Is This Alphabet Sleep Hack on TikTok the Cure to Nighttime Overthinking?

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After a long day, you’re mentally and physically exhausted, you’ve washed off your makeup, slipped into your comfiest pajamas, and then — BAM. You remember that cringeworthy comment you made earlier in the day, and you just can’t let it go. 

Thoughts of “what if this” and “what if that” start spinning in your head, and suddenly it’s way past your bedtime and you’re lying awake worrying about something that happened hours or days ago. 

What does this overthinking — or “rumination” — mean for your sleep? Rumination and anxious thoughts can keep you awake at night, and recent research found that a lack of sleep is associated with difficulties shifting away from negative thoughts. (1)  

How to Do the Alphabet Sleep Hack

TikTok creator Len ( shared her hack for overcoming this frustrating experience, explaining a technique that involves going through the alphabet and coming up with an example of something for each letter. 

“You go through the alphabet, you pick a category. I always pick like, ‘singer,’ not too hard, not too easy.” Len goes on to give an example, “A, Avril Lavigne, B, Backstreet Boys, C, carry on.” (2) 

She says in the video, “I never even get to the end of the alphabet because it works.” Her trick to this? “You want to focus on something not too hard because then you can’t get to sleep, and not too easy because then your brain just drifts off and starts overthinking again.” 

Amber Creamer, licensed therapist at Hello Life Counseling, says that she recommends this tactic to her clients frequently and even uses it herself when she struggles to wind down at bedtime. 

“I encourage my clients to choose a category of anything they have knowledge on: Items you can find at the grocery store, colors, titles of their favorite songs, different clothing brands, etc.” (3) 

As Len described in her video, Creamer says to pick a topic that isn’t too easy:
“The trick is to think of something that is challenging enough to get you out of your head and redirect your attention from the racing thoughts.” 

Creamer also says that she recommends trying the alphabet technique in combination with deep breathing, which she says can help deepen relaxation for better sleep. 

Some TikTok users commented on the video, saying that this trick wouldn’t work for them because they would just start searching the internet for answers. 

Courtney Morgan, Licensed Therapist and founder of Counseling Unconditionally, explained that individuals who tend to be obsessive might feel distressed if they can’t think of something with the particular letter and category. (4)  The last thing you probably want to do when you’re struggling to sleep is sit on your phone googling “singers that start with the letter y.” 

Creamer added that it may take time for this technique to work for some people, and the category also has to be challenging enough. She also explains that getting out of your head “requires that you switch up your routine and challenge your mind to focus on new activities” and though it may take time, it is possible. (3) 

Other Strategies to Overcome Overthinking at Night

Luckily, this alphabet hack isn’t the only strategy out there that can help you settle your mind at night. 

Morgan has a few recommendations that you can try out from your bed. “Some other techniques that help people to stop overthinking at night include repeating mantras to themselves (such as, “I did enough today” or “I gave my best today”), journaling about stressors an hour prior to bedtime, refraining from using screens or devices an hour before bed, and practicing relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or listening to soothing sounds.” (4)

Morgan also recommends facing your worries earlier on in the day rather than addressing them at bedtime. “Intentionally dedicating time to working through your anxieties during the day helps prevent them from popping up as you’re trying to sleep,” she explains. (4)

While it may sound counterintuitive, Creamer recommends “brain dumping” as an overthinking strategy. “There is a reason why you are overthinking. Being able to express or write your feelings down signals to your brain that you no longer have to think about these things,” she explains. Creamer also says that reading a book backwards and focusing on the words, as well as reflecting on the day and planning for the next, might help. (3) 

Many of us find ourselves overthinking from time to time before bed, and it’s important to know that there are strategies available to help. If you find that the alphabet game isn’t working for you, try not to head straight to Google and remember these other tips, instead. 

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  1. Jacob A. Nota, Meredith E. Coles. Shorter sleep duration and longer sleep onset latency are related to difficulty disengaging attention from negative emotional images in individuals with elevated transdiagnostic repetitive negative thinking. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2018; 58: 114 DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2017.10.003
  2. TikTok. April 7, 2024.
  3. Creamer, Amber. Personal Interview. April 10, 2024.
  4. Morgan, Courtney. Personal Interview. April 10, 2024.

Brianna Auray

Brianna is a Data Analyst at Sleepopolis. Her goal is to collect, analyze, and interpret data on sleep health and share new insights with our audience. When she's not researching sleep topics, Brianna enjoys working out, traveling, and hiking.

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