Why can you sleep on the couch and then not fall asleep in bed?
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(Conversation) — After a long day, you fall onto the couch and fall asleep watching TV. The room is warm, the sofa is comfortable, and the background noise of the TV makes you sleepy.
Then a loved one nudges you and reminds you to go to bed at night. But when you arrive, you discover to your dismay that you are wide awake.
Why is it easier to sleep on the couch and not always in bed?
Why is it so easy to fall asleep on the couch?
Sleep pressure It’s one of the reasons why you should sleep on the couch. This indicates the strength of the biological drive for sleep. The longer you stay awake, the greater the sleep pressure.
Body clock or Circadian rhythm It’s another factor. This tells you that you should be awake during the day and asleep during the night.
The environment also affects sleep opportunities. You may have just finished eating, and your comfy couch may be in a warm, dimly lit room, perhaps with a TV show playing in the background. For many people, this environment is ideal for sleep.
So, at the end of the day, the sleep pressure is strong, your circadian rhythm is telling you that it’s time to sleep, and your environment is comfortable and warm.
What happens after a nap on the couch?
If you nap on the couch before going to bed, your sleep pressure will likely be much lower than it was before the nap. Instead of staying awake for more than 16 hours, you just wake up and therefore have less sleep pressure. This can make sleeping in bed more difficult.
If you’ve slept on the couch for five minutes, you may not have much trouble falling asleep in bed. Such short naps are unlikely to reduce sleep pressure much. But if you sleep for an hour, things change.
Your sleep cycles can also work against you. Most sleep cycles last about 90 minutes. They start with light sleep, then move to deep sleep, and end again with light sleep. If you wake up during deep sleep, you may feel groggy and find it easier to fall back asleep when you go to bed. But if you wake up during light sleep, it may be difficult for you to get back to sleep in bed.
Activities you can do when you get off the couch — such as turning on bright lights or brushing your teeth — can make you feel more alert and have trouble falling asleep when you get to bed.
Why can’t I sleep in my bed?
There are other reasons why sleeping in your own bed can be difficult. Many people suffer from anxiety when sleeping. They worry about getting enough sleep or falling asleep fast enough.
In these cases, getting into bed can be associated with feelings of stress and anxiety, making sleep more difficult. It may be easier to sleep on the couch, where there is less stress.
It may also be difficult to sleep in bed due to poor sleep hygiene. This refers to your behavior before bed and your sleep environment.
Good sleep hygiene, or healthy sleep habits, includes following a regular bedtime routine, a dark, quiet room to sleep in, and not using your cell phone in bed. For many people who do not have good sleep hygiene, their sleep behaviors and bedroom environment may not be conducive to sleep.
How can I make it easier to sleep in bed?
First, make sure the room is dark, quiet, and comfortable. In winter, you can turn on the heating 20 minutes before going to bed or take a hot compress to bed. In summer, you can turn on the air conditioner 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 this may make falling asleep easier by masking other disturbing sounds.
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.
Also, even if it’s hard for you, try not to look at your phone while you’re in bed. Scrolling on your phone before bed can make it difficult to sleep due to exposure to blue light and the potentially stressful or stimulating effect of the content you’re interacting with.
The best way to sleep in bed is to avoid sleeping on the couch.
This will ensure that all the sleep stress you have accumulated during the day is directed towards deep sleep in bed.
Madeline Sprajcer is Professor of Psychology at CQUniversity in Australia. Sally Ferguson is Director of the Appleton Institute at CQUniversity, Australia. The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.