Limit the Time You Spend in Bed Not Sleeping

Bed = Sleep

How much time do you spend in bed not sleeping? Our brains are very responsive to routines and habits. When you get into your bed, you want your brain to think “ok, it’s time to go to sleep.” Yet many people spend a lot of time in bed not sleeping. This habit is especially true with many people dealing with insomnia because spending more time in bed to get to sleep seems like the right thing to do. However, what happens is that over time, your brain starts to associate the bed with not sleeping. A big concern too is that when you worry about getting sleep, that your brains start to associate the bed with stress, making your anxiety before bedtime increase further. Below are ways you can help to train your brain to associate the bed with sleep.

Use your bed and bedroom for sleep only. Intimacy and illness are the only exceptions. Unless you have some medical reason, below are examples of things that you should not be doing in bed:

  1. Watching TV
  2. Reading
  3. Playing on your phone or tablet
  4. Eating
  5. Doing homework or work
  6. Reading your emails
  7. Talking on the phone
  8. (insert whatever you are doing besides sleeping)


Go to bed when you feel sleepy. Listen to your body. When you feel sleepy in the evening, go to bed.


Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep. If you can’t fall asleep in approximately 20 minutes after getting in to bed, get out of bed and out of the bedroom. Go to a dimly lit area, and do something boring (i.e., not stimulating). When you feel sleepy, get back in bed again. You can repeat this as often as you need to, including for middle of the night awakenings. When I hear this doesn’t work for someone it’s usually because: a) the person does something stimulating or associated with electronics, such as doing household chores, watching TV, or using the phone or b) the person only tries this a couple times, doesn’t see an immediate improvement, and decides to quit. For people with insomnia, remember that it likely took some time (possibly many years) to get to the point where you are now, so it can take some practice and time to reverse the habits and sleep problems. If you are at risk of falls or other injury if you get out of bed without assistance, this information is not best for you to follow.

These techniques are often hard to initiate because, especially the latter, seems counterintuitive. However, in research studies these techniques (called stimulus control techniques) have shown to be especially important for people with insomnia. Again, it’s all about retraining your body to associate the bed with sleep and sleep only. Consider one habit you can improve upon tonight.

Bed = Sleep

Please leave a comment. What activities besides sleep (and the above exceptions) in the bed do you engage in and think you should quit? How much time on an average day do you spend in bed doing these them?

Remember to never drive or engage in activities requiring a high level of attention when drowsy.

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