I Cannot Sleep, Why Do I Think So Much?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It is 2 a.m., you are awake, and your mind is racing. You do not understand how you're still awake. You had a long and exhausting day. You were too tired to even eat dinner. You could not wait to shower and fall into bed, so you did. That was five hours ago. Since then, 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 information on a weight-loss product that you can pay for in three easy installments of $19.95.

Can't stop your restless thoughts at night when you need sleep?

Work overload

If that scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. Americans spend long days at work 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 and make it to the gym when possible. When we do get additional 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.

Our minds are complex, knowing what we need even when we do not. We need to think about ourselves and focus on personal items unrelated to work. When we do not take time to think about ourselves during the 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.


Let's paint a scenario to see these ideas in action. 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 sit down for 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 picking 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 and cell phone don't stop ringing. He is in the middle of a very important project that, if all goes well, could mean a bonus, 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 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 finds himself saying, "I can't 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. 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.

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.

Can't stop your restless thoughts at night when you need sleep?
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 mental health and the healthy functioning of your family. You may need help finding ways to manage your time so that you do not neglect yourself or your family.

Poor sleep can impact more than a family dynamic as well. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, "Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression." It's also linked to a "higher chance of injury in adults, teens, and children."

If you need additional support in managing your sleep and creating healthy habits around it, you may benefit from working with a licensed therapist. If making it to an in-person appointment isn't possible due to your busy schedule or fatigue, online therapy is an alternative worth considering. With online therapy, you can get the resources you need to cope with work overload and get back on track to begin sleeping soundly. 

Research shows that online therapy is as effective as in-person therapy for treating common conditions like anxiety, stress, and depression – which can all contribute to sleep issues and insomnia.  


Your sleep health plays a critical role in your life, from the energy you have each day to your ability to balance a busy schedule. Poor sleep habits can catch up with you, and the cumulative effect can create a difficult cycle to break. For support in getting your sleep under control, a licensed therapist may be just what you need.

Learn the impacts of sleep deprivation
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