Take a moment to think about everything you do in the bedroom. Perhaps you like to get comfortable under the covers and watch a nighttime movie. Maybe you like to get some last-minute work done before going to sleep. Unfortunately, activities such as these can have a negative impact on your sleep.
I regularly remind those who participate in my insomnia sleep training course that the bedroom should be used for two things only:
What’s wrong with doing other things in the bedroom?
Using the bedroom for activities other than sex or sleep can make sleep more challenging — particularly if you already find sleep difficult.
When you undertake certain activities in the bedroom, your brain forms an association with that activity and the bedroom environment. Think of it this way: when you sit down at the kitchen table for breakfast in the morning, your mind knows that it’s time to eat. When you step into your garage, your mind knows that you’re about to go for a car ride.
When you enter the bedroom, you want your mind to know that it’s time for sleep and nothing else!
When healthy sleepers get into bed, their minds are already primed for sleep since they have a strong mental association between the bed and sleep. For many insomniacs, the bed is associated with stress, anxiety, and wakefulness — and adding activities other than sleep or sex can make this lack of association with sleep even stronger.
Learning to associate the bedroom with sleep is a key component of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia because it has such a huge influence on sleep quality.
The distraction of electronic devices
Watching TV or getting work done in the bedroom stimulates the brain at the exact time when it should be winding down and preparing for sleep.
Research also suggests that the blue light emitted by electronic devices suppresses melatonin — a sleep hormone that regulates our sleep/wake cycle.
Furthermore, the urge to check your smartphone during the night (and the interruptions associated with incoming messages and notifications) can interrupt sleep and reduce sleep quality.
How bedtime activities affect sleep quality
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research that involved 338 adults between 18 and 25 years of age found an average gap of 39 minutes between bedtime and shuteye time. (Bedtime was the time an individual went to bed and shuteye time was the time an individual attempted to go to sleep once in bed.)
A delay of 39 minutes may not sound like much, but researchers found that the gap between bedtime and shuteye time had a big impact on overall sleep quality.
Specifically, compared to individuals who went to sleep immediately after getting into bed, those with a gap between bedtime and shuteye time of:
- Up to half an hour were 3.3 times more likely to be rated as poor sleepers
- Up to one hour were 6.1 times more likely to be rated as poor sleepers
- More than one hour were 9.3 times more likely to be rates as poor sleepers
How to break bad bedroom habits
Try to relocate activities other than sleep and sex into another room. Create a rule that allows nothing else to take place in the bedroom. You may also wish to consider removing all electronic devices from the bedroom to avoid any temptation to use them!
If you find your habit of watching TV before bed is too hard to break, try to limit TV watching in the bedroom to 30 minutes.
Finally, make sure you only go to bed when you are drowsy and feel ready to sleep. This simple act can significantly reduce any urge you may have to do anything other than sleep once your head hits the pillow.
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Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training. His online course uses CBT techniques to teach participants how to sleep better without relying on sleeping pills. More than 5,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.