I’ve often thought about swapping out my bed for a bus seat – if I want some shut-eye (or don’t) and I sit on a bus, I’m going to sleep. The warmth, the gentle vibration of the engine – it’s like rocking a baby. I miss my stop all the time, and if I’ve had a beer – well, I’m going to the end of the line.
Put me in my bed though, and I’m a fucking owl. Eyes wide, awake all night, flapping about – I ain’t sleeping, that’s for sure. But it appears I’m not the only one; it’s a common problem for people to find themselves suddenly awake, regardless of how tired they were mere minutes ago. So why is this?
Well, it’s down to something called “conditioned arousal”. Philip Gehrman, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania told Time: “If someone is a good sleeper, then each night they probably get in bed and fall asleep. So when they get into bed it triggers this auto response of sleepiness, but if you spend night after night tossing and turning not being able to fall asleep, then your body associates that with your bed instead.”
The question is, how do you become a bad sleeper? Firstly, a traumatic event or a period of great stress can cause even a “good sleeper” to break well-worn habits – this process is called psychophysiological insomnia, and can be very difficult to break. But even without the introduction of a distressing circumstance, it's all to do with how you treat your bed.
Essentially, keep it as a place for sleeping – if you often watch telly or muck about on your laptop (“muck” being the operative word) then your brain will slowly begin to associate it with a place where you’re normally awake, doing stuff, not sleeping.
Gehrman mentions that you can still have sex in bed (not that this applies to you, of course), but really, do your “awake stuff” elsewhere and as soon as you feel tired, nip up to bed and you should be on the night train to Nod in no time.
There are other ways to sort out your sleepless nights: no coffee in the evening, keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, force your phone screen and its dreaded blue light out of your bed-face, avoid bright lights before bed-time and keep to a consistent wake up time, every day.
Unfortunately, I shall carry on having coffee in the evening; the temperature in my bedroom will remain at sub zero during the winter and arse-drenchingly hot in the summer; my phone will remain permanently glued to my face; I will continue to sit in a blinding white room minutes before entering my bedroom and HAHAHAHA OF COURSE I’M NOT GETTING UP AT THE SAME TIME ON A WEEKEND AS I DO IN THE WEEK.
I’m sure you’ll all agree with me here, so unless you’re willing to make some pretty big changes to your life, you’re just going to have to deal with the odd sleepless night now and again (every night).