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Try the ‘brain dump’ method
to quiet your mind before bed 

by Melissa Monica 

March 1, 2024

It’s a familiar feeling for many of us: You’re finally in bed at the end of a long day and ready to sleep. But your mind won’t stop racing with all the things you need to do: Return an Amazon package. Text back a friend. Finish an assignment for school.  

Suddenly, you’re remembering that the filter in your dishwasher has never been cleaned and cringing over an embarrassing thing you said at a party a month back. Nighttime is supposed to be an opportunity to slow down, relax and restore. But instead of sleeping, your brain is cataloging every single thing you’re worried about. 

There’s a reason why racing thoughts show up at night. We tend to be busier in the daytime, and once it’s time to slow down and get quiet, your worries — and never-ending to-do list — may sneak in and rise to the surface. That’s when a simple creative technique called a “brain dump” can help.  

Here’s how to do it.  

  1. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. 

  2. Take a few slow breaths, focusing on elongating the exhale.  

  3. Take 5-10 minutes to write down everything that is currently on your mind — from the most banal errand to your hopes, worries and fears. Don’t judge or edit the list; the goal is to “dump” everything on it. 

“The brain dump is brilliant because it says it’s okay that you have all these thoughts — now, here’s something to do with them,” explained Aaron Dias, a meditation teacher in Fort Worth, Texas. The thoughts themselves aren’t inherently bad, she added, but our relationship with them can be fraught. Anyone who has ever suffered from racing thoughts knows the worst part is that you can feel powerless to stop them. “I've learned over the years of coaching people in meditation that it’s not helpful to say ‘just stop thinking!’” she said. “You have to say, ‘do this instead.’ The brain dump gives somebody an option for a new way to deal with it.”

There is no need to organize your brain dump list, but if it helps you feel more relaxed to prioritize the by priority or due date, go for it. “All of these meditation exercises are creative and personal,” Dias said. “Everyone's going to have to make them their own.” 

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