Get Up or Stay Down?

Last updated: August 2022

I have a nightly conundrum. Shortly after sliding in between my lovely soft sheets each night, I start wondering – should I get up? Or should I stay in bed and hope for the best? The choice between getting up and staying down in my bed is a nightly challenge.

Choosing: to get up or stay down?

There is a much-divided opinion on the benefits of staying in bed or getting up. I was always told never to stay in bed awake for more than 20 minutes. Just get up and do something quiet and relaxing until the tiredness settles and then go back to bed.

I used to do that but then I found I was getting up every 20 minutes. It didn’t make for a very restful night. There is also a necessity to check the clock in order to know how long you’ve been lying in bed. And clock-checking is a sleep hygiene no-no.

Staying in bed and checking clock

So, I went through periods of time where I just lay in bed, wide awake, for hours and hours on end. Feeling sad and resentful about the fact I couldn’t sleep. Restlessly tossing and turning and annoying my partner. Eventually getting up because I just needed to stretch.

Getting out of bed when all you want to do is sleep is mind-numbingly depressing. Dragging a weary body up and out and going off somewhere to do quiet non-stimulating things that don’t interrupt the rest of the sleeping household feels so sad. Getting up is its own kind of exhausting.

Insomnia really does suck.

What is the right answer?

When you can’t sleep there really are only 2 choices – lie in bed or don’t lie in bed. I have come to the firm belief that there is no right answer.

If lying in bed awake for 2 hours eventually leads to sleep then that might feel frustrating, but at least you’re getting to sleep. If getting up every 20 minutes and waiting until the tiredness comes back gradually retrains your body to sleep properly, then it’s worth the annoyance.

If there’s 1 thing I’ve learned in life it’s that 1 size never fits all. If 1 technique worked for everyone, we’d all be doing it by now.

Finding solutions that fit you

When it comes to insomnia I firmly believe we have to keep working on finding the solutions that work best for us. I also believe in developing gratitude and acceptance. The fact my friend can sleep a solid 10 hours, night after night, is lovely for her but never going to be my reality. If I sleep a solid 4 hours and doze for 3 more then I’m streets ahead of my previously insane levels of insomnia. I have to be grateful for 4 hours.

Mindfulness helps

And these days? These days I don’t get up when I can’t sleep. Instead, I practice relaxation and meditation. I try to dream happy wakeful dreams so that at least the time spent in bed is restful, even if sleep is delayed. Or non-existent.

For me, getting up every 20 minutes just makes me more awake. The act of walking to or from my bed creates a state of hyperarousal that no amount of therapy has ever alleviated. I have to settle down once I’m in bed. Being tired helps but is not enough.

So, when it comes to a choice between getting up and staying down in my bed, I stay down. And most of the time it works for me. What works for you?

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