Quiet your racing mind: Managing conditioned insomnia for better sleep

It’s time for bed. You turn off the lights, ready for a good night’s sleep. But, suddenly all you can think about is work deadlines, your overdue car service, your child’s examinations, and your next health check-up.

As falling asleep becomes a struggle, the hours start to creep by and you wonder how you’ll cope tomorrow. If this pattern of racing thoughts is familiar to you, you must be wondering how you can you make this stop.

Conditioned insomnia and your racing mind

Many Australians have trouble sleeping at some time in their lives, and about 1 in 10 people always find it a bit hard to sleep. Insomnia is a complex condition. Its symptoms include trouble falling asleep at the start of the night, waking up during the night, and feelings of daytime fatigue, concentration difficulties, lethargy or poor mood. 

Like you, many people with insomnia find as soon as they get into bed, they feel alert and wide awake. When we do things in bed besides sleeping, our brain and body learn that the bed is not just for sleep.

Schematic depiction of poor stimulus control. Source.

Over time, the mind associates the bed and bedtime routines with the experience of insomnia, making it increasingly challenging to break the pattern and get restful sleep. This is called conditioned insomnia.

Conditioned insomnia, also known as learned or psychophysiological insomnia, is a type of sleep disorder that arises from psychological or behavioral factors rather than underlying medical conditions. It’s when our brains and behaviors team up to create a vicious cycle of sleeplessness. It is a learned response to the anxiety and frustration associated with difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

How does it develop?

Several factors contribute to the development of conditioned insomnia, including:

  • Initial trigger: It often starts with an external event, such as stress, a life change, or a specific episode of sleeplessness. This might be a normal occurrence initially, but if it repeats, it can create a cycle.

  • Sleep-performance anxiety: As the sleepless nights persist, the individual becomes increasingly anxious about sleep. They might worry about not being able to sleep, the consequences of not getting enough rest, or the impact on their daily functioning. 

  • Associations with bedtime: Over time, the brain associates the bed and bedtime routines with anxiety and struggle to sleep. This negative association perpetuates the problem, making it difficult to relax and fall asleep. Not even counting sheep works.

  • Conditioned response: The bed becomes a cue for wakefulness instead of sleep, and merely lying in bed can trigger feelings of alertness and restlessness.

  • Sleep disruption: The person may spend excessive time in bed trying to sleep, which can lead to irregular sleep patterns, reduced sleep drive, and fragmented sleep.

How can it be managed?

Stimulus control therapy can make the connection between your bed and sleep stronger again. It means taking simple steps to improve your bedtime routine hygiene:

  • Only go to bed if you plan to use it for sleep or intimacy. All other activities should occur out of bed, preferably in another room

  • Only sleep when you’re feeling tired. If you’re not tired, wait before getting into bed. Use that time to do something calming in a different room

  • If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes of lying in bed, get up and move to another room. Do something calming and enjoyable until you feel sleepy again. Avoid doing anything too exciting, like work or playing computer games

  • Keep doing the two steps we mentioned earlier until you fall asleep within about 15 minutes. It might take a few times of getting in and out of bed. However, as you do this, your body’s urge to sleep will grow, and eventually, you will fall asleep within 15 minutes of getting into bed

  • Wake up at the same time every morning, even if you didn’t sleep much the night before

  • Try not to take long naps during the day because it might make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night

  • Remember that it’s normal to wake up briefly during the night while you sleep, and it doesn’t mean you’re unwell. Don’t stress about it

If your condition doesn’t improve, it’s essential to consult your healthcare provider. Ignoring sleep disorders can go on to impact various facets of mental and physical health. 

GABA supplements may also help improve the quality and quality of sleep. One such supplement is Heathershaw’s Sleep Formula which is available as an over-the-counter sleep aid and may help regulate sleep-wake cycles, especially for individuals with sleep disorders like insomnia. Heathershaw’s range of supplements is custom-made by our team of compounding pharmacists and technicians, to address the specific health challenges of each individual patient.

If you would like to know more about them, have a chat with our pharmacists – Jenny, Gavin, Michelle, Amy, Maria or Jill. They can also answer practical questions including dosages of sleep supplements and the safety of combining them with other medications or supplements.


Understanding the complexities of insomnia, specifically conditioned insomnia, can be the key to unlocking better sleep. We’ve explored how conditioned insomnia is not just a one-time sleep issue but a persistent cycle fueled by our thoughts and behaviors. By identifying its causes and recognising its symptoms, we can take proactive steps toward addressing this sleep disruption.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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