Why Do You Go Over All Your Worries Before Falling Asleep?

When you go to bed at night, all you want is to rest for eight hours. However, your brain doesn't always agree and it wants you to go over every single one of your worries.
Why Do You Go Over All Your Worries Before Falling Asleep?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 17 November, 2021

If you’re one of those people who find yourself thinking about all your worries before going to sleep, you’ll know how exhausting this habit can be. You jump from thought to thought, like a curious squirrel jumping from branch to branch. In fact, you go over every event or circumstance in detail, and, despite knowing that you’d be far better to give your mind a rest, you worry for hours.

It’d be nice if it were easy to stop this process. Indeed, you’d love to be able to get into bed and know that you’ll be asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. However, it doesn’t matter how quiet your surroundings, your mind continues to go over and over your catalog of worries.

Sometimes, it’s not enough to just go over your existential problems. In fact, there are days when you even relive your saddest, most distressing, or embarrassing moments. Then, almost without realizing it, you’re in an even worse situation, and sleep just won’t come.

If you’re familiar with this kind of situation, you’ll be pleased to know it’s an extremely common psychological phenomenon and that there are strategies to manage it.

“Life is a nightmare that prevents one from sleeping.”

-Oscar Wilde-

Man trapped by worries before sleeping

Why do you go over all your worries before falling asleep?

When you go over your worries before bed, something rather strange happens. For instance, you probably try and choose the kindest, most comfortable, and happy thoughts to think about. However, your mind has other ideas. In fact, it’s extremely selective at this particular moment regarding the mental material it chooses to work with.

The origin of this state is none other than anxiety. Indeed, it’s generally people suffering from a latent anxiety disorder who most commonly exhibit these states of intense worry that make it difficult to get a good night’s rest. However, the fact that the brain suffers an anxious peak just before bed is due to a striking evolutionary mechanism. Let’s take a closer look.

Your brain evaluates situations and performances to better survive

Our 21st-century human brain is the result of thousands of years of evolution. This is undoubtedly advantageous. However, it still has certain design faults that have not yet been resolved. These flaws concern the way we continue to process everyday challenges, however large or small they may be.

As humans, we’re no longer hunter-gatherers and we no longer live in wild environments full of risks. Nevertheless, our mind reacts as if we were, and it constantly processes threats. Furthermore, the quiet of the night is the ideal time to evaluate situations and performances and detect any alert or risk. As a matter of fact, we tend to analyze everything.

When you think about all your worries before bed, it doesn’t take long for your brain to see danger signs in the smallest of details. For example, if you think you acted in a non-assertive way at work, your brain tells you that you might be fired. Or, if you think about that last message you sent to a friend to which they haven’t yet responded, you might come to the conclusion that they’re ghosting you.

The brain has an almost instinctive tendency to focus on problems rather than positive experiences. It does so because of its innate tendency to assess risks. This is so we develop action strategies and are able to adapt and survive in a complex environment.

Latent anxiety

Dr. Luc Staner, of the sleep laboratory of the pharmaceutical company FORENAP in Rouffach (France), conducted research that highlighted the relationship between anxiety disorders and sleep disorders. He claimed that conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are behind these realities.

When you think about your worries just before sleeping, you fall into the cycle of ruminant thinking. However, this experience doesn’t only happen at the end of the day. In fact, obsessive and self-critical ideas are quietly loitering in the background all the time. However, in the calm of the night, your internal dialogue turns up the volume, giving far greater presence to these kinds of thoughts.

Individuals with perfectionist tendencies have an increased likelihood of experiencing these kinds of thoughts.

More than the problems themselves, your greatest challenge lies in how you deal with everything that’s keeping you awake. Turning over these realities in your mind and reinforcing a negative, passive focus intensifies your discomfort.

Woman with eyes clearing worries before sleeping

How to stop overthinking before bed

When you put your head on the pillow and become enveloped in worries, both your physical and mental health suffers. Because a lack of sleep intensifies your existing anxiety. For this reason, you need to make some changes. This involves focusing on two areas. Firstly, taking care of your sleep hygiene and secondly, managing your own mood disorder.

Here are some guidelines that may help:

  • Learn problem-solving techniques.
  • Dedicate a specific hour of the day to solve what causes you anxiety (worry programming).
  • Introduce deep breathing and relaxation techniques to your daily routine.
  • Follow the same routines when going to bed and getting up.
  • Avoid large meals and physical exercise just before sleeping.
  • Disconnect electronic devices two hours before going to bed. Remember that screens act as stimulants and make it difficult to rest at night.
  • Make sure that you approach sleep with a relaxed mind and not an abyss of worries.

It’s not easy to educate your mind to turn down the volume of worry. However, it’s never too late to establish other routines and approaches. In this way, you can move into a state of psychological calm and not perpetual alarm.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cox RC, Olatunji BO. Sleep in the anxiety-related disorders: A meta-analysis of subjective and objective research. Sleep Med Rev. 2020 Jun;51:101282. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101282. Epub 2020 Feb 11. PMID: 32109832.
  • Manber R, Carney C. Treatment Plans and Interventions for Insomnia: A Case Formulation Approach. Guilford Press; 2015.
  • Cox RC, Sterba SK, Cole DA, Upender RP, Olatunji BO. Time of day effects on the relationship between daily sleep and anxiety: An ecological momentary assessment approach. Behav Res Ther. 2018;111:44-51. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2018.09.008

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.