Rumination is the process of thinking over and over again about the same problem or issue, such as past events, current problems, relationship troubles, money difficulties, health challenges, and fears about the future.
Simply thinking and analyzing can be a very healthy process that is part of effective problem-solving. When it comes to rumination, however, thoughts are very excessive and repetitive. You keep thinking the same thought without ever arriving at a conclusion. Even if there is a conclusion, it doesn’t feel satisfying enough, and you keep thinking the same thing again from the beginning. Rumination is a circular thinking pattern that is very unproductive and exhausting.
While it’s possible to ruminate at any time of the day, most people stay sufficiently distracted during the day, and most of their rumination happens at night. Unfortunately, ruminating at night can be particularly harmful because it interferes with sleep and doesn’t allow you to rest and restore properly. This may lead to tiredness, irritability, and difficulty focusing on your daily tasks, affecting all areas of your life.
It’s important to recognize night rumination as it happens. Applying the tips and strategies provided below may help manage rumination and possibly break the cycle of circular thoughts, allowing you to get restful sleep and feel your best.
Why Do You Ruminate?
Ruminating at night can have various underlying causes. To manage your circular thoughts effectively, it is important to identify the root cause of your night rumination. Here are some possibilities:
Stress and anxiety. Sometimes, our brains can become hyperactive due to stress and anxiety. When we are stressed or anxious, our thoughts tend to race, which makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep as we ruminate over the sources of this stress.
Emotional Distress Tolerance Test
Job Burnout Quiz: Stress Arousal, Energy Conservation, Exhaustion
Depression. Depression is another potential cause. Those who struggle with depression tend to talk to themselves in a very negative way, and this negative self-talk can form a circular pattern. This is especially true at night when they are alone with their thoughts.
Unfortunately, rumination makes things even worse, as when you aren’t properly rested, you may not have the sufficient mental and physical energy to challenge negative thoughts and see things from a different, more positive perspective.
Trauma. Those who experienced trauma may also have difficulties with ruminating thoughts at night. Past trauma can lead to intrusive thoughts and memories that may be difficult to control. These intrusive thoughts and memories are even more likely to bother you at night when there aren’t any other distractions.
Health issues. Sometimes, we ruminate due to our medical conditions, such as hormonal imbalances, chronic pain, difficulty breathing, general discomfort, medical tests anxiety, and other issues. All of these may disrupt our sleep and lead to night rumination.
Do I Have Health Anxiety [QUIZ]
Other factors. Other factors may include excessive caffeine consumption, lack of a consistent sleep schedule, and noisy or uncomfortable sleep environment.
Knowing what exactly causes your ruminating thoughts helps develop a more targeted strategy to quiet your overactive mind and improve your sleep.
Setting Up the Stage: Your Bedtime Routine
Regardless of the cause of your night rumination, establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can make it easier to fall asleep while reducing the likelihood of ruminating thoughts. Here are some tips for your bedtime routine:
Stick to a schedule. Consistency is a great way to send a signal to your brain that it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep, so make sure you begin to prepare for sleep at the same time each night. This might involve taking a bath, getting a massage, doing some stretches, or reading a book. The more you insist on your schedule, the more readily you will be able to fall asleep.
Take THIS TEST to find out »
Turn off electronic devices. Your phone, computer, TV, and other electronics emit blue light that can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. To increase your chances of success, try to avoid all electronic devices before you sleep. In addition to helping you relax, it can also prevent scrolling through social media before bed. If you need to wake up early the next day, try an old-fashioned alarm instead of your phone!
Engage in relaxation techniques. Practicing relaxation techniques may help calm the mind and promote relaxation. By focusing on your breath or your bodily sensations, you can redirect your attention away from unwanted thoughts and relax your body and mind. Here are some examples of relaxation techniques and tools you could use at home:
- Deep breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, in particular
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Yoga chest and hip opening poses
- Massage (You can use electric massagers, massage guns, or shiatsu massagers.)
- Acupressure mats
- Weighted blankets
- Self-hypnosis audios (23+ Sleep hypnosis sessions, Stop Intrusive, Obsessive Thoughts Note: sponsored)
Adjust room temperature. Another underestimated factor is room temperature. Some people absolutely can’t sleep unless the room temperature is comfortable. Use air conditioning or heated sheets if needed. Having several blankets of different thicknesses can help optimize your sleep environment even further.
Addressing the Root Cause
Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can be extremely helpful in reducing ruminating thoughts at night, but it is important to address the underlying issues that caused them in the first place. This may mean
– Addressing your stress and anxiety by using the above-mentioned relaxation techniques, being physically active during the day, building your circle of support, setting boundaries, practicing time management skills, and working with a therapist.
– If you are depressed, it is important to seek out professional help. Talk therapy and/or medication may be necessary.
– Your deep-seated emotional wounds due to trauma may need professional attention as well. Seek out therapy and other forms of support to help yourself get emotional closure.
– Any medical conditions require appropriate treatment.
– If there are any lifestyle factors that may cause you to ruminate at night, such as excessive caffeine consumption, poor diet, or a sedentary lifestyle, they need to be addressed too. Sometimes simply making yourself sufficiently physically tired by means of walking or exercise can solve the problem.
Addressing these underlying causes of your rumination and mastering the relaxation techniques above can improve your sleep quality and reduce or even completely eliminate ruminating thoughts.
Cognitive Therapy to Help Stop Ruminating at Night
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and beliefs and then challenging them and changing them to a more helpful way of thinking. CBT is very effective in reducing worry and rumination and improving sleep quality. To benefit from CBT, you need to work with a CBT therapist, but reading and watching free online resources can be helpful too. Here are some links to get you started:
- Dr. Rami Nader on YouTube
- Looking After Yourself: Worry and Rumination by Centre for Clinical Interventions
- Online CBT platform (includes live sessions, worksheets, and follow-up by a professional CBT therapist. Note: sponsored)
In conclusion, ruminating at night can have serious negative consequences that affect your mental and physical health. The above strategies, such as relaxation techniques, bedtime routine, changing negative thought patterns with CBT, working with a therapist, treating any medical issues, and addressing lifestyle factors, can be very helpful in reducing your tendency to ruminate at night and promoting restful sleep.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Be patient in finding your unique formula, and do not hesitate to seek help if necessary.