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SALT LAKE CITY -- It happens to us all the time. We go to bed, turn off the lights, and we can't keep the stresses of our lives from running through our minds. Researchers say you can train your brain to fall asleep, but you may need to get out of bed for it.
A lot of us stay in bed, trying to will ourselves to sleep, but, how often has that worked? More often than not, we keep ourselves awake even longer as we get mad and blame ourselves for not sleeping.
Go somewhere else because you don't want to reinforce the bedroom environment and that lack of sleep.
–Dr. Paul Teman
Should we really get out of bed every time this happens? Well, the bed is where our body may feel most comfortable, but not necessarily our minds.
University of Utah Sleep Wake Center Medical Director Dr. Paul Teman said, "Go somewhere else because you don't want to reinforce the bedroom environment and that lack of sleep."
Dr. Teman says many of us have to change what we believe about sleeping. He once worked with a colleague who did a study at the Mayo Clinic. College students in the study were told that the first one to fall asleep would get $100. As you might have guessed, no one was paid. The students were so motivated by getting the money that they couldn't fall asleep.
Dr. Teman says there's an effective form of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and it helps people get more shut-eye by teaching them different ways to think about sleep in general. For instance, if our minds won't let us rest, it's important to engage our minds into some other activity.
"Basically, you're trying to distract yourself from thinking about sleeping because sleep happens when you're not thinking about it," he explained.
But this doesn't mean we should stay up late playing video games or surfing the Internet.
"You don't want to get up and do something that's stimulating. You don't want to do housework. You don't want to get up and work. But, at the same time, you don't want to do something that's so boring that you're thinking, ‘Why am I not sleeping? I need to get to sleep,'" he said.
What activity is this? It's different for everyone, and you'll have to figure it out for yourself. For some people, it may be reading. For others, it may be watching TV or turning on their mp3 players. But, Teman recommends against anyone using their smartphones or laptops close to their face while they're in bed.
"If you're doing that in bed, that's not only stimulating, but the light from the computer screen in our portable electronic devices are basically telling the brain, ‘Why are you going to bed? It's daylight,'" Dr. Teman said.
He says, every year more people are staying up late and delaying their rest on the weekends. But that only makes it harder to go to sleep on time on work nights.