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(conversation) — After a long day, you fall on the sofa and fall asleep watching TV. The room is warm, the sofa is comfortable and the background noise of the TV lulls you to sleep.
Then a loved one wakes you up and reminds you to go to bed for the night. But when you arrive, you find yourself awake to your dismay.
Why is it always easier to sleep on the sofa than on the bed?
Why is it so easy to sleep on the sofa?
Sleep pressure This is one of the reasons why you sleep in bed. This indicates the strength of the biological drive for sleep. The longer you are awake, the greater the stress of sleep.
Body clock or Circadian rhythm That is another factor. It tells you to stay awake during the day and sleep at night.
The environment also affects the chances of falling asleep. Maybe you’ve just finished eating, your cozy bed is in a warm room, with dim lighting, maybe a TV show playing in the background. For many, this environment is perfect for sleeping.
So at the end of the day the pressure to sleep is strong, your circadian rhythm is telling you it’s time to sleep, and your environment is cozy and comfortable.
What happens after sleeping in bed?
If you sleep in bed before going to bed, your sleep pressure will be much lower than before sleep. Instead of staying awake for more than 16 hours, you’re awake, so sleep pressure is less. This can make it very difficult to sleep in bed.
If you sleep in bed for five minutes, you won’t have much trouble falling asleep in bed. Such short naps are unlikely to reduce sleep stress. But if you sleep for an hour, the situation changes.
Your sleep cycles can also work against you. Most sleep cycles last about 90 minutes. Starts in light sleep, moves to deep sleep, and ends in light sleep again. If you wake up during deep sleep, you may feel tired and find it easier to fall back asleep when you go to bed. But if you wake up during light sleep, it can be difficult to get back to sleep.
Activities you do right after you get out of bed — like turning on bright lights or brushing your teeth — can also make you more alert and harder to fall asleep when you go to bed.
Why can’t I sleep in my bed?
There are other reasons why sleeping in your bed can be challenging. Many people experience anxiety while sleeping. They worry about getting enough sleep or falling asleep quickly.
In these cases, going to bed is associated with feelings of stress and fear, which make sleep even more difficult. It may be easier to sleep on the sofa as it is less stressful.
Sleeping in bed can be difficult due to poor sleep hygiene. It refers to your behavior before bed and your sleep environment.
Good sleep hygiene or healthy sleep habits include having a regular bedtime routine, a dark, quiet room to sleep in, and not using cell phones in bed. For many people who do not have good sleep hygiene, their bedtime behaviors and bedroom environment are not conducive to sleep.
How to make sleeping in bed easier?
First, make sure the room is dark, quiet, and comfortable. In winter, you can turn on the heat 20 minutes before bed or take a warm compress before bed. In summer, you can turn on the air conditioning or fan to make the room comfortable for sleeping.
If you find it easier to fall asleep with the TV on, you can play “white noise” in your bedroom while you sleep. Some evidence suggests that it may make it easier to fall asleep by masking other disturbing noises.
Your behavior before bed also affects how easily you fall asleep. Making sure you follow the same routine every night (including going to bed at the same time) can help.
And, even if it’s hard for you, try not to look at your phone when you’re in bed. Scrolling on your phone before bed can make it harder to fall asleep, both due to exposure to blue light and the stressful or alerting effect of the content you’re interacting with.
The best way to sleep in bed is to avoid sleeping in bed.
This will ensure that all the sleep stress you accumulate during the day is channeled towards deep sleep in bed.
Madeline Sprajcer is Professor of Psychology at CQUniversity, Australia. Sally Ferguson is Director of the Appleton Institute at CQUniversity Australia. The authors do not work for, consult with, own shares in, or receive funding from any institution or organization that may benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.