Is it OK to daydream immediately before you fall asleep?

I’ve always daydreamed at the end of the day. As soon as I turn out the light and snuggle down under the duvet, my mind immediately jumps into my paracosm. It’s my opportunity to continue whatever storyline I’m working on, which has probably been interrupted multiple times during the day. It’s how I reward myself after a day of productivity and achievement. And it stops me from worrying about any real-life stressors. But are there any risks associated with daydreaming immediately before you fall asleep?

How long does it take you to fall asleep?

I’ve never felt that my daydreaming keeps me awake. I don’t consciously decide after a while that I’ve daydreamed for long enough and I should go to sleep. Sooner or later, sleep just happens. The trouble is, it’s usually later rather than sooner.

It’s very rare that I fall asleep in less than an hour. I’ve always been like that. As a teenager, I thought it was normal to take 1-2 hours to fall asleep. I’d never known any different. It came as a shock when I met my husband and realised that he could fall asleep in five minutes flat. I had no idea anyone could fall asleep that fast! But I didn’t think too much of it, because, after all, it was giving me some quiet, uninterrupted daydreaming time.

But the science says that my husband is the one who’s closer to normal. Not many people fall asleep in five minutes, but taking more than 10-20 minutes to drift off could, apparently, be a sign of insomnia.

So does that mean daydreaming before sleep is a problem?

If it takes you an hour or more to fall asleep, your daydreaming probably is keeping you awake, even if (like me) you don’t think it is. If typical people fall asleep in about 20 minutes, but it takes you an hour, that’s 40 minutes of sleep you’re missing out on. And over time, getting 40 minutes less sleep than you need every night isn’t ideal. But obviously, it’s more complicated than that.

Different people need different amounts of sleep. Some people do best on nine hours sleep a night, others are fine with just seven. Most of us fall somewhere in between. If you need eight hours of sleep to function at your best, but it takes you an hour to fall asleep, then you need to take that into account and go to bed nine hours before you need to get up. If you can do that, your daydreaming isn’t depriving you of sleep. It’s depriving you of whatever you would otherwise be doing before you went to bed.

Could daydreaming before sleep be beneficial?

What would you be doing in those last few minutes before you drift off to sleep if you weren’t daydreaming? You might fall asleep more quickly, but apparently, there’s still 10-20 minutes to fill after you turn out the light. If I didn’t daydream during that time, my thoughts would probably turn to all the things on my to-do list for tomorrow, or I might ruminate about something I’d done that day that hadn’t turned out well. For me personally, checking out of reality and visiting a paracosm that I’ve carefully designed to be everything I want it to be is far more relaxing – and therefore more conducive to sleep – than replaying my day or worrying about tomorrow.

So although the evidence suggests that my daydreaming is keeping me awake, I suspect I’d stay awake even longer if I didn’t daydream. Would I, over time, learn to silence my mind-wandering and fall asleep more quickly? Could I learn a breathing technique or mindfulness exercise that would quiet my thoughts enough for me to fall asleep in just 20 minutes? Maybe. I’m not sure I want to put the effort into finding out. For me, going to bed early and allowing time for daydreaming works just fine.

You need to decide what’s right for you

Everyone’s different. For me, daydreaming for an hour or so after I turn out the light, and going to bed early enough to allow for that, is a positive thing. I’ve chosen not to stop daydreaming completely, which means I need to set aside time most days for daydreaming. And daydreaming before sleep works for me. It makes it easier not to daydream excessively during the day, because I know there will be time to visit whatever juicy plot twist I’m working on later. And I do fall asleep eventually. Daydreaming doesn’t keep me up all night.

But for some people it does. Some maladaptive daydreamers find it very hard to sleep at all if they daydream in bed. Others tend to move around a lot, which can cause problems if you share a bed with a partner. And depending on your schedule, getting to bed early enough to allow time for daydreaming might not be possible.

I believe that the most sustainable way to heal from maladaptive daydreaming is to take control of your imagination and to turn your maladaptive daydreaming into immersive daydreaming. That means that daydreaming will always be part of your life, and you’ll have to make time for it. But that time doesn’t necessarily have to be right before you go to sleep.

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