It’s happened to many of us at some point. You’ve had dinner and you’re lying on the sofa, dozing off. Maybe you even take a short nap. Then you head off to bed but somehow, you can’t fall asleep. It’s like you left the sleepiness on the sofa. So what happened?
Your body has an inbuilt “sleepiness meter” that’s most often called sleep pressure. This sleep pressure describes the urge to sleep the longer you’ve been awake. The more you stay awake, the more pressure there is to sleep.
This process is driven by a complex interplay of biochemical processes in the body. A key player in this system is a molecule called adenosine. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that accumulates in the brain when you’re awake. When you sleep, you reduce the amount of adenosine, which helps you feel more alert after sleeping. The more adenosine you accumulate, however, the more sleep pressure you acquire.
So when you drowse off on the sofa bed, you’ve probably acquired enough sleep pressure and adenosine. Maybe you’ve also eaten recently, which can make you feel sleepy.
If you fall asleep on the sofa, that can work against your proper, nightly sleep. Your body feels a bit recharged, it feels reduced sleep pressure, and this can make it much harder to fall asleep in bed. You also shift from sleepy to alert to sleepy again — and this transition can take time. Still, a short nap won’t set you back that much, but if you fall asleep for half an hour or more, it can be problematic.
Why is it hard to fall asleep in my bed?
Even if you don’t fall asleep at all, switching environments can make it more difficult to fall asleep. That could be because of poor sleep hygiene, which refers to your pre-sleep behavior and sleep environment.
For instance, do you often scroll on your phone or watch things on your laptop in bed? That can make it harder to fall asleep. Do you have any disruptions (be it temperature disruptions, light, or anything else)? That’s also a problem. Sleep hygiene is an important concept that we don’t pay enough attention to.
Also, going to sleep in bed can trigger feelings of stress and apprehension. Perhaps you haven’t finished all your work for the day or you have an important date coming up. Or maybe you’re getting stressed about not being able to fall asleep fast enough. We usually don’t have such concerns on the sofa — on the sofa, you’re just relaxing a bit; on the bed, you’re preparing for a night of sleep. Simply put, there’s less stress and pressure on the sofa than on the bed.
Bed Sleep Hygiene Tips
So how can we improve our sleep hygiene and make sure to get a good night’s sleep on the bed? Here are some generally good tips to follow:
- Keep it Cool: The temperature of your bedroom can significantly affect your ability to fall asleep. A cooler room is generally conducive to better sleep, as it helps lower your body temperature, a signal to the body that it’s time to sleep.
- Comfort is Key: Ensure that your mattress, pillows, and blankets are comfortable. These items should support your body in a way that relieves pressure points and allows you to relax.
- Limit Screen Time: The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and laptops can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Try to avoid screens at least an hour before bed or use a blue light filter.
- No Clock-Watching: Constantly checking the clock can increase stress and make it harder to fall asleep. Place your clock out of view if you find yourself doing this.
- Quiet Time: A quiet environment is essential for a good night’s sleep. Consider using earplugs or a white noise machine if you cannot control noise.
- Keep It Dark: A dark room can signal to your body that it’s time to produce melatonin, which can help you fall asleep faster. Use blackout curtains or an eye mask if necessary.
- Reserve Bed for Sleep and Intimacy: Try to use your bed only for sleep and intimate activities. This helps condition your brain to associate the bed with relaxation and not wakeful activities.
- Limit Food and Drink: Eating a large meal or consuming caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime can disturb your sleep. If you must eat, stick to light, easily digestible foods.
- Consistency: Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day helps regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle and can make falling asleep easier over time.