We’ve all been there, some more than others. If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep the night before an important day—you might have been worried about a work presentation, a tough exam, or an early flight you need to catch—you’ve probably tried just lying down with your eyes closed, hoping to somehow trick yourself into drifting off. You may also have tried silently resting in bed after lights out during camp or at home as a child.
No? Well, how about waking up in the middle of the night? You have probably been roused by a loud noise before, or at the very least needed to go to the bathroom. When sleep interruptions like this happen, the same strategy usually applies. You may have even been told in the past to just “go back to bed and close your eyes”; the idea being that you’ll eventually fall back to sleep if you do so.
What’s being debunked here is exactly that.
Why Doesn’t It Work?
While it may seem like common sense to do this, the practice may actually be bad sleep hygiene. Let’s be clear: Sometimes doing this—that is, staying in bed to fall asleep—will work. That doesn’t mean that it’s always right way to go about it.
It’s all about mindset, really. If you remain in bed with your mind racing and completely awake, it’s not going to get you closer to dreamland. As we all know, just wanting to sleep is not enough when you simply can’t. Staying in bed while being like this may even teach or train our mind and body to expect wakefulness while in this position and this environment. Many sleep experts say that the bedroom, and particularly the bed, should only be for sleep and sex—no work desk, no computer, no television screen, and if possible no other devices—because minimization of distractions is important, especially for people who have trouble with sleep onset.
If you’re trying to fall asleep, of course you will prepare for it by winding down and lying in bed quietly. It’s normal to not automatically doze off the moment your head hits your pillow. After all, we’re human—not robots with an on/off switch! After 20 or 30 minutes of this though, if you’re not drifting off, you should change tactics.
What Can You Do Instead?
Get up and do something relaxing and sleep-inducing in another room. Anything to get you into the mood: listen to music, drink a cup of non-caffeinated tea, and the like. Most sleep experts advise against using devices—computers, tablets, smartphones—because of the way artificial light affects the human body clock. However, some people swear by watching television to fall asleep; we don’t recommend it, but if it works for you, by all means try it as a last resort. Reading a boring book is also one controversial strategy. Some people maintain that it keeps your brain active and therefore is contradictory to the desired effect, but others swear by its effectiveness. Worth noting, though, that the latter will still need artificial light, as it is a visual activity.
If you’re beyond the last resort and you simply must fall asleep, you may want to consult a healthcare professional about a sleep aid. At Good Night’s Rest, we know that while medication and dietary supplementation is not a permanent solution, it sure does help in a pinch—and can be very helpful in professionally prescribed doses.