Get Up to Work Or Try to Relax in Bed? The Answer Might Surprise You.
There are a million ways to relax in bed, but I don't always recommend them.
I've seen patients in my practice that end up needing prescription sleep medications because they stress themselves out in bed, trying to sleep. It's a paradox. After a week or two of fighting insomnia, staying in bed, and attempting unsuccessfully to relax, they become so discouraged that it becomes a psychological game. They become habituated to laying unhappily awake and subconsciously hate going to bed because it reminds them of their failures. The harder they try to go to sleep, the harder it is to fall asleep.
Instead of fighting with your hyperactive mind, it's okay to spend a little time letting it decompress. But there are the rules.
- Work from a comfortable couch, lazy chair, or some other soft, reclining surface.
- Use your computer ONLY IF you install F.lux and adjust your monitor to the dimmest level.
- Make lists
- Read boring stuff
- Try to relax
- Use any bright LED or fluorescent lights. You must use dim, incandescent bulbs.
- Use your smart phone or tablet.
- Clean or exercise.
- Read fun stuff.
- You are allowed to work from a comfortable couch, lazy chair, or some other soft, reclining surface. Just make sure you get out of the bed, so you don't associate the bed with work.
- You are NOT allowed to use any bright LED or fluorescent lights. You must use dim, incandescent bulbs, even for a book light or nightlight. LED and fluorescent lights have too much blue spectrum light that suppresses your brain's natural melatonin production. That's what must kick in for you to feel sleepy.
- You are allowed to use your computer ONLY IF you install F.lux and adjust your monitor to the dimmest level. (You won't be able to do any graphic design, since the colors will be waaay off.) F.lux is an ingenious program that automatically filters out the blue from your computer as soon as the sun sets.
- You are NOT allowed to use your smart phone or tablet. (The only rare exception is if you have a jail-broken iPhone/iPad and install F.lux.) That amount of blue light is actually enough to suppress melatonin.
- You are allowed and encouraged to make lists. That is a great way to transfer what you are worried about onto a piece of paper.
- You are NOT allowed to clean or exercise.
- You are allowed to read boring stuff that's relatively short. For me, it would be medical journals, financial reports, and the difference between term life and whole life insurance.
- You are NOT allowed to read fun stuff like paperbacks or something you can't put down because it takes a long time to finish.
- You are allowed to practice relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation, breath counting, zen meditation, listen to hypnosis, or SleepPhones music, if you are into that. But you don't have to if you don't like it.
- You are NOT allowed to shop online. Late at night, you're much more likely to waste time and spend money unnecessarily.
- Once you are sleepy, then go to bed. After a while, you'll get so tired that you'll get back to your regular sleeping patterns. Instead of always trying to fight insomnia, just listen to your body and go with the flow.
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Disclaimer: Written by Wei-Shin Lai, MD. This should not substitute for medical advice from your doctor. Please call your doctor if you have questions about insomnia.