The Most Effective Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia – Stimulus Control

Do you suffer from insomnia? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and just can’t fall back asleep? Stimulus Control Therapy is a therapy that has been proven to be successful at helping people who have chronic insomnia. In this article, we will discuss what stimulus control therapy for insomnia is, how it works, and why it’s so effective!

What is Stimulus Control Therapy

Stimulus Control is a behavioral therapy that has been used to treat insomnia and difficulty sleeping as a treatment by itself. The therapy trains you to associate your bed with sleep. Over a 6 week period, people with insomnia who used this technique were shown to have increased total amount of time spent sleeping while in bed, and reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep compared to a group that continued their treatment as usual.

The more you adhere to this one technique over a 6 week period, the more likely you are to be able to fall asleep quickly, and spend more time sleeping in the long term. This therapy is simple to perform on your own, but can be difficult to consistently practice because initially you will sleep less before you start to fall asleep more easily.

How Stimulus Control Therapy Works For Insomnia

The philosophy behind stimulus control is that you are connecting sleepiness and bed and disconnecting arousal/wakefulness and bed. When you strengthen this connection, you go to bed, become more sleepy, and fall asleep easily and effortlessly.

Have you ever gone to the kitchen to do something other than eat, but then find that you opened the refrigerator and grabbed a snack? Your mind has unconscious processes that have been associated food and eating with the kitchen. Your mind has also created these types of associations with your bed. If you have difficulty sleeping, then it is highly likely that you’ve spent time in bed awake, whether you were tossing and turning in bed while your mind was racing, or you were actively doing a different activity like reading or watching television while in bed.

In order to disconnect “awake” and “bed”, you must limit the activities that you do in bed to sleep so that you are only associating your bed with sleep. Do not watch television while in bed, do not read while in bed, do not use your iPad, cellphone, laptop or do anything other than sleep while you are in bed.

Some people make exceptions to having sex in bed, but if you have difficulty sleeping, I recommend that you start being more creative with the location of intimate relations with your partner. Do you know the activity that hinders your progress the most and is hardest to disentangle from associating with the bed? Laying in bed awake, alert and frustrated.

Related: What is Sleep Hygiene And Why Everyone Needs It

How do you stop yourself from associating laying in bed awake with your bed?

You have to get out of bed when you notice that you’re awake and are unable to fall asleep. It looks like this: You go to bed at your normal bedtime. After about 15 minutes you notice that you aren’t easily falling asleep, and you get out of bed to do a different activity in a different room. After 30 minutes you return to bed and lay down to go to sleep. If you aren’t sleepy and can’t fall asleep again, you get out of bed and do a different non-arousing activity for 30 minutes. You repeat this process until you become so sleepy that when you return to the bed you fall asleep within a few minutes.

This isn’t a short term solution, in the first couple weeks it is likely that you will have less total sleep than you usually do now. In the long term (within 6 weeks) you will have associated the feeling of being sleepy and sleeping with the bed and will be able to fall asleep easily and stay asleep.

Now implementing this therapy may seem to be daunting, but I assure you that when you consistently practice this strategy you will fall asleep more easily, and will stay asleep more easily. I will be creating a sleep habits course soon that will guide you to successfully implement this habit of stimulus control, and to work through the difficulties that may come up for you.