Can't stay awake in bed

Originally Published: November 10, 2000 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 20, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I suppose I'm lucky. I fall asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. The problem is that I can't stay awake in bed even when I really need to, e.g. to talk about important things with my girlfriend. No matter what I do to try to stay focused and awake, I invariably nod off. Aside from simply not going to bed until sleep is okay, are there techniques for postponing sleep — short of speed or gallons of coffee?

Sleepy

Dear Sleepy,

You can consider yourself lucky; feeling sleepy in bed is a good thing. In fact, sleep specialists recommend that the bed only be used for sleeping and sex. That would imply that, aside from sweet nothings, conversations with your partner should take place in another location.

How about talking with your girlfriend in the kitchen or living room? Or sitting with her on the floor while leaning against the bed? If the "really important things" you speak of come up during sex, taking a time out might interrupt the intimate mood, but perhaps it's better than nodding off as your girlfriend asks you to be a better listener, or something like that. If it makes sense, how about having these rap sessions when you wake up, or at other times during the day when a mattress is nowhere in sight? Can the two of you agree to discuss important topics at a time when you're both fully awake?

Sleep experts would advise against trying to keep yourself awake if you're tired and ready for bed. Broadway producer George Abbott, who lived to 103, gave similar advice when he was asked his secret to long life: he said, "Have a good time, and go to sleep when you're tired." It's pretty normal to get sleepy in bed since our brains and bodies have been conditioned to use it mostly for one thing, and one thing only... sleep. Those who do have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep are often advised not to eat, read, study, watch television, etc. in them so that they learn to associate their beds with slumber, and not the kitchen, office, school, and other environments that may induce anxiety and wakefulness.

Great to hear that the lines of communication between you and your girlfriend are open. Hope these suggestions help you to keep on talkin'.

Alice