Using stimulus control and sleep restriction to counter insomnia

For many insomniacs, just the sight of bed can often trigger worry that contributes to insomnia.  This is an inadvertent learned association, and it is common.

Those with sleeping problems may spend hour and after frustrating hour lying awake in bed, trying unsuccessfully to force or will sleep, and it just doesn’t work that way.  So along with the tossing and turning this kind of learned negative association with one’s own bed is understandable.

Yet many insomniacs find sleep comes so easily in other places.  Like on the living room couch.  In a hotel room.  In a comfy chair while reading.  Camping.  Seemingly anywhere else but their own bed and bedroom, due to this learned negative association.

The good news is that the negative association can most definitely can be unlearned, the same way it was learned.   It does take some discipline and perseverance, but the effort is well worth the gain when it comes to better sleep.

To help undo any learned negative association, we suggest not allowing yourself to fall asleep anywhere besides your own bed as much as possible.  Then when you do find yourself feeling drowsy, be sure and head to bed and try sleep there.

If feelings of worried wakefulness return in bed, or you have a racing mind that will not let you sleep, don’t try to force it.  Forcing sleep doesn’t work.  Give yourself a maximum of 15 to 30 minutes in bed, and if you’re still up, go to another room and do something relaxing until you feel drowsy again.  If you are on the couch or a comfortable recliner, do not let yourself fall asleep there.  Be alert for the feelings of drowsiness, such as yawning, droopy eyelids, wandering thoughts, and so on.  When you feel them, head back to bed and try sleep again.

Eventually, rest assured, you will sleep, and in your own bed.  By making this effort consistently, night after night, you will soon re-establish a positive mental connection with your bed and bedroom.  They will become a positive cue for a sleep-supportive environment.

This method is part of what’s known as stimulus control.   It is one of the core methods used in CBT-based sleep training.   CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, and it is the recommended standard of treatment for insomnia by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Another core CBT method is sleep restriction.  There are a number of variations to this method, but the basic idea is to only allow the amount of time in bed as you are averaging asleep, and possibly less.   Using CBT sleep training, you normally determine the amount of time to allow in bed by carefully monitoring your sleep over a period of a week or so.  Sleep logs are one way to do this.

Only allowing the minimum time in bed needed for sleep helps ramp up your homeostatic sleep drive, one of the two key physiologic components that controls sleep.

There are a number of other methods involved with a comprehensive CBT sleep training program that help counter insomnia, especially the cognitive techniques that allow you to better understand and manage negative sleep thoughts, anxiety, and stress.  In addition, CBT sleep training also includes effective ways to relax while in bed that help lead you naturally back to a drowsy state more conducive to sleep.

All of these methods when worked together combine and mutually support one another.  Together, they make CBT sleep training a very effective and drug-free approach for better sleep.  Most people are helped by using CBT; many become normal sleepers again.

So much of insomnia is self-imposed by some combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry.  This affects literally millions of people.  For those who are dealing with these issues, be confident you can improve your sleep naturally without drugs.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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11 Comments on “Using stimulus control and sleep restriction to counter insomnia”


  1. […] underlying concept is called stimulus control.  The idea is to deliberately make your bedroom a sanctuary from all the everyday worries and […]


  2. […] and insomnia puts you back in control, not the insomnia.  This method is known in psychology as stimulus control, and is one of the techniques in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically designed for […]


  3. […] your bed only for sleep and sex is part of stimulus control, one of the core methods in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) specifically designed for […]


  4. […] To help consolidate your sleep into one unbroken period, only allow enough time in bed that you need for sleep, and no more.  If you are only averaging 6 hours of sleep now, perhaps that’s all you need.  The average for adults is 7 to 9 hours, but you may need less.  Try setting your bed time by backing out 7 hours from your consistent wake time and see what happens.  By reducing the amount of time you spend in bed, you tend to rev up your sleep drive and produce more robust sleep.  This method is known as sleep restriction. […]


  5. […] sleep training program combine such cognitive methods with powerful behavioral tools like stimulus control and sleep hygiene.  Together, the two are an exceptionally effective way to improve […]


  6. […] just as it has been learned, it can be unlearned.  There are a number of methods known as stimulus control you can use to negate this negative conditioning, and support better […]


  7. […] training methods. These cognitive behavioral methods usually consist of some combination of stimulus control, sleep hygiene, consistent sleep timing, stress management, relaxation training, and control of […]


  8. […] getting up and out of bed when you can’t sleep, which is part of what’s known as stimulus control.  This is one core method of CBT sleep training. The idea is to begin to undo the negative […]


  9. […] sleep improvement methods combine parts of what’s known as sleep consolidation, stimulus control, and sleep hygiene, three of the core methods in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically […]


  10. […] part if the stimulus control method, you sleep only in your bed, never on the […]


  11. […] or pillow.  Taking control of your sleep behaviors and bedroom environment is part of the stimulus control method of improving […]


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