Stimulus control therapy for insomnia contains just two simple steps that have been scientifically proven to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer.
- Go to bed only when you feel sleepy
- If you can’t fall asleep in 20 minutes, get out of bed
Research has shown that by just sticking to these two steps, you can fall asleep significantly faster.
The more time you spend in bed awake, the more your mind associates your bed with staying awake. But the more time you spend in bed sleeping, the more your mind associates your bed with sleeping. And the more your mind associates bed with sleeping, the faster you’ll fall asleep.
The purpose of stimulus control is to reduce the time you spend in bed awake and increase the time you spend in bed asleep, which creates the powerful association between bed and sleep.
Step 1 – Go to bed only when you feel sleepy
The first step makes logical sense. Why would you go to bed if you don’t feel sleepy? But yet so many of us do. We like our routines, and for most of us, that means a set bed time.
Recent research has shown that how sleepy we feel actually changes from day to day. So you could go to sleep at the same time, get the same amount of sleep, and get up at the same time each day, and on different days you will feel different levels of sleepiness at night.
Instead of having a set bed time, go to bed when you feel sleepy. Have what I call a “soft bed time”, a time period of around 60 minutes when you aim to go to bed. Within that time period, be aware of how sleepy you feel and go to bed only when you feel sleepy enough to fall asleep.
Step 2 – If you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed
Insomniacs stay awake in bed for hours every night. But this is exactly what keeps people stuck in insomnia for so long. If you associate your bed with staying awake, as most insomniacs will, it makes falling asleep so much harder.
So instead, if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes in bed, get out of bed, go to another room and do something not very stimulating. Don’t use a smartphone, tablet or TV because the light from those devices will keep you awake. Do something like washing up, cleaning, or reading a book. Then when you feel sleepy again, go back to bed. Repeat this process until you fall asleep within 20 minutes.
If 20 minutes sounds a little harsh, try 30 minutes or 45 minutes to begin with. Or if you’re usually asleep in 20 minutes, try 10 minutes.
When you’re in bed, don’t keep looking at the clock to see how much time you’ve got left until you need to get up. Instead, just allow yourself to relax and drift off to sleep. If you’re fairly sure that you’ve over your time limit, then look at the clock. But until then, just relax.
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By following these two simple steps you’re teaching your brain that bed means sleep and that if it wants to sleep, then it needs to send you to sleep fast, otherwise it’ll miss out.
The longer you stick to the two steps, the more you’ll notice yourself begin to feel relaxed and sleepy the moment you get into bed. If you keep it up, you’ll be one of those people who fall asleep in less than 5 minutes.