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How Rumination Can Sabotage Your Sleep Quality

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Ruminations and Sleep: How to Break the Cycle

Are you struggling to get a good night's sleep? Do you find yourself lying awake in bed, unable to switch off your thoughts and relax? If so, you’re not alone. Many of us, at some point or another, experience the feeling of being plagued by intrusive and negative thoughts, known as rumination, which can lead to restlessness and insomnia. 

However, the good news is, there are ways to break this negative cycle and get better night’s sleep. By understanding the causes of rumination and the strategies to reduce and manage it, you can learn how to stop the negative cycle of rumination and improve your sleep quality. [1]

What is rumination and why is it a problem?

Rumination is a form of cognitive fixation or ‘stuck’ thinking, where we get caught in a negative and repetitive pattern. It happens when we get distracted by negative thoughts and fail to let them go, often leading to feelings of worry and anxiety. When we ruminate, we may experience negative emotions such as anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, stress, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. When rumination becomes a regular pattern of thinking, it can lead to an increase in stress, anxiety, and even depression. As these thoughts are often repetitive and uncontrollable, they can significantly affect our sleep and overall health, as well as our ability to manage stress and emotions. Rumination also disrupts the quality of sleep. It can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, or make it difficult for you to fall asleep in the first place. This can create a vicious cycle of increasing negative thoughts and perpetuating insomnia. [2]

How to identify rumination and the triggers that lead to it

If you’re experiencing recurrent and intrusive thoughts, you’re likely ruminating. Rumination is a form of mental ‘stuckness’, and can result in repetitive thoughts that are often negative, worrisome, and stress-inducing. When experiencing rumination, you may find yourself dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, or even feeling frustrated or angry about something that’s happening in the present. These thoughts might feel like a burden and can be difficult to shake off. If you find yourself stuck on a certain thought or worry, unable to let it go, or if you find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, it could be rumination. Another common sign of rumination is when your thoughts are causing you significant stress, and anxiety, or disrupting your ability to function at work or in social environments.

Strategies to reduce rumination

Anxiety and negative thoughts are part of life, but there are ways to reduce and manage them. The following strategies can help reduce rumination and help you switch off your thoughts: 

a. Cognitive restructuring

When you find yourself stuck on a certain thought that is causing you significant anxiety and worries, it can be helpful to ‘rewrite’ the thought in your mind. This is called cognitive restructuring and can help to change the way you think about a certain situation. It can be helpful to use some sort of image or visual reminder to help you rewrite the thought and change your focus. For example, if you’re worried about something at work, instead of focusing on the thought and the anxiety it’s causing you, try to focus your attention on the physical sensations of your anxiety (e.g. racing heart, clenched fists, etc.). This can work as a distraction technique and help you to let go of the thought.

b. Mindfulness techniques

When you’re caught in rumination, you’re ‘stuck’ in your thoughts, and unable to focus your attention on your current surroundings. Being mindful means you’re ‘in the moment’ and able to focus your attention on your current surroundings and activities. This can help you get ‘unstuck’ from your thoughts and break the vicious cycle of negative thoughts and insomnia. Some of the most common mindfulness techniques include: 

  • Focusing on your breathing & practicing breathing exercises: this is a great technique to use in the middle of the night when you find yourself ruminating and unable to sleep. 

  • Journaling - when we write down our thoughts, it helps to get them out of our head and allows us to let them go. This can help manage repetitive and negative thoughts. 

  • Meditation - One of the most common ways to practice self-care is through meditation. When you meditate, you’re able to focus on your breathing and let go of your negative thoughts.

c. Self-care strategies 

When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, it’s important to take care of yourself. Stress can make it difficult to sleep, and can lead to negative thoughts and rumination. 

  • Getting enough sleep - when you’re sleep-deprived, it can make it difficult to let go of negative thoughts and can increase anxiety and rumination. That’s why it's important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep because the cycle of ruminations can very easily turn into insomnia. 

  • Exercise - Regular exercise can help to reduce stress and negative thoughts, while improving your sleep and overall health. Yoga is another great practice that can help reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and decrease rumination.

The power of positive thinking

While it’s important to understand the causes of rumination and how to manage it, it’s also important to remember that an optimistic approach can help us to get better sleep. Many studies suggest positive thinking has many benefits, including improved health and better sleep. A positive approach can be helpful when managing rumination and negative thoughts. This doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore the negative thoughts, but rather learn how to refocus your attention on positive thoughts and activities. A positive approach can also help you to sleep better. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Behavioral medicine found that a positive outlook can improve your sleep and help you to get better sleep. Therefore, when you’re struggling with negative thoughts and find it difficult to get to sleep, it can be helpful to focus your attention on positive thoughts, such as your positive outlook on life and your goals. This can help you to relax and let go of negative thoughts.[3][4]

When to seek professional help

If you’ve tried making adjustments to your sleep environment and lifestyle but still struggle to get a good night’s rest, you may want to seek professional help. A doctor or sleep specialist can help diagnose any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your sleep problems and recommend treatments, such as medications or cognitive-behavioral therapy.[5]

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for your overall health and wellbeing. By making some simple changes to your sleep environment and lifestyle habits, you can help ensure that you get the restful sleep that you need. If these adjustments don’t improve your sleep, then it’s time to seek professional help.

We invite you to take a look at our Sleep Better resource page which covers all the important factors that impact our quality of sleep. Also, please check   out similar articles featured on our blog and learn more about proven tips for better health and overall well-being. 

You might also consider joining our FORUM Community where we discuss ideas and exchange information about all things connected to wellness and digital well-being.  

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