I can’t sleep. Should I stay in bed or get up?

23rd June 2014 by Peter Hames

How to sleep better

Photo credit: Kevin McGill via flickr

Photo credit: Kevin McGill via flickr

We all know the dilemma: we’ve woken up in the middle of the night and then struggle to fall back to sleep. Should I stay in bed or get up?

Sometimes it’s hard to even consider getting out of bed when we’re all snug under the duvet. It’s so much easier to think ‘If I stay here, I’ll drop off again’… and sometimes we do. But sometimes we don’t and we can find ourselves tossing and turning for hours. There are some approaches that suggest you just lie there until you fall asleep again, however long it may take. But for a lot of people that can make things worse. We find ourselves staring at the ceiling, getting more and more frustrated at not being able to sleep. Very quickly we can become trapped in a vicious cycle where we worry and stress about sleep. It’s much better to keep the connection between our bed and sleep positive; that way we not only associate bed with sleeping but it’s also a happy association! That’s why we follow the Quarter-of-an-Hour rule: if you’re in bed for quarter-of-an-hour and you’re not asleep (or having what we’ll delicately refer to here as ‘intimate relations’), it’s time to get out of bed.

We call it Quarter of an Hour instead of fifteen minutes because it not about watching the clock – it’s a general ‘rule of thumb’ if you like. Once that pleasant dozy fog clears and starts to become a clear-headed frustration at being awake, that’s usually the time to get out of bed. Instead of waiting for sleep to come to us, we can encourage it along by doing something relaxing – whether that’s reading or listening to music to give the mind something else to focus on rather than the fact that we’re not sleeping. Absorption in a task is an aspect of mindfulness and can help relax us. Repetitive activities are good too so something like knitting can be useful. And remember that bed/ sleep connection… it’s best to do these things somewhere other than bed so we keep that happy association between our bed and sleep. And it’s only when that sleepy-tired feeling sets in that it’s time to go back to bed.


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