Rumination, or obsessive over-thinking is a common habit linked to sleeplessness.

It is probably the symptom most commonly spoken of by people suffering from insomnia, and it plays a key role in sleeplessness, eating disorders, depression and/or anxiety, and a list of other complaints. It can easily become a cycle.

When rumination sets in when you should be sleeping it can be very distressing. You’re already worried about being tired the next day, then the obsessive thinking adds even more negative thoughts.

Since sleeplessness can make any form of suffering seem worse, it’s logical that getting more sleep can also lessen general distress.  It’s a common factor but it’s also one of the easiest to do something about. I have a new online course showing how to improve sleep patterns and restore healthy sleep.

Is Rumination Bad?

As a coping style, rumination is more hindrance than help, but does that make it a bad habit? Not entirely. Like anything we can do with our thinking, it has its uses, but equally, just as any other aspect of thought, it can be a nuisance if it becomes generalised. When your busy mind creates constant mental noise it can stop you getting the sleep that’s essential to your wellbeing.

The ability to look at things in detail, from many different angles and theorise about potential solutions can be very useful as far as it goes, and when it leads to meaningful action. But over-thinking can mean that you get locked into ‘paralysis by analysis‘. This happens when decision-making is forestalled by the need to think long and hard about every aspect.

But problems arise when someone loses the ability (or has never developed it), to turn the thinking into action or, if no action is appropriate, to simply say “Let it go”.

When you can do that, you’ll also be able to say “And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all”, just like it says in the song.

Time to do something different

If poor sleep is a problem for you here’s some general advice. The first step is to attend to what is known as ‘sleep hygiene’; here’s some sleep guidance from the NHS in the UK. The next two steps are:

Break the pattern of rumination

Battling with your mind will only perpetuate the cycle and prolong the agony. A better way is simply to do something different. Occupy your mind by giving it something else to do. This will interrupt the ruminating habit and engage your mind in something useful.

Here are three guaranteed ways of dropping off. These were all recommended to me by people who swear by them. I know they work because I’ve tested them all myself.

Re-train your mind to welcome sleep

Habits are powerful. If rumination is =keeping you awake that’s a habit you need to change. Retraining yourself and your mind into new habits will ‘over-write’ rumination and install new sleep hygiene routines.

Help your body prepare for sleep by sticking to an evening ritual. This involves helping you to de-stress and wind down by doing the same things in the same order and at regular times, leading up to bedtime.

Consider morning pages. This is not something you normally would do at night, but it’s a good way of starting your day by clearing the mind of cares and concerns, and reducing worry. Less stress in the day can lead to more peaceful evenings and eventiually a better night’s sleep.

Breaking the rumination habit means retraining the mind. Whichever new tactics you decide on,   I recommend doing them daily and making them part of your routine. Stick at it anf have faith. Remember that getting into calmer habits of thinking and improving sleep is really just a matter of un-learning old habits and re-learning new ones.





I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.