Tip # 2
“If you cannot fall asleep within 10 to 15 minutes, get out of bed and do something different until you feel sleepy, then return to bed. This is also the case when you awake in the middle of the night and cannot return to sleep within the 10 to 15 minute window.” John L. Eickholt, MD
Yes, I know, this may seem counterproductive, but let me explain.
What happens when you lay in bed awake, hour after hour, wishing you were asleep? If you’re anything like the majority of people who suffer from an inability to sleep, your mind probably starts to wander. You may think to yourself “why am I so sleepy during the day, but wide awake when I get in bed?” To find the answer to this question, think back.
Perhaps you started to have trouble sleeping when you were going through a particularly difficult time in your life. In this case, you may have been able to “deal” with your thoughts during the day by keeping busy. However, as soon as you got in bed, you had nothing else to occupy your thoughts. Even if that event has long passed, you still lay in bed awake.
Alternatively, your struggle with sleep may have come on gradually. At first it was a bad night here and there, but that turned into nearly every night. The amount of time lying in bed awake slowly started to increase, while the total amount of sleep decreased. It may still be getting worse.
Either way, when you continue to lay in bed unable to sleep, your actions are actually telling your brain to remain awake! Wait, how can that be true if you’re trying to sleep? Well, how do you try to sleep? Sleep isn’t something that can be forced.
Consider a couple more things. How do you feel when you’re lying in bed awake? Are you happy and satisfied, or do you get frustrated? That’s one key. The second key is that your brain starts to associate the bed with being awake. The more time spent in bed awake, the more that association is reinforced. Getting out of bed helps to “trick” or retrain your brain.
If any of this sounds like you at all, at least give it a try for a few weeks. What do you have to lose?
Some things to keep in mind:
- Keep it dark. Don’t turn on any bright lights. A nightlight is fine, or anything that provides just enough light so you don’t trip or bump into things.
- Stay away from electronics. Don’t get on your computer, laptop, tablet, phone, or watch TV. All of these things have screens and are far too stimulating. Yes, even the TV is too stimulation. Further, these choices make it far too easy to get “stuck” and stay up even longer.
- Stay relatively close to the bed. A chair next to the bed is a great option, or even in the next room. Don’t venture down two flights of stairs, because you would have to climb all those stairs again to return to bed. Even if you’re a trained athlete, this can be stimulating.
- Don’t return to bed too soon. Let yourself become extremely sleepy before returning to bed.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. This is counterproductive. Stay positive, and give yourself a chance. It may be difficult at first, but it will get better. You can do it! It may take time, so be patient.
What can you do while you’re out of bed?
- If you’re going through our sleep program, do a pre-sleep relaxation exercise. You may repeat or extend until you feel sleepy enough to return to bed.
- If you meditate, that is a good option. This can mean different things for different people. That’s okay. Do what works for you.
- Sit calmly and quietly. Although this may be easier said than done, stay positive and focus on relaxing.
- Read if you must, but with caution. Don’t choose an action-packed, interesting book, even if you think it doesn’t affect you. It may cause your eyes to get tired, and you may be able to fall asleep, but that doesn’t mean it will help you get quality sleep. Choose the most boring book or magazine you can find.
Try it. If you continue to struggle, check back for the next tip. Until then, best of luck and happy sleeping!