During sleep restriction therapy for insomnia, I discovered less can be more. I sleep better when, instead of going to bed with the first yawn, I postpone going to bed until I’m good and tired.
I rediscover this every time I fly out west. As long as I don’t stray from getting up at my usual time in the morning (which, on the west coast, means getting up well before dawn), postponing bedtime actually has a positive effect on my sleep.
Why? Staying up later consolidates my sleep, and this is helpful for many people with insomnia. If it usually takes you a long time to fall asleep, or if you experience frequent wake-ups during the night, consolidating your sleep is a good idea, and you can do it by postponing your bedtime. Staying up later increases sleep drive. If you continue doing this night after night (while maintaining a consistent wake-up time), chances are you’ll wind up falling asleep more quickly and sleeping through the night with fewer wake-ups.
What to Do When You’re Up at Night
Especially if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation, as can occur during the first week of sleep restriction, or if your insomnia comes on suddenly, the biggest challenge can be finding things to do at night to keep yourself awake. Activities can’t be too stimulating (and they should not involve exposure to computer screens or iPads) or they’ll keep you up too late. Yet they have to be stimulating enough to postpone slumber a little while.
The low-key socializing I do when I’m visiting friends on the West Coast is the perfect stay-awake activity: engaging and yet not too engaging. After evening heart-to-hearts, I sleep like a log. But here are some activities to consider for use on a more routine basis at home:
- Activities involving use of the senses rather than the mind: paging through picture books, photo albums, or catalogs, or playing an instrument like a digital keyboard (which won’t keep others awake)
- Reading novels with interesting characters (but no thrillers). No reading matter that’s work related or sure to work you up (such as newspaper articles about politics and social issues)
- Crafts such as knitting, spinning, weaving, woodworking, bead stringing, and the like.
- Light chores such as folding clothes, unloading the dishwasher, or making shopping lists.
When your eyelids start feeling droopy, your first thought is probably to head to bed. But the sleep-challenged may be better off staving off sleep a little bit with activities that, if not thrilling, afford at least some pleasure or simply need to be done.
Other quiet activities that could be helpful before going to bed? Please share them here!