You have the best mattress, you take melatonin, and you get regular exercise. So why are you still having a difficult time falling asleep? It turns out the answer could be that you spend too much time in bed at night. Roughly 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia each year, and scientists still aren’t sure of the causes of the best treatments. Insomnia can come in a variety of forms and can be caused by anything from illnesses to excessive screen time. Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Walker has spent decades researching sleep and its effect on the human body, and warns that far too many Americans go through life in what he calls a “sleep-deprived state.” Walker recently sat down for an interview with NPR to discuss some of his recommendations for how to combat insomnia and nighttime restlessness, and some of his recommendations might come as a surprise.

Many people who suffer from either chronic or occasional insomnia believe they should get into bed and stay there until they fall asleep. According to Walker, however, that time spent in bed waiting to fall asleep can be counterproductive due to how the brain adapts to recurring situations:

You should not actually stay in bed for very long awake, because your brain is this remarkably associative device and it quickly learns that the bed is about being awake. So you should go to another room – a room that’s dim – and only when you’re sleepy return to the bed. And that way your brain relearns the association with your bedroom being about sleep rather than wakefulness.

Instead of lying in bed awake, Walker suggests to get up and go into a dark room and either read or meditate until you get sleepy. That way, your brain doesn’t get used to being awake in bed and begin associating the bed with wakefulness. One big thing though – don’t bring any screens with you. Those bright artificial lights are entirely counterproductive to falling asleep.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician from the mountains of Western North Carolina. Contact him at [email protected]

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