You know those nights when you toss and turn, and it feels like you're stuck in a perpetual state of restlessness? When you can't seem to fall asleep, you may tell yourself that the only solution is to wait it out until fatigue takes over. However, according to Dr. Michael Grandner of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania, this approach can backfire.
Speaking to the web series #OWNSHOW, Grandner explains that lying awake at night leads to more than just simple frustration. It can also cause spark a cycle of sleeplessness that's difficult to break.
"The more time we spend in bed awake, not sleeping, the more it drives home the message to our brain and to our body that the bed is the place for tossing and turning," he explains. "You end up programming yourself to be awake."
This is why some people feel tired until they get into bed -- they have unwittingly conditioned themselves to associate the bed with being awake. Rather than just lying there, Grandner suggests doing the exact opposite: get out of bed.
"Once you've hit around 20, 30 minutes -- maybe a little more, depending who you are -- you've gotten to the point where that sleep is not happening. It's best to just get out of bed, do something else for a little bit," he says.
That "something else," Grandner continues, should be an activity that falls within these three guidelines:
1. Nothing too enticing.
"You want to be able to put it down in 30 minutes or 45 minutes, or however long you want to give yourself," Grandner says. "If you're someone who gets engrossed in a book, that might not be the best idea."
2. Not work.
"Sometimes when people pick up the computer and start working in the middle of the night, a lot of time can go by -- and you might end up waking yourself up a little more," he explains.
3. Nothing that requires using bright lights.
"If you're using a computer or something, make sure the lights are pretty dim so it doesn't wake you up too much," he suggests.
Don't think of this tactic as giving up on the idea of sleep either, Dr. Grandner adds. It's more about being realistic and accepting the fact that sleep simply isn't going to happen at the exact moment.
"The more you chase after it, the further away it's going to get. What you need to do is let that anxiety go. Let that stress go," he says. "If anything, you'll end up sleeping more in the long run... because you're going to be programming your [brain] that the bed is for sleep, not for wake."
Bonus tip: A red- or orange-hued night-light is much better to use at night than one that emits blue or green.