If the time isn’t right, or the time has passed, there’s no point in trying to force it. Do you end up constantly tossing and turning? Unable to find a comfortable position to sleep? Does your brain feel awake even though your body feels tired?
We all have an internal clock, programmed for sleep at two particular times: at night, and in the early afternoon. Peretz Lavie, an Israeli researcher, has called these the “gateways into sleep”. For most of us, they are open between about 1 and 2 p.m., and above all between 10 and 11 p.m. The symptoms (or signs) that the gateway is opening are yawning, stinging eyes, stiffness in the neck and the onset of drowsiness.
When the gateway is open, you can fight to stay awake, but it requires an effort to do so. This is the best time to get to sleep, hence the term “gateway”.
If you miss the gateway that would have let you get off to sleep quickly, it is likely that you will have to wait until it opens again, 60 to 90 minutes later.
The worst thing to do at this stage is to stay in bed and try to force your brain to put you to sleep. Instead, try to train your brain to realise whether or not it is the right time to sleep. Let me explain.
As the gateways into sleep are relatively stable from one day to the next, watch the clock every evening to work out what time you start feeling drowsy. This should let you know the best time to go to bed and fall asleep quickly.
In all cases, if after 15 to 20 minutes in bed (approximately, without checking the clock) you feel restless, you should get up and carry out a very calm activity, such as reading, or something else relaxing (including intimate activities which lead to increased drowsiness) while you wait for your next “gateway into sleep”. Avoid watching TV or using a screen, of course, as this is likely to make things worse.
Do not forget that your gateways into sleep do not necessarily open at the same time as those of your partner. There is no point in feeling bad if he or she is already asleep and you are not (or vice versa).