I Cannot Sleep, Why Do I Think So Much
Updated February 16, 2020
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
It is 2 a.m., you are awake and your mind is racing. You do not understand how it is you can still be awake. You had a long and exhausting day, you were too tired to even eat dinner. You could not wait to get a shower, and just fall into bed, so you did. That was five hours ago. Since that time, you have tossed and turned, gotten up to go to the bathroom twice, drank a glass of milk, and watched an infomercial. All you have to show for it is indigestion and a weight-loss product that you can pay for in three easy installments of $19.95.
If that scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. Americans spend long days at work and on the road commuting to and from. Our days are often non-stop with phone calls, emails, and meetings. We grab lunch at our desks, make it to the gym when we can, and barely spend any quality time with our families. When we do get time, we often spend it either catching up on work, or with our families. This leaves catching up with ourselves on the lonely back-burner, which can lead to burnout ("The Interplay of Stress and Sleep Impacts BDNF Level," n.d.).
Our minds are complex, knowing what we need even when we do not. We need to think about ourselves and focus on personal items that are unrelated to work. When we do not take time to think about ourselves during the course of a day, or to do what is good for ourselves, we are likely to lose sleep at night while our minds are hard at work thinking and processing (Lin, Jen, & Yang, 2015a).
John has been working twelve hour days for the past two weeks. His wife and kids have been shouldering all the chores at home, and there has been no time to even sit down to a simple dinner. On the weekends, John tries to make up for missed time with his kids, but they are teens now and have their own social lives. He has missed every game and practice for the past two weeks, with his wife taking up the slack.
On Monday morning, the beginning of the third week of more long hours, John drags himself out of bed, gets dressed, and as he is leaving for work sees a note on the refrigerator: John, when you get home tonight, we have to talk. John feels his stomach sink, but does not have time to think about it, so he rushes out the door.
All day John is busy, his desk, nor his cell phone stops ringing. He is in the middle of a very important project that if all goes well, could mean not only a bonus, but a promotion and raise. Before he knows it, it is 7 p.m. He skipped lunch hoping to leave earlier, but it just did not work out that way.
When he gets home after his hour-long commute, the lights are off. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembers there was a game scheduled for tonight. He looks at the note on the refrigerator as he makes himself a sandwich. He continues to think about the note while in the shower; he cannot remember the last conversation he had with his wife since she has been in bed each night by the time he arrives home.
He gets in bed, turns off the light, and lies in bed, heart pounding. What does she want to talk about? He fears the worst. He is exhausted. Tomorrow is going to be another long day. However, he cannot go to sleep.
John has not taken time for himself or his family in over two weeks. All the personal thoughts he has repressed for the past two weeks are flooding his mind, triggered by the note (Lin, Jen, & Yang, 2015b). John has been working so many hours he has not had time to talk with his family to explain how important this project is to their financial future. Now everything is crowding in on him ("Wakeup Call for Insomnia," n.d.).
A 15-minute break during the course of the day to call his wife would have gone a long way in this situation. However, John did not take the time. Now due to a lack of actual communication, he is left to lie awake wondering what his wife is trying to communicate with her note. In the absence of his wife there to ask the questions he would like answered, his mind tries to help him sort it out, but the mind has no more answers than John does. It is going to be another long night.
Most of us have found ourselves in situations such as this before. We get so caught up in our workday activities and professional goals that we temporarily lose sight of those important individuals we are working for. Our minds work overtime at night trying to resolve issues we have not had the time to address during our waking hours, and sometimes our thoughts keep us awake.
If sleep evades you, and you find you are awake many nights thinking, it may be because you are not allowing yourself time to process your personal thoughts during the day. Setting time aside for yourself and your family is essential for your own mental health as well as for the healthy functioning of your family. You may need help in finding ways of managing your time so that you do not neglect yourself or your family. Betterhelp.com can provide you with the resources you need to cope with work overload and get you back on track, so that you can also get back to sleeping soundly, and peacefully.
Lin, Y.-H., Jen, C.-H., & Yang, C.-M. (2015a). Information processing during sleep and stress-related sleep vulnerability. Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 69(2), 84-92. https://doi.org/10.1111/pcn.12206
Lin, Y.-H., Jen, C.-H., & Yang, C.-M. (2015b). Information processing during sleep and stress-related sleep vulnerability. Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 69(2), 84-92. https://doi.org/10.1111/pcn.12206
The Interplay of Stress and Sleep Impacts BDNF Level. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2017, from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0076050
Wakeup Call for Insomnia: It's time to treat fragmented slee… : Neurology Now. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2017, from http://journals.lww.com/neurologynow/Fulltext/2006/02040/Wakeup_Call_for_Insomnia__It_s_time_to_treat.5.aspx