How you handle waking up in the middle of the night has a big impact on your odds of falling back asleep quickly. Here’s how to play your cards right.
This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation
There are lots of reasons you might wake up during the night, from drinking a little too much wine before bed to hearing a loud noise outside your window. In fact, you may wake up as many as six to eight times each night without even realizing it. The problem occurs when you find yourself wide-awake and struggling to drift back to sleep. At these moments, the right strategy can make all the difference. Here’s how to get back to sleep quickly.
Avoid Your Phone
It might seem as though a mindless activity like scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed is just the thing to soothe you to sleep. But it could backfire, big time. Not only can social media (or email, or video games) be a giant black hole with the potential to suck you in for far longer than you intended, but the light from those devices can actually mess with certain hormones in your body that make you feel like it’s time to wake up—even when it’s 3 AM.
Get Out of Bed
It might seem counterintuitive to get up when you want so desperately to fall asleep. But if you’re tossing and turning for more than 20 minutes, you run the risk of creating a negative association between the stress of not sleeping and the space you are lying in. Consider it a re-set: Get up, go to a different room, and do a quiet, soothing activity, like reading a book or sipping a cup of herbal tea. Turn on as few lights as possible to remind your body that it’s still nighttime, and when your eyelids start to droop, try returning to your bed.
Cover the Clock
You may be familiar with the expression “A watched pot doesn’t boil.” Something similar could be said of a watched clock: Constantly checking to see what time it is, how long you’ve been awake, and how many minutes and hours are left until morning can cause stress and anxiety to build, making it difficult to fall back asleep. Before you know it, you’re stuck in a frustrating cycle where your inability to sleep causes stress and your stress keeps you from sleeping. Turn your clock toward the wall or toss a shirt over it to keep yourself from sneaking a peek.
Progressive muscle relaxation is one way to get your mind and body to zone out. To try it, start by tensing your toes for five seconds, then relaxing them. Repeat the pattern of tensing and relaxing your muscles, working gradually from your feet up your body to your neck. Or, take deep breaths, feeling your belly rise and fall with each one. Another familiar strategy: Count backwards from 100. Whatever approach you choose, the goal is to focus on the present moment and let go of any tension or racing thoughts that are keeping you awake.
Follow Sleep-Friendly Habits
Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day can prevent nighttime disturbances by getting you into a dependable sleep routine. Likewise, the choices you make throughout the day affect how soundly you sleep at night: Getting regular exercise, cutting out caffeine after lunch, and taking time at the end of the day to wind down before turning in can all lead to more restorative shut-eye.