12 Tips for Better Sleep: Part 12 – Don’t Lie in Bed Awake
Hello, and welcome to the last installment of “12 Tips for Better Sleep.” It’s been a wild ride. We’ve learned about how everything from light, temperature, food, drinks, and medicines can affect your sleep. Who knew sleeping was so complicated?
In our previous 11 posts, we’ve talked about different routines and habits that can improve your sleep. Most of those sleep-changing habits have been physical—exercising at the right time, getting the right sunlight exposure, making a comfy bed, etc. But our last tip is all about making sure you’re in the right headspace for sleep.
Without further ado, here’s our final sleep tip: Don’t lie in bed awake.
Why Can’t I Lie Awake in Bed?
You always lie awake in your bed for a certain amount of time before you fall asleep. It’s unavoidable. But at some point, time spent in your bed not sleeping can actually be detrimental. Let me explain …
Our beds are meant for sleeping. So, if you spend time in your bed awake, you begin to associate your bed with wakefulness. Your bed becomes a place where you struggle to do a natural bodily function—sleep. This struggle leads to frustration, tension, and anxiety. Then the anxiety of not being able to fall asleep actually makes it harder to fall asleep. And the cycle continues.
Soon, your bed is no longer a place of comfort and rest. It’s the terrible place where you fight to sleep every night.
Sleep-medicine specialist Philip Gehrman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, says, “If someone is a good sleeper, then each night they probably get in bed and fall asleep. So, when they get into bed, it triggers this auto response of sleepiness. But if you spend night after night tossing and turning not being able to fall asleep, then your body associates that with your bed instead.”
So, how do you stop the fight with sleep and learn to love your bed again? It’s all about giving yourself a time limit.
Set a 20-Minute Time Limit
After getting in bed, if you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed. I know it sounds counterintuitive to leave the place where you sleep to help you fall asleep, but it works. And it will save your relationship with your bed.
Getting out of bed when you’re unable to fall asleep is called “stimulus control therapy.” According to the Society of Clinical Psychology:
“The main goal in stimulus control therapy is to reduce the anxiety or conditioned arousal individuals may feel when attempting to go to bed. Specifically, a set of instructions designed to re-associate the bed/bedroom with sleep and to re-establish a consistent sleep schedule are implemented. These include: 1) Going to bed only when sleepy; 2) Getting out of bed when unable to sleep; 3) Using the bed/bedroom only for sleep and sex (i.e., no reading, watching TV, etc); 4) Arising at the same time every morning; and 5) Avoiding naps.”
Ok, now that we know we need to limit the time we’re awake in bed, what are we supposed to do when we get out of bed? You should engage in relaxing activities. Find a place where you can recline and read a boring book, flip through an old magazine, or listen to music. You can also stretch, breathe slowly, or use a meditation app to calm your mind.
Just make sure you avoid your TV, phone, tablet, laptop, and anything that’s going to shoot light into your eyeballs. Remember what we said about blue light exposure? (link to part 10 post) Looking at screens before bed tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime, so your body can’t go to sleep. If you jump on your phone to try to relax, you’re going to make the problem worse.
When Should I Go Back to Bed?
The simple answer: When you’re tired.
You can return to your bed only when you start feeling drowsy or sleepy. That means your eyelids should be heavy, your body should be tension-free, and you should feel like you’re about to fall asleep.
Why Can’t I Fall Asleep When I Get in Bed?
There are a lot of reasons you may not be able to fall asleep within 20 minutes of getting into bed. If you struggle to fall asleep, you may be:
- Thinking about work before you go to bed. Try to give yourself time to wind down before going to sleep. Journal or write a to-do list to help get work off your mind.
- Using your laptop, phone, or tablet in bed. Again, looking at screens before bed is terrible for your sleep. If your brain thinks it’s daytime, it’s not going to let you fall asleep.
- Dealing with a lot of stress. Stress is inevitable, so you may want to find ways to reduce stress before going to bed. Try meditating, yoga, or a hot bath to release tension before sleep.
- Worried. You can’t fall asleep if your mind is racing. Calm your mind by meditating, journaling, or using other relaxing techniques.
If none of these reasons apply to your situation, you may suffer from insomnia. Call your doctor and see what options you have.
Every biological function in your body benefits from a good night’s sleep. To keep your body and brain working at their best, make sleep a priority. And while you may not be able to implement every tip we’re shared with you to improve your sleep, try a few and see how much better your feel.
Thank you for going on this sleep journey with us. We hope these tips have been helpful and that your Pillow Cube has taken your sleep to the next level.
If you missed one of our past posts, check them out here:
Part 2—The Best Time to Exercise
Part 3—Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
Part 4—Avoid Drinking Alcohol
Part 7—Don’t Take Late Nap
Part 8—Relax Before Bed
Part 11—Get the Right Sun Exposure