What are Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unnecessary or unwanted thoughts that can pop into our heads without warning at any time. They can be extremely disturbing or distressing.

For example, unexpected reminders about painful past events, worries about catching a serious illness, or thoughts of doing something violent or illegal.

Why do anxious thoughts peak at night?

Some people who experience these kinds of thoughts at night also experience anxious or intrusive thoughts during the day. However, many people also have the experience of feeling relatively calm during the day, the reason being that most of us are more easily distracted from our worries and fears during the day. This is because we are working, caring for others, indulging in screen time, and moving rapidly from one activity to another, barely aware of our inner emotional experiences. But when everything becomes dark and quiet at night, we find ourselves alone with our thoughts, and the darker, more difficult emotions or worries tend to come to the surface. 

These kinds of thoughts at night can also be attributed to mental health disorders, especially various anxiety disorders.

How can these thoughts disturb your sleep, leading to poor physical health?

According to recent research, a lack of sleep significantly impairs our ability to stop unwanted and unpleasant thoughts from entering our minds. Insomnia and overthinking often go hand-in-hand. Hence, people will commonly try to shut out those thoughts that are stopping them from having a peaceful night’s sleep. 

By implementing better ways to deal with intrusive thoughts, the time between getting into bed and falling asleep needn’t be so difficult or distressing. One may also find it easier to fall back to sleep if it isn’t interrupted by racing, intrusive thoughts.

Effective Techniques To Cope With Intrusive Thoughts At Night

There are several immediate techniques you can follow to enhance your sleep patterns at night and do away with intrusive thoughts. Some of these techniques include ones such as:

1. Distract yourself

“Imagery distraction” is a helpful technique when you can’t sleep, where you imagine yourself in an engaging and interesting scenario such as:

  • a relaxing holiday
  • cooking a meal or
  • pursuing a hobby
  • a nice, sunny afternoon in the garden.

The use of mental imagery has been reported to increase the quality of sleep.

Once you’ve chosen a scenario, the aim is to immerse yourself in it as deeply as possible by imagining all the sights, sounds, smells and ultimately relaxation that come with it, so that it becomes completely impossible to think of anything else.

2. Accept your thoughts

The more we try to change or get rid of intrusive thoughts, the more bothersome they are likely to become. Thus, letting these intrusive thoughts be there without forcing yourself to get rid of them can be surprisingly effective. The key here is simply to accept that you aren’t able to sleep because of these intrusive thoughts. However, by not worrying about the implications of these thoughts or trying to fight them, their impact is dulled, which means they’re less likely to be arousing and to keep you awake at night.

3. Identify the triggers of these thoughts

It is important to know what triggers certain intrusive thoughts. At night, it might help to just be mindful of these triggers so that you can take the necessary steps needed to eliminate what triggers the intrusive thoughts.

4. Yoga Nidra/ Sleep meditation https://youtu.be/7H0FKzeuVVs 

Sleep meditation can be powerful as it requires you to connect with your breath and your body, often naturally distracting you or pulling you out of your intrusive or cyclical thought process. Some audio tapes will also include progressive muscle relaxation techniques, which enable physical relaxation as well.

5. Regular Journaling

Regular journaling has been found to reduce bedtime worry and stress, increase sleep time and improve the quality of sleep. It helps greatly to note down your thoughts on paper or a computer before going to bed at night. 


Intrusive thoughts occur to everyone from time to time. However, with a little bit of focus and commitment, it is possible to do away with these intrusive thoughts. The success of overcoming these thoughts depends largely on your ability to fight the urge to worry and obsess over them. 

Talking through your feelings with someone you trust can be extremely beneficial. Being open and vulnerable about how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing, might help you develop a whole new perspective on your situation. 

For some people, talking to a stranger can be easier than talking to someone who is known. In this case, therapy might be a good option. 



Sakshi is a Psychologist with expertise in research and writing, she can make the most complex topic sound simple! She has completed MSC in Counselling Studies from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Also, She loves books and music and forgets the world once earphones are plugged in.