When undergoing sleep restriction, do activities involving a bit of movement before bedDuring 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!

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.


  1. My sleep window is 11- 4 , is this ok. I am an early sleeper. and i just started SRT.



  2. Hi Radhika,

    Your sleep window sounds just fine. Some people set them early, and others set them later. The timing of your sleep window is all up to you.

    Best of luck with SRT!



  3. I’m at the end of my first two weeks of SRT. My sleep window is 1:30-5:30.
    I have wondered if I should be trying to do so little an amount. I’ve had a couple of almost bad accidents since. At one point the other night while waiting for 1:30am to come around I actually felt nauseous and so anxious I knew I had to get in bed sooner…and so I did…30 minutes before! I’m back to my 4 hours only and will stay there (for I’ve been put on two more weeks of 4 hours only again)…but I’m wondering if this is smart to continue staying so low when it’s causing me to fall around and feel like I’m losing it.



    1. Hi Rebekah,

      I’m puzzled by a couple things you’re reporting here. One, you say you’ve “been put on two more weeks of 4 hours only,” so I assume you’re working with a sleep therapist or someone who’s coaching you through this. Have you reported the way you’re feeling now—nauseous, anxious, like you’re losing it—to the therapist? If not, you should tell that person right away. Sleep restriction is never a picnic. But neither should it be the onerous burden that it sounds like it’s become for you.

      Four hours is a very narrow sleep window. Most sleep therapists and sleep specialists I know don’t usually recommend anything smaller than a 5-hour sleep window. One psychologist and sleep expert whom I know and respect a lot says he sometimes suggests a 4.5-hour window when the 5-hour window fails to get results. Four hours sounds low in comparison to the sleep windows most people are assigned.

      The other thing that puzzles me is that you’ve been told to continue with this 4-hour sleep window for “two more weeks.” Normally, a person undergoing sleep restriction is told to maintain a sleep diary and, at the end of each week, calculate his or her sleep efficiency and then readjust the sleep window accordingly for the following week. It doesn’t sound like you’ll get that opportunity. Having to go two full weeks on only 4 hours of sleep a night (if that) sounds a bit risky to me.

      Are you sure your sleep problem has been properly diagnosed? Honestly, if I were in your shoes, I might look elsewhere for help. I don’t know if you happened to see my most recent blog post about finding the right sleep doctor. If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest that you check it out. Here’s the URL:


      Best of luck in finding the help you need.



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