The Two Forms Of Racing Brain Syndrome – Part I

Update: I’ve been following the comments on this post with a mixture of surprise, amusement, and a little bit of nervousness. It’s great how everyone is commenting, but based on the somewhat “medical advice-y” nature of some of the comments (and perhaps the post itself) I feel compelled to explicitly point out the following: My naming of “Racing Brain Syndrome” is purely anecdotal and should not be considered any kind of official medical diagnosis. I came up with this name purely from my own experience as described in the post. If you are experiencing any kind of severe or disturbing symptoms, including severe forms of anything described in this post, please consult with a licensed professional. I am not a doctor or psychologist and my advice here should not be taken for medical prescription. I’m just a guy with a fidgety brain trying to relax and be productive.

We’ve all had this happen to us at one time or another. You wake up in the middle of the night, thoughts rushing through your head at a mad pace. You try to take the zen-like approach of “letting them go”, but it’s hopeless. You toss and turn, but the harder you try to sleep, the more awake you are. This, friends, is what I call “Racing Brain Syndrome”.

There are two main forms of this nasty little bug, which we’ll call “Stress Induced” and “Excitement Based”. In this post, we’ll look at the first variety in more detail.

Stress Induced

As the name implies, this version is caused by an excess of built up stress that has yet to be dealt with. Common symptoms (not inclusive of the other variant of this syndrome) include racing pulse, pounding heartbeat, cold sweats, and possibly (in extreme cases) delusions of persecution or general paranoia.

Now stress, as you well know, can come from many sources, including the practice of keeping things in your head, nagging concerns over projects left un-planned, fear of upcoming regulatory audits (a favorite of us IT folks), and of course the ever present conflict between the Ego and the Id caused by an underlying need for affection, complicated by an Oedipus complex.

Whoops, I must apologize for that last one. This post has me reverting to my old psychobabble style of writing. Ignore that one, will you please?

When dealing with this variety of RBS, one’s best course of action is tri-fold:

  1. Determine if the cause of the stress is a rational one. That is, are you feeling stressed because you’ve fallen off your good practice of keeping things out of your head, or are you suddenly having a sinking feeling that you’ve left your torrent bot up and running at work, and the folks from InfoSec are, at this very moment, hot on your trail? Ok, that’s an extreme example, but you get my drift.
  2. If the former, your best bet is to take a few minutes and put some thoughts down on paper around what is bothering you. You don’t have to answer every question out there; just make sure every question is written down so you are confident it won’t get lost in the shuffle.
  3. If the latter, you would be advised to fall back on a technique I used to teach to the children at the mental health clinic I worked at out of college, called (in it’s most complex form) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. The basic idea is that you write down the thoughts that are causing you discomfort, such as “I’m afraid the ninjas from security are after me”, then examine them in a critical, analytical fashion. For instance, what evidence is there that you’re really about to be attacked in your sleep? Do you even have a torrent bot on your work computer? These techniques are usually used by patients with more severe mental health issues such as depression or anxiety disorder, but they serve RBS sufferers equally well.

On a sidenote, if you’re actually interested in a more clinical view of CBT, I’d heartily recommend the book The Feeling Good Handbook by a fellow named David Burns.

Next time we’ll examine the milder, and perhaps more pleasant variety of RBS, “Excitement Based”.


  1. I must say that you sure make out RBS to be such a MILD form of “too much to do” forming racing thoughts at bed time, or just plane old, I’m so excited i can’t think straight. For me it is much more severe than either of these, and I must say not caused by either!

    For me RBS is as follows. Ideas and thoughts coming at such a rapid pace that i am literally unable to focus or collect a thought, rendering me almost useless when it comes to organizing my day, task, normal daily things that most people do instinctually.

    Me, I forget to eat, brush my teeth, open mail, take care of my yard and house, let alone trying to hold down a job as a web developer. My brain feels like a a google database for everything I have ever seen, heard, dreamt, felt, talked about from as early as age 2. When people talk, my brain goes into super search mode looking for any related content that would match in some way shape or form to what they are talking about.

