You’ve had a long day, you’re exhausted. All you can think about is that sweet moment your head hits the pillow and you fall asleep. But as soon as it’s time to finally get into bed, you find yourself wide awake.
You’re not alone in this struggle — it’s one of the most common sleep-related problems. Experts think this may be because your sleep environment arouses the brain and keeps you up, instead of signaling to the brain that it’s time to go to sleep.
“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,” said Philip Gehrman, sleep-medicine specialist and assistant professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “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.”
Blue light emanating from your laptop, smartphone, tablet or other devices might be to blame. Your body and especially your brain need some time to wind down before bed. Experts suggest keeping electronics like laptops out of the bedroom because they can create a work-like environment, which will keep you awake.
Even limiting reading before bedtime might be a good idea. The bed should only be used for sleeping or sex, said Dr. Ronald Chervin, who heads the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center.
However, even those with good sleep habits can be affected by a stressful event — such as a death or financial troubles — which can throw the entire sleep cycle off. By lying in bed, worrying and stressing, this creates a pattern and your brain begins to associate the bed with wakefulness. Otherwise called “psychophysiological insomnia,” once this pattern starts, it may be difficult to stop.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to help alleviate those sleepless nights and get a full night’s rest. You’ll need to reprogram your brain to view the bed as a place for rest, not worry or work. The first step is to eliminate blue lights from the bedroom. Blue light produced by devices suppresses the production of melatonin, the chemical your body naturally creates to help you sleep.
Another important habit to develop is waking up at around the same time every day so your body gets used to a certain rhythm. You should also keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evening.
If you still can’t fall asleep, experts recommend getting out of bed and doing something until you are actually sleepy.