How to Get Back to Sleep After Your Kids Wake You Up

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

It’s an unfortunate reality for parents: When your baby or child wakes up in the middle of the night, often, so do you. Whether you’re roused from sleep because you hear your baby crying, your school-age child is sick or had a bad dream, or an older kid is making noise with his nocturnal wanderings, it can be difficult to return to the Land of Nod after these unwanted wake-up calls. Instead, you can end up lying awake, worrying about getting back to sleep. Not what you want! Of course, the ultimate goal is to train your kids to sleep soundly all night long. In the meantime, it helps to use these strategies to avoid losing excess sleep.

Relax your body and mind.

When you return to bed after tending to a child, do some deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation exercises (consciously tensing and then releasing various muscle groups from your shoulders to your feet) to help you relax. Or, use a visualization technique: Close your eyes and picture yourself in a peaceful place, such as the mountains or a pristine beach, using all of your senses to make the experience as vivid as possible.

Ignore the clock.

Counting the minutes or hours that you’ve been awake is likely to backfire, making you even more distressed about losing sleep—and making it harder to fall back to sleep. The reality is, sleep can’t be forced so turn the clock away from you so that it faces the wall. Then, shut your eyes.

Count your blessings.

Forget about counting sheep; instead, tally up three to five good things that happened to you that day. Maybe it was something adorable that your child said or did, a compliment that you received from your boss, a kind text an old friend sent you, or the delicious dinner that you made. Nothing is too small to add to the list. From a neurological standpoint, doing this puts your mind into a more conducive state for sleep by inducing a sense of calm.

Get out of bed.

If it feels like you’ve been trying to get back to sleep unsuccessfully for 20 minutes, get up and go to another room to do something relaxing (such as reading a book, listening to calming music or an audiobook or a podcast, or sipping from a mug of warm milk or decaf chamomile tea). You don’t want to risk coming to associate your bed with not sleeping. Resist the urge to grab your smartphone or tablet or to watch TV; the blue light from these electronic devices can suppress production of the soporific hormone melatonin and make it hard to go back to sleep. Return to bed once you feel the urge to snooze again and enjoy those sweet dreams.