According to Dr. Brant Hasler, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Sleep and Chronobiology Center, once you've been lying in bed for 15 or 20 minutes, it's time to get up and do something else. That's right—leave the bed and stop trying so hard.

But it's critical that when you get out of bed, you do something relaxing and stress free. "The goal is to stay in as close to a state of sleep as possible," Hasler says. "[You want to] let sleepiness build again."

That means activities such as cleaning the house or doing work projects are off limits. What works well? Hasler recommends listening to mellow music, reading, or watching TV. Watching TV is an admittedly controversial recommendation, with some sleep experts frowning on it because TV screens emit light, which keeps you up. But Hasler points out that most TVs are across the room from where you sit and thus don't throw off enough light to cause trouble. "Low light is particularly critical because bright light tends to activate people," he says. "It will compound the problem of being awake in the middle of the night." A soft light that's just bright enough for you to see what you're doing is ideal. As far as computers, Hasler says they're a no-no. Not only do computer screens throw off too much light, but people tend to become very engaged in what they're doing while on the computer, in contrast to watching TV, which is a passive activity.

Do you actually have to get out of bed in order to get sleepy? Yes, Hasler insists. If you stay in bed while reading, watching TV, or listening to music, your brain eventually will learn to associate these things with lying in bed. You need to train yourself to think of the bed as only for sleep (and sexual activity). Plan ahead, he says, for some quiet activities you can do during your next bout of insomnia so you're not forced to make decisions in the middle of the night. Eventually, you should be able to drift off and get the sleep you need.

Brant Hasler, PhD, reviewed this article.




Brant Hasler, PhD, CBSM, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh Sleep and Chronobiology Center.