breath and counting in deep inhales and exhales. I also used to count backwards from 100 in Spanish (I didn’t realize how this sounds totally dorky, haha!). I always read before bed, so if I am not particularly sleepy after 15 min or so I make myself get OUT of bed and read in the living room on the couch until I’m tired enough to zombie back into the bedroom and conk out. This seems to help my mind remember that bed = sleep so just get to it!

  29. Im usually so tired by bedtime that I will just pass out. I do love to do lists though, so I have paper all around the house whenever I feel myself getting overwhelmed and thinking about things that need to get done. It is so satisfying to be able to cross things off!

  30. I also love to read before I go to bed to help calm my brain down and also deep breathing usually helps!

  31. Great tips! I swear by my sound machine and if I have any trouble falling to sleep just focusing on the sounds of my sound machine put me right to sleep….this helps me take my mind off any wandering thoughts.

  32. I am a big reader! I have been reading a ton of books lately or Women’s Health magazine. I say colors in Spanish. Weird! I know. It just gets my mind off other things. 🙂

  33. I have never had too much of a problem sleeping, but to quite my mind when I am stressed and it won’t let go I always turn to music. Kind of like running with music it shuts my mind off, listening to the lyrics, sometimes quietly singing them help me so much with forgetting about everything I have to get done. I love your note pad and pen idea though!

  34. I struggle so much with this, too! I definitely lay there and count every passing minute. I usually will email myself my ‘to-do’ list to help myself relax at night, but reading also really helps.

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