People who struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, including people diagnosed with insomnia, often adopt patterns and habits that help them deal with their sleeplessness. Unfortunately, sometimes these patterns are counter-productive, increasing anxieties or worries surrounding their inability to sleep. These habits can eventually become part of the problem, making a bad situation worse. Stimulus control is an example of a healthier, more helpful way to get through a sleepless night. It helps address negative associations you might have created about your bed being a place of frustration and worry, rather than a place of comfort and rest.
Identifying Bad Sleep Habits
Often, people who struggle with sleep will watch the clock from bed, observing the minutes tick by without sleep and calculating the time “left” before the new day begins. Spending time in bed awake and worrying only reinforces problems of sleeplessness because it creates long blocks of time in bed without sleep. If you’ve noticed that you spend significant portions of the night awake in bed, worrying about your inability to sleep, stimulus control can help you stop that cycle.
Getting Started with Stimulus Control
The first step in beginning stimulus control therapy involves remaining out of your bed at night until you begin to feel sleepy, even if it starts to get late in the night. Once you climb into bed, set an alarm for the morning if needed, but then do not look at the clock again until you get up in the morning. If necessary, you can turn the clock around so that it is not facing you, or move the clock to a section of the room where you cannot see it from bed.
Not Sleepy? Time to Get Up
If you don’t fall asleep within what “feels like” 20 or 30 minutes (this will be an estimate, because you will not be looking at the clock) get out of bed and leave your bedroom. Go to somewhere in your house or apartment and do something relaxing, such as reading, knitting, or meditating. While you’re out of bed, keep the lights pleasantly dim to encourage sleepy feelings. Using computers, phones, tablets or other digital devices is not recommended because the light emitted from these screens disrupts your brain’s natural processes associated with wakefulness and sleep. When you start to feel sleepy again, return to bed. Repeat this process until you can fall asleep in bed quickly.
Stimulus Control: Pro Tips
It’s not unusual to begin “catastrophizing” or panicking when experiencing sleeplessness during the night. Challenging though it may be, try to view the “bad” night in a positive light; for example, experiencing a relatively sleepless night one Tuesday night might make you feel very tired Wednesday morning, but it’s possible that the extra daytime sleepiness will help you sleep better Wednesday night. Avoid naps during the day (even on the weekend) when practicing stimulus control therapy, as this can decrease your nighttime sleepiness and interfere with your attempt to drift off in bed at night.
Ohio Sleep Medicine Institute: What is Stimulus Control Therapy. http://sleepmedicine.com/content.cfm?article=49
Article written by Optisom