Sleep and Pavlov’s Dogs

  • Half of Americans say they feel sleepy during the day.
  • 10-30% of adults struggle with insomnia and 75% of patients with depression suffer from insomnia.
  • Of the 15 leading causes of death in the US, seven have been linked to insufficient sleep.

Sleep troubles are a big deal and getting good sleep is more important than many of us realize, both for day-to-day functioning and overall health. Many people already know about and have tried typical sleep hygiene: don’t drink coffee late in the day, exercise daily, turn off screens an hour or two before bed, etc. These are an important piece of the puzzle, but one of the best things you can do to get your Zs is to learn to use your bed for only sleep and sex. 

So what does this have to do with Pavlov’s dogs? 

Pavlov set up an experiment where he conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. He noticed that his dogs salivated when they were given food. So, Pavlov started to ring a bell every time he fed them. The dogs came to associate the bell with food and soon they were conditioned to salivate when they heard the bell even if there was no food. 

In your own personal sleep experiment, there will be no bells or salivating, but the concept stands. You can condition your brain that bed = sleep. When your head hits the pillow, your body automatically goes into falling asleep mode. (Easier said than done, I know). To do this you have to start using your bed only for sleep. Frequently, beds are a place to watch TV, scroll on Facebook, toss and turn and ruminate about the day. They can even become a stressful place if you suffer from insomnia.  Reconditioning your body to automatically associate your bed with sleep can help you sleep more solidly. So turn off the TV, put away the phone, only climb into bed when you are sleepy, and learn techniques that will help you quit tossing and turning in bed at night. 

Your daytime self will thank you. 

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