Is your bedroom a cue for insomnia?

One major cause of insomnia stems from an inadvertent learned association between one’s bedroom and sleeplessness.  Just as Pavlov’s dog developed a conditioned response to the feeding bell, it’s surprisingly easy to unwittingly fall into a conditioned negative response toward one’s bed.

If night after night you lie in bed unable to sleep, tense and miserable, hour after frustrating hour, everything around you begins to be associated, consciously or subconsciously, with a negative experience.  The feel of the mattress, the pillow, your partner’s snoring, the nightlight, everything around you becomes automatically associated with frustration and tension rather than a restful night’s sleep.

If you find you invariably sleep better elsewhere — a motel room, on the couch, the floor, camping, anywhere besides your own bed — you probably have at least some degree of negative conditioning toward your own bedroom.

People who are conditioned against their own bedroom typically react with a heightened state of arousal when going to bed, rather than the kind of relaxed drowsiness that is more conducive to falling sleep.  If this is  your problem, rest assured there are a number of solutions.

One effective solution is called stimulus control, and the idea is to automatically associate your bed with a positive image of a restful night’s sleep, instead of a negative source of stress or tension.

To support and maintain this beneficial mental association, avoid as much as possible any sort of stressful activity in bed or in your bedroom.

Activities to avoid include such things as:

  •  lying on your bed while doing homework or office work
  • talking on the telephone if it’s stressful
  • watching television if it’s stimulating and not relaxing.

Activities like these can elicit negative associations with your bed and bedroom that undermine your ability to sleep well.  Avoid them if possible.

You can also begin to intentionally elicit a positive relaxed feeling from your bed and bedroom.  The Sleep Training System provides a comprehensive approach to implement stimulus control techniques, plus many more ideas known collectively as sleep hygiene.  For more, see the Sleep Hygiene chapter of the STS.

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5 Comments on “Is your bedroom a cue for insomnia?”


  1. […] enable you to increase your sleep drive, reduce and control negative sleep thoughts, and create optimal sleeping conditions for yourself, among other […]


  2. […] are many possible overlapping causes, including a conditioned negative response to sleeping at night, or there could be a circadian rhythm disorder.  The culprit could be an […]


  3. […] “negative associations of the bedroom,” I found a website that […]


  4. […] you have been struggling with chronic insomnia for some time now, you may also be affected by a conditioned response to being awake at night, frustrated and tense, while trying to sleep.  In other words, you may […]


  5. […] Importantly, these are only two of many effective CBT methods you can and should use to help restore normal sleep.  Another important one is cognitive restructuring, which allows you to get a handle on the negative sleep thoughts that are likely fueling your insomnia to some degree.  Another is sleep timing, a behavioral method which enables you to set and keep sleep supportive schedule specific for your needs.  Yet another is sleep hygiene. […]


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