Can’t fall asleep? Rise and unwind instead.

You’ve probably heard that getting out of bed earlier in the morning makes you more alert all day.

But what about getting out of bed way earlier?

Like… the night before?

If such a counter-intuitive suggestion seems confusing, don’t worry. I too was perplexed until I heard this little nugget snooze news mindblow out. But it actually makes a lot of sense. See, if we go to sleep when we’re not exactly knackered (only to lay there counting cottony creatures and ruminating about tomorrow’s to do list), we develop this Pavlovian association with mattress time. And that’s one of abject anxiety. For one night we can’t sleep, so we stay there in bed, training our brains for an hour or two to link pillow o’ clock with nighttime nervousness. Then, the next evening when we slip under the covers, our mind says, “Wait. I’ve been here before. This’s where I spent forty straight minutes dreading deadlines and bills, and another twenty spiraling into the subsequent nightmare fantasy said dread induced…” Like a dog watching you pull out the Apple Bitter mid bark, your brain freezes into fear. Your breathing changes. Your heart races. Your muscles tighten. These are the exact ingredients for an opposite of soporific cocktail. And unfortunately, many an insomniac gives into the insanity of believing that this is the solution. Just lay here and let your own mind torture you till it tires itself out. That’s the best option there is. Right?

Wrong, says science.

In lieu, the solution they propose is as simple as it is quizzical:

Just… get up. And leave the room.

Getting out of bed may seem like the antithesis of the answer. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “Ain’t nobody got time to get up and do breathing exercises or yoga or read a book.” Why? Because the story you keep telling yourself and everyone else is that you have to get to bed. You have to get some sleep. And while the latter’s true for sure, the problem is – you’re not getting any sleep anyway. You spend a good hour staring at the pale lunar light bathe the ceiling. All you’re truly doing in there is schooling your cephalic organ on how to hate hitting the hay – so that you can’t fall asleep again when tomorrow night arrives. By departing the bedroom altogether, however, you actually have a chance to halt that sleep smiting marriage you’ve made between tension and bedtime.

In fact, according to one study done in 2011, less time in bed correlated with superior slumber habits. What they did was divvy up test groups of insomniacs – one of which was distributed info on how to better rectify their sleeplessness, and another who actually changed their behavior (like waking up earlier or getting out of bed if they couldn’t fall asleep).

The results?

At the end of four weeks, the behavioral treatment group was significantly more likely to show improvements in sleep than the printed-materials group. By that time, 55% of those who received behavioral treatment no longer met the criteria for insomnia, compared with 13% of the group that got educational brochures.

Now, the massive yes-but to this is gonna be what you should do when you get up.

(Protip/Spoiler alert: this isn’t one’ve them.)

As you may’ve guessed from the above paragraph, there are indeed some top notch nocturnal activities that can act like tranquilizers. The problem is, heaps of people who do get up when they can’t sleep are spending that fifteen to thirty minutes partaking in activities that might as well be a trip to Starbucks. Like working, using their cell phones, or watching T.V. By getting into work mode, your reticular formation gets activated and your brain starts going into solution and productivity mode. By watching T.V., something similar happens – especially if you started G.O.T. and realized this is the kinda show where adults shove kids out’ve castle windows. And, as for cell phones? Well, after dark, their use should be limited because the blue light they emit suppresses melatonin – the hormone that’s the wind in our sleep sails.

Instead, the pros will suggest spending that time doing deep breathing exercises, meditation, or rolling out the yoga mat. And if you absolutely cannot tolerate sitting with your own thoughts (after giving it a solid try), there are still other options. For example, a good book can put you to sleep. Slow and ambient soundtracks serve as excellent lullabies. And, if your thoughts are still assaulting you, jotting them down can help tremendously. Then, if all else fails, see if that one friend is still awake who has as many problems to talk about as number of times she says “you know” or “but um” in a single sentence. Believe it or not, that’s a nice symbiotic relationship you’ve got there. She gets a venting board. And you get to sleep like a board when you’re bored in a few minutes. Which is probably a generous overestimate of time it’ll take.

(Or: housechores. Nothing fatigues me more than a pile of linen demanding to be folded.)

Indeed, there are plenty of options out there.

So, the next time the Sandman bogarts his pillow pixie dust, the solution’s simple.

Rise and unwind tonight so you can rise and shine tomorrow.

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