You feel sleepy the whole day and when you come home and climb into bed, you suddenly can’t sleep. You stare at the ceiling or turn constantly in your bed. The reason for this could be something called conditioned arousal. This phenomenon is different from insomnia because it happens only when you are in your own bed and you still feel sleepy in other places (on the couch in the living room, on the backseat of a car etc).

Conditioned arousal

Conditioned arousal happens when you inadvertently train your body to associate your bed with something else – not sleeping. This results from doing other activities in your bed like watching TV, using your smartphone or even reading. With these activities, you basically teach your brain that the bed is not for sleeping, so next time you climb in bad, it is ready for something more stimulating.

Other factors that can lead to developing conditioned arousal are having persistent thoughts about something you did, worrying about life events, drinking coffee late at night etc. Even if the mental and physical stimulants are removed, the muscle memory of being awake in bed remains.

What can you do?

The best way to manage the conditioned arousal is to avoid behaviours that contribute to poor sleeping habits and to reserve your bed for sleeping (and sex!). For example, if you like to check your phone or scroll through some social media apps before sleeping, better do that in a different part of the house. Also, if you can’t fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, try to get up from your bed and go to another room until you get sleepy again. This will stop your brain from associating your bed with being restless. It might not happen overnight, but sticking to the new routines should help your body follow healthier patterns.

However, please take into consideration that having anxiety, insomnia, intrusive thoughts or some genetic factors can cause sleeping problems even in ideal circumstances. In these cases, you better speak with a medical professional.


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