You’re settling into bed—on time, for once—and getting all cozy under the covers. But half an hour later, you’re still awake. And then your mind starts running a mile a minute. And then you’re tossing and turning, and it’s suddenly 2 a.m. and you have to be up in four hours and dammit, what the heck happened?
We’ll tell you: You made the biggest sleep mistake in the book, according to Terry Gross’s fascinating Fresh Air interview with Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. You tried too hard to fall asleep and ended up psyching yourself out in the process. The solution? You need to get out of bed as soon as you realize you’re having trouble sleeping.
That’s because, Walker explains, if you’re awake for an extended period of time, your mind stops subconsciously thinking of your bedroom as a place for rest. “Your brain is this remarkably associative device, and it quickly learns that the bed is about being awake,” he tells us. Huh. The more you know.
So, what should you do instead? Get up and move into a different, dimly lit room and read or meditate, Walker says. (No phones and no screens—that means you, late-night Instagram scrollers.) Then, right when you feel like you’re about to drift off, go back into the bedroom.
And in the morning, give yourself permission to sleep in an extra half hour. Doctor’s orders.