    I have felt the racing brain since 91′, but was only able to finally get it all figured out this year once my BP medications were finally corrected and had been in my system for almost 2 years. As the BP medications got more and more into my system the RBS got increasingly worse. It has been a crazy life with all of this, but I must admit it makes life a canvas for ideas, visions, and dreams. Thoughts are endless and ideas are priceless!

    I am currently working on the site to try and compile all of the information I can find and house it in one place.

    Please note that the severity of my RBS is light years past what you talk about here, can therefore I find it a little to mild to categorize as really being RBS.

    My Two Cents

    Shaun Bloom

  2. Has anyone had the following;
    I fall asleep just fine around 9:00PM.
    At precisely 3:15AM every morning I wake up with racing mind which is a result from a dream. I spend the next 3 hours trying to solve the situation in the dream, even though I know it is just a dream, but my mind won’t stop.
    I give up and get up. Go have a cup of coffee and the racing mind is gone and I am wide awake.
    If I drink ANY beer, the racing mind turns into thoughts of dread and depression, with all the same characturistics as above.
    I tried amiltriptoline which made me sleep, but when I woke I was more tired than when I went to bed.
    Any advice here would be great…especially because I am a home brewer and this is really messing with my passion!

  3. I am 80 yrs old and I suffer from a racing mind that comes from isolation, personality, (I tend to be a loner) and feelings of hopelesness, depression, anxiety. I would do anything to be in control of my racing mind. I have tried therapy, 12 step groups, tapes, medication, etc. Is there anything out there for me. I often think that suicide is an option, but I’m a coward. RSVP

    1. I’m beling to Intertel, which requires proof of a higher IQ than Mensa. The president of INtertel suffers from RBS and was in “slow” classes in school. When he started smoking pot in high school, he found that he could think clearly for the first time in his life. I hate smoking pot myself, but MANY people like it, so I’d suggest trying that…it’s better than living such a despairing life. It’d be great if you lived in a state that allows medical marijuana.

  4. Neurofeedback is highly effective for related issues including ADD. Basically, the mind is given visual feedback about its own brainwave operation and rewarded for the types of brainwaves that are supportive of calm or focus. No signals are sent to the brain. The alpha, beta, theta and delta waves are picked up by sensors and positive things happen on the screen when the waves match what is therapeutic (like a video game of a race car or shuttle going faster when right). The participant doesn’t try to do anything. The mind automatically learns/is rewarded for progress and over time changes its own natural operation. Look into it

  5. Round of applause @ Lin Bush:”When he started smoking pot in high school, he found that he could think clearly for the first time in his life. I hate smoking pot myself, but MANY people like it, so I’d suggest trying that…it’s better than living such a despairing life. It’d be great if you lived in a state that allows medical marijuana.
    I use Cannabis as a way of slowing my mind, in return, slowing my actions.
    I am able, for the first time in a long time, to complete something without feeling judged unnecesarily. Unaided, I look and feel like an ADHD sufferer, or like a cocaine or amphetamine user ( that is a whole other story!! ) and I cannot complete the task at hand. Not without extreme feelings of uselessness at the slightest mistake and a feeling of being belittled and unappreciated. This in turn brings on feelings of anxiety and worthlesness. At first i smoked to sleep. Then, as my smoking progressed, my tolerance levels built up and I noticed that I could regulate my intake, in turn affecting how I think and act.
    Our thoughts control every decision we make and every thing we do.
    I have passed this disease onto my 3 year old daughter.
    I have become aware of certain actions of her’s and of the frustration in her due to this debilitating disease. I can see it in everything she does. Her restlessness, her inability to stay focussed on something without seemingly getting bored, which is not at all true, it’s just the way I taught her to be, look at it, hear about it, now lets go, next. No time to learn….
    This is something that is given to us by a significant person in our lives. My mother was my donor. I can almost remember when. I, along with some associates of mine, are beginning to see a pattern emerge. Lack of concentration being the most significant. For example: My daughter cannot seem to sit still. She lacks the attention other children have. Her diagnosis will be ADD or the like. I can however slow down my mind, leaving me able to relate differently to her, in return, slowing her down. I believe this problem is a direct result of my actions and teachings as a parent. I make her do things fast. Read, eat, speak. My mother was the same. I know she filled my head with knowledge, she just had no idea how to feed the information to me. Not in a way that a child would understand. This made me believe that I knew everything there was to know about something. If i’d read it, heard about it,or seen it on tv, i knew all about it.Even after something was over heard I knew all there was to know about the topic. Our minds need time to learn. Learn how things work and how things are used, not just learn about what they are. I have noticed that when things aren’t explained this way, our attention span is shorter, in turn creating boredom in the mind which leads to restlesness. In fact, since I started teaching my daughter, not showing and telling, I have noticed a dramatic improvement in her ability to concentrate. And I can understand her speach.
    The way we act is reflection of who our parents, and the people we, as individuals, choose to be our role models acted around us a children. I am a firm believer in everything this website believes in. I just feel that your post was only based on your personal journey, not on other research. I have been researching this disease for some time now and I am starting to see patterns. I would love to read about your experience with the excitment.
    Merry Christmas.

