What is Busy Brain Syndrome? 5 Ways To Combat It When You're Trying To Sleep
We have increasingly busy lives, and when your day is rammed full of hectic commutes, endless emails, high-pressure meetings, and lively social engagements, it can be so hard to switch off when the time comes for bed. Experts have called this "busy brain syndrome". But what is busy brain syndrome? Here's an explainer along with five ways to combat it when you're trying to sleep.
When we spend all day dashing around, and then spend our sitting-down time flicking through Instagram and catching up on one of our million WhatsApp threads, we are overloading our brain on an extreme level — meaning that when we do finally change gear and try and settle down a solid night's sleep, we can sometimes feel overly stimulated and wired. Busybrainsyndrome.com (a real website, I promise) states that our constant engagement in the digital world means "our senses are constantly bombarded from all directions", leading to over-stimulation and our brains running "out of processing bandwidth."
In the daytime, when you're sat at your desk, this "busyness" of the mind can result in you finding it hard to focus and switching from task to task without getting anything done, while that impending deadline looms ever closer and your stress levels continue to rise. It can leave you feeling paralysed by indecision about which task to tackle first resulting in you having an immensely unproductive morning, which is really the last thing you need.
At night, even if you watch your fave trash TV show before bed and wind down with a hot bath, you might find yourself lying there finding it simply impossible to sleep. Your mind is whirring over that meeting that didn't go as well as you hoped; the comment your friend might have interpreted the wrong way; the long to-do list you need to get on top of tomorrow; what on earth you're going to wear a pal's party at the weekend.
The good news is there are things you can do to ease the pain of busy brain. Read on for five solutions to help you sleep.
1. Make Lists
A personal favourite of mine when it comes to offloading stress and unwelcome thoughts, experts agree that this is a really effective way of ordering your mind and reducing feelings of anxiety. But beware of looking back, studies show that the method is more effective when people focus on the future. In a study carried out on people between the ages of 18 and 30 and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, psychologists found that participants who wrote down tasks they wanted to achieve the next day rather than things they'd done that day fell asleep faster — plus, the study found that the more detailed the lists, the quicker they fell asleep. Keep a notebook and pen by your bed (resist the urge to reach for Notes on your iPhone) and make a list of everything you need to do tomorrow — no matter how small and menial the task may seem.
2. Listen To A Podcast
Try and encourage your mind to switch off by engaging it elsewhere, with a podcast or audiobook. Health magazine cautions against choosing anything too riveting or upsetting though, which means maybe give heavy topical debates or unsettling true crime thrillers like Serial a miss. Go for something easy and funny and settle down with your headphones, and if you find you're not getting anywhere, try changing locations and lie on the sofa or in another room instead. Sometimes just taking yourself out of the bed will do you a world of good. Try the Headspace app, which features relaxing meditation tutorials, and Table Manners with Jessie Ware — the singer and her hilarious mum cook dinner for various stars including Ed Sheeran and Sadiq Khan.
3. Read A Book
James Findley, PhD, clinical director of the Behavioural Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, told Health magazine: “You can’t stop your brain from thinking, but you can distract it by focusing on something neutral." But the key is to avoid phones, iPads, and laptops as much as you can, as any time spent on screens will only stimulate your mind more, increasing your sense of anxiety. Pick up a good old-fashioned book or a magazine and enjoy some light reading, and as with the podcasts, don't choose anything too challenging or harrowing. Margot Robbie has the right idea when she admitted that she reads Harry Potter every night before she goes to sleep, as the Evening Standard reports You can't go wrong with that.
4. Get Out Of Bed
Sleep consultant Jenni June told The Cut that 20 minutes is the max amount of time you should lie in bed feeling unable to sleep. After that point, she said, "It’s best to get out of bed". Cormac O’Donovan, MD, associate professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre agrees, telling Health magazine that staying in bed can risk training your brain to associate your bed with worry and insomnia, and will only make your problems worse. Try getting up and doing something else for a bit, unload the dishwasher, give the living room a tidy, or make yourself a hot chocolate. It may be that you're forcing yourself to sleep before you're actually ready. Dr O'Donovan said: “If you’re trying to sleep and your brain’s not letting you, it could just be that you’re going to bed too early,” and while people talk constantly of those golden eight hours, he made the assertion that "some people’s bodies only demand six or seven."
5. Focus On Your Breathing
Sounds incredibly basic, but focusing on your breathing can help to bring your mind back to the present and stop it worrying about the past or the future. Dr O'Donovan told Health magazine that “Your mind is surely going to wander back to other things, but the important thing is to keep bringing it back to your breathing, in and out." Sleep specialist Michael Breus in the same publication recommended diaphragmatic breathing. Eh? Breus went on to explain that this entails placing a hand on your chest and one on your stomach, inhaling slowly through the nose for two seconds, feeling your stomach expand, then pushing gently on your stomach as you exhale.
Sweet dreams people.