Insomnia: How to Rewire Your Brain for Sleep

Once your brain is wired to fret about being able to fall asleep, it takes effort to rewire neural pathways for restful sleep.

Insomnia can arise from several causes. However, worrying is one of the most frequent reasons people suffer from chronic sleep loss. If your mind boosts into overdrive when your head hits the pillow, conjuring mountains from molehills, no wonder you have difficulty getting to sleep.

Here’s how to stop anxiety stealing shuteye. First, though, you’re more likely to rewire your brain for sleep if you recognize why it’s currently wired for insomnia.

Repetition creates neural pathways

Repeated behaviors, such as worrying at night, turn into habits. Your brain is wired for insomnia if you’ve spent numerous nights wide awake, fretting about problems. Just as it takes time to generate neural pathways in the brain via repetition, it takes a while to override old tracks and create new, preferable ones.

The following tips can help you get to sleep, but they might not work instantly. Instead, be patient and carry them out until they are habitual. Once you’ve forged fresh neural connections, it will be easier to sleep every night.

It’s hard to sleep when you aren’t relaxed. It is hard to relax when you are anxious about falling asleep. It can take a while to break out of this negative spiral.

Create a routine to help you relax

Anxiety increases when you go to bed because you expect to stay awake. After all, that’s what usually happens. So, as stress keeps you alert when you want to sleep, you don’t want to stimulate angst.

Follow a routine to teach your mind and body to relax when bedtime’s close rather than increase stress and endure insomnia. Carrying out similar habits each night will put you in the mood to shut down your busy mind and rest.

Your routine might include using calming lavender essential oil in a hot bath an hour before bed and then settling down to read. Or, you might prefer to listen to soothing music, write in a journal, or do something else relaxing before turning in for the night.

Reduce expectations

If you expect to encounter insomnia, your anxiety will grow. People who find it hard to sleep often tell themselves they must fall asleep instantly when they go to bed, imagining they can force the issue. But doing so creates resistance and strain.

Rather than put pressure on yourself to sleep, imagine you are going to rest and enjoy peaceful thoughts. Your change of attitude will help to override old neural paths in your brain and make way for the new habit of sleeping.

Calm your worries

When stress rises as you try to sleep, recall there’s never a sane reason to worry. Going over problems isn’t logical and won’t help.

Bear in mind difficulties fall into one of two categories:

  1. You have the power to alter problems and make positive changes.
  2. You can’t do anything about the challenges you face.

Consequently, you can modify the cause of angst and eliminate the difficulty. Or accept that you can’t make changes and must accept the situation. Either way, you have no reason for anxiety.

Slow your thoughts

Calm your system ready for sleep further with a gentle, mindful exercise. When in bed, let thoughts appear and acknowledge them. When you note them, imagine they shrink, float away, or disappear. Use your mind to picture their insignificance fading.

Initially, the exercise might not be easy, but practice, and you’ll see positive results. The same goes if thoughts flow as self-talk. Reduce their volume or change them to make them funny; concerns aired as a squeaky cartoon character voice, for instance, will lose their importance and disappear.

Focus on your body

Next, concentrate on physical experience rather than mental noise. Think about your body, starting at your feet, and imagine your muscles relaxing. Work slowly up to the crown of your head while also following your breath. There’ll be no room for worries to stream, and you’ll become sleepy.

Worrying can keep you awake and steal much-needed shuteye. Note the suggestions mentioned in the order provided, and you will rewire your brain to help you sleep well.

InsomniaMental HealthPopularSleep Science
Comments ( 15 )
Add Comment
  • Still Awake

    [Citation Needed]
    Good article, but maybe create a special topic/section for these new unsourced summaries of evolving study, like neuroplasticity or psychotherapy or biofeedback or new-age or whatever this article was based on. It’s emulating clickbait, except using good information I’ve seen in studies, but this summary is coming from the void with the author as “By SCITECHDAILY.COM”.

  • JC

    Not well written. Goofy advice like you can’t do anything about your challenges? WTF is that? You sure as heck can do something. New job, new friends, eat better, drink less etc etc….
    This appears to have been written by a high school dropout. Sorry…

  • Sleepless in Seattle

    Interesting insight about pathways followed by useless advice: “To fall asleep, you just need to realize that worrying isn’t helpful and quit”. Oh, that it were that easy!