  6. When you don’t sleep at all – for a month or 2, when you do sleep you average 3 to 4 hours per night ….I don’t care what you call it – it SUCKS….I am for anything that will put me to sleep, in a real sleep, not with nightmares, if POT works for some people great….I’d probably be up all night eating !!?? For someone who doesn’t have this problem they just can’t understand….I’ve been like this all my life…..I’m 64 (the 60’s were great – can’t remember them) LOL … but with all the drugs around then I’m sure I slept or didn’t care haha….

  7. Hi people
    I’m not quite sure how I’m gonna say this so bare with me I’m have to start from the very beginning when I was 19 I was in a shopping mall as I remember I had a bit of a hang over drugs drink (cocaine) night before , I was shopping for a new top my heart started racing dizziness the absolute instance It happened my eye vision became fuzzy I was scared weird thoughts in my head the worst 1 was the thought of the world spinning for some reason I stayed in for 10 month after this I seem to av got a bit better started socialising again a bit I’ve always had the fuzzy vision even now I got it for when I wake up to moment I go asleep , so I started socialising again started drinking not doing drugs tho never I felt ok had a few attacks now and then but hour after the attack I’d be ok things where going not bad but now for the past 9 months (I’m 27 now ) 9 months I won’t go out something has happened to me I can’t handle it much longer either I can’t describe the feeling I wake up I the middle of the night I feel sick and the attacks I have are unreal I feel so weird as well the racing in my head I’m going crazy imy mind it’s constantly as we’ll I wake up all da and night I feel like this now I can’t describe what it is , I’ve woke up I’m the night and run over the par while its pissing down with rain to escape what I can’t it’s in my head I can’t get away from it ever how can I I’m 27 and have a kid on the way my first kid I love my gf aswell so much my bro and my mum and my dad there’s no over option for me how can I go on feeling like this, I thinks it’s all drug induced but I ain’t done drugs for 8 years, yh I have anxiety attacks but I feel weird 24 hours a day also wake up in the night feeling horrible I can’t describe what it is yh my heart pumps my mind races but there’s something else going on aswell I can’t describe some 1 plz read this and put me in the right direction I can’t live like this much longer can some 1 suggest a quick painless death plz

    1. Hold on there! You’re 27….old enough to know something is medically wrong with you! Get your sorry self to a doctor. Have you no care for that baby on the way? Or your gf? Or your parents & bro? What the hell’s wrong with you? I’d bet it’s something that medication can take care of. I really don’t know, but does anyone think it may be schizophrenia? Quick painless death my a$$. Go to a doctor ASAP!! I know in my heart it’s an easily controlled situation!

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