Ep 12. It's Not About the Bed

Oct 17, 2023

Is the association you have with your bed making it difficult to sleep?

Possibly, but I think there's a bit more to the story!

This episode explores the role of the bed in insomnia and presents a new perspective on how the brain perceives this association.

Tune in to learn:

• Why the bed theory didn’t make sense to me

• The true driver behind sleeplessness

• Why cues don’t equal cause

• What really made the difference in my bed

• When it makes sense to change your relationship with the bed

If you’re worried that you’ve developed a negative association with your bed, this episode is a must-listen.

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Full Transcript BELOW.

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About Beth Kendall MA, FNTP:

For decades, Beth struggled with the relentless grip of insomnia. After finally understanding insomnia from a mind-body perspective, she changed her relationship with sleep, and completely recovered. Liberated from the constant worry of not sleeping, she’s on a mission to help others recover as well. Her transformative program Mind. Body. Sleep.™ has been a beacon of light for hundreds of others seeking solace from sleepless nights.


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It’s Not About the Bed

Hello everyone and welcome to the podcast. This is going to be a short but I believe powerful episode because it’s going to shine a light on what really drives the pattern of insomnia. And I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the bed.

The Association Between the Bed and Insomnia

Okay, so when I was going through insomnia, I was being told right and left that the reason I couldn’t sleep at night was because I had developed a negative association to the bed. This ASSOCIATION was the reason I would get into bed and then struggle to fall asleep. And that made sense to me to some degree because if you’re in bed and it becomes this absolute war zone of torture, of course you’re going to assume that it’s the bed or some other external factor that is causing such a horrible experience, right.

And so… the standard guideline in this scenario involved leaving the bed at night to do something different until I felt sleepy enough to return to bed. And the idea behind this was to build up sleep drive to the point where when I would go to bed, I’d actually sleep — we were trying to establish a new association with the bed that was synonymous with sleep, versus struggle.

Getting Out of Bed When I Couldn't Sleep

So, like any good perfectionist, I followed this rule to a T. Because seriously I would have done ANYTHING to get rid of insomnia. If someone had said to me: you know, if you just eat the tire off this car, then you can be free of insomnia, I probably would have said: “pass me the salt and pepper.” That’s how desperate I was to not have insomnia.

So, I was getting out of bed when I couldn’t sleep. And this ended up becoming an even more horrible experience because I live in Minnesota and it gets pretty cold up here in the winter. And so sitting somewhere in my house in the cold waiting to feel sleepy was just really MORE torturous and created more layers of suffering around sleep.

Plus, I just didn’t really get sleepy. I would be thinking that if I did this and got out of the bed then this would help me feel more sleepy. But if anything, my brain went into even greater states of hyperarousal.

Probably because I was thinking: “This isn’t working.” “I’m not getting sleepy.” ”What if this doesn’t help.”

So this advice did not help me in the context it was prescribed and frankly it led me to feel even more hopeless about my situation and like I was just this really weak person that couldn’t apply this simple rule of getting out of the bed to get over insomnia.

What if It's Not the Bed?

And then I started realizing, that wait… I do not seem to have any trouble sleeping in my bed during the day. And I don’t have trouble sleeping in my bed when I don’t have to get up for work the next day. And I would have these cycles where I would be sleeping okay and I was still sleeping in the same bed. So, the bed rule in general was just not adding up.

And I would ask my doctors or sleep therapists about this and they would have no clue why this be and they would look at me like I had two heads and would sort of insinuate that I was just overthinking it. Which I definitely was, but a lot of that overthinking came from the feeling that what I was hearing just didn’t make much sense to me.

The degree to which  it didn’t make sense just reinforced my already existing belief that there was something super strange going on with my brain. That I had some unique problem that all of these doctors had never even heard of.

I guess I felt like if I was going to be up in the middle of the night freezing on the couch in my 60 degree home, then I wanted to understand why it would help me because it was just creating another layer of torture in my sleep experience.

You know, it still blows my mind because if any of these experts had just said, “You know, nothing is wrong with your ability to sleep, you just developed some fear about not being able to sleep and that’s what’s creating the hyperaoursal” It would have saved me a life time of suffering. Which is the whole reason I do this work in the world.

The Fear of Not Sleeping

So, my view of this is that it is not the bed that creates sleeplessness. It is the fear of not sleeping which just happens to TAKE PLACE in the bed that causes sleeplessness.

I don’t help my clients create a new relationship with the bed. I help them create a new experience around sleep, and around wakefulness and trusting their own bodies again. This, I think, is a much more sustainable approach to living a life free from insomnia. Because we’re not constantly trying control all these external factors that can affect sleep.

The bed is an innocent bystander in the whole thing. Because where do you draw the line on that, right? You could say: The brain has developed a negative association to darkness. Or, the brain has developed a negative association to this lamp. Or brushing your teeth or the bedspread.

And all of these do act as cues for the mind, at bedtime, but they’re not what’s creating the pattern of insomnia.

What’s creating the pattern of insomnia is the brain’s perception of wakefulness. It’s a fear of being awake at night. It is the association the mind has made to not sleeping.

So, does that mean that you shouldn’t get out of bed when you can’t sleep?

I think that sometimes getting out of bed actually makes perfect sense! What really matters most is the intention behind that.

I’ll go more in-depth about that in another episode. But for today, I wanted to talk about this role of the bed  because I think it gets misrepresented.

So, to build on this relationship with the bed…

The Real Reason I Could Sleep in My Bed...

The reason I could sleep well in my bed during the day, or on nights when I didn’t have an early work commitment, wasn’t because I was just magically friends with my bed again. It was because there was less pressure in those situations. The threat of not sleeping seemed less significant, at least in my mind’s eye. But it had nothing to do with the bed itself.

I couldn’t sleep when there was pressure to sleep because the perceived pressure would create performance anxiety, otherwise known as hyperarousal.

So making that key distinction between the bed and what happens in the bed I think can be really helpful.

I don’t want to write off the significance of the bed entirely. Because material objects DO influence our senses and there is a neural circuitry associated with that.

Making changes to the bed, or bedroom can be helpful particularly for those that are in the later stages of leaving insomnia. Because beds can represent some challenging memories. So introducing delicious things like new bedding, or different sheets (I'm all about the nice sheets), or just anything to make the bed more lovely can be really nice way to update those memories. More as a means of self-care, and not because any of these things creates sleep — it’s always your own body that does that.

So, that wraps up this short and sweet episode. I hope it provided some perspective on the role of the bed.

I’m Beth Kendall and you’ve been listening to the Mind. Body. Sleep. podcast. I’ll see you next time…

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