  • Brenda

    I took an EST siminar while in my twenties during the 1970s which incorporated the feeling your feet on the floor & working your way up the body. Works especially well for me if I have pain. I stop at the area of pain & imagine if it had size & shape, what would it be. Maybe a small red triangle. If it held fluid inside how much fluid would it hold & picture colored fluid filling size & shape. I picture & hold this in my mind & the pain is gone. Repeating lengthens time of pain relief. It was explained to me that two things cannot exists in the same place in the same universe. Works for me. I have benefited from this for decades & hope it also may help others. I was surprised it worked but it did & this article has several easy low key ways to relieve stress, anxiety & insomnia I use. It’s free, helpful & can only head you in the right direction of a peaceful mind while awake or trying to fall asleep.

  • Kjo

    Hot Epsom Salt Bath. Chamomile Tea with Honey. Listen to an audio book. Yoga Stretching for deep sleep. All these help me. Have a heated massage mat that is relaxing to lay on. Breo has eye massager that are great. Relax

  • Charles G. Shaver

    As with just about every professional medical article I’ve read at least some of, this article fails to factor-in my (Dr. Arthur F. Coca; THE PULSE TEST, 1956, long available free online in PDF format) kind of very-very mild chronic subclinical non-IgE-mediated allergy reactions, officially (FDA in the US) approved toxic food additives, potential allergy related nutritional deficiencies and way too common medical errors. An inexpensive finger pulse-oximeter is sufficient to check ones fasting-at-rest pulse and blood oxygen in the morning, for a baseline to compare with while tossing and turning at night. To my lay findings, too, pulse rises and, since Dr. Coca’s day, blood oxygen falls a couple or few points while on a still very-very mild allergy reaction. Scientifically, uric acid levels are likely to be high and with standard serum testing being unreliable for calcium, something of a calcium (e.g. half of the natural tranquilizer team of calcium and magnesium) deficiency is probably a lot more common than generally believed. However, be careful of supplementing with calcium carbonate. It’s known to bind with phosphorus and, based on continuing experience, can cause a serious phosphorus deficiency that healthcare providers may even fail to test for.

  • Jonathan T

    What about fatal insomnia.
    Either random or familial?

  • Sleep well Bob

    Why no mention of Magnesium Glycinate? It’s a natural mineral and helps you relax. I take 300-400 mg 1-2 hours before bed. Works the best. Along with the same sleep time every night. Worked the first time i tried it and Cured my insomnia.

  • Pabis

    If my insomnia were caused by thoughts and worries, I would be delighted as I have no problem ignoring them when it’s time to rest. Unfortunately, I’m a recovering alcoholic and my insomnia is caused by alcohol withdrawal which has completely rewired how my brain functions. I developed a physical dependence on alcohol which now causes me to have sudden panic attacks as soon as my body starts falling asleep which immediately wakes me up. It’s something I can’t control and therefore am using medication to help me sleep. I’m hoping and praying this will resolve with a bit of time.

    • Charles G. Shaver

      While not much for one to go on, I wonder if your alcoholism may have left you deficient in natural tranquilizers and/or substituting with something else that stimulates, either of which prescription medication probably fails to properly address. You may find an answer in the article which works better in conjunction with something from one of the replies.

  • Deeps...

    Hello all,
    Sometimes, I get some memories from my archive just before sleeping and I go into deep depression throughout the night. I tried to come out of it a lot by using some magical technique which works for many ailments. Even that doesn’t work in these situations. That night would be a nightmare for me with restlessness. Any other technique would help me. Any suggestion please…

  • Lilli

    For me it’s not so much worry or anxiety. I worry angst all day long some days but it’s when I lay down and then recount the day and wish I could do a do over, even my whole life! I go over how everything went wrong ! No one there for for me all alone what can I do, what could I have done? Why is my life thus way what did I do to deserve this? Why should I be so alone my entire life? When you are so alone no one sees’ you, you are living in a black hole and you only obsess about getting out,

  • Lilli

    Otherwise I would say exercise hot bath,(which I don’t have tub) is very good to relax. But I get that when things are happening it’s not always able to utilize. It’s very hard when you are alone no family support or freinds all you can do is pray.

  • Lilli

    What I m saying is that it’s ruminations that keep you up sometime and trauma memories. What to do about that.?

  • Phil

    It’s said that “there’s only one thing better than the sleep of the just and that’s the sleep just after!” So, have sex or if, like me, you’re on your own, play with yourself! Generally works for me!