By: Katie Kotteman
Updated March 19, 2021
We’ve all had a sleepless night and felt its effects the next day. Tossing and turning in bed, waking up exhausted, and needing caffeine to get through the day takes a toll on your body and your mind.
In order to remain in good health, most adults need to sleep at least seven hours per night (1) on a regular basis. Unfortunately, somewhere around 70 million people (2) in the U.S. have chronic sleep problems. Sleep loss can impair your ability to think, affect your mood throughout the day (3), and impact your body’s ability to heal itself (4).
In order to feel like your best self, it’s important to know what factors might be keeping you awake, what you can do to fall back asleep, and how to improve sleep quality in general.
Why Aren’t You Sleeping Through the Night?
There are many factors that can contribute to interrupted sleep. It’s important to pay attention to your own sleep hygiene to make sure you’re improving your chances for a full, restful night of sleep each night. Sleep hygiene means creating a lifestyle, bedtime routine, and bedroom environment that support healthy sleep. Below are some factors that may work against sleep hygiene and contribute trouble staying asleep:
- Disrupted Sleep Schedule: Going to bed at different times and taking naps during the day can lead to waking up in the night (5).
- Electronics: Looking at the blue light given off by your TV, laptop, tablet, or phone disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm (6). Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that determines how alert or sleepy we should feel during the day and at night. Blue light exposure can be counterproductive to falling and staying asleep because it blocks your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Stress: Stress and anxiety can make sleeping through the night more difficult. Waking up in the middle of the night and beginning to worry about the sleep loss you are experiencing can keep you awake even longer.
- Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol: Consuming substances like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol affect the body’s ability to rest. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, and using them before bed makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Alcohol might relax you, but it leads to light sleep that is easily disrupted.
- Exercise: Although a regular exercise routine can help improve sleep health, if you are exercising within a few hours of bedtime, it might lead to disrupted sleep (7).
- Physical Health: Body aches and pains, pregnancy, sleep apnea, and other conditions might impact sleep quality. There are also some medications that can disrupt sleep.
What Should You Do if You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night?
While it is certainly frustrating to wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to go back to sleep, there are certain techniques you can use to make sure your sleep isn’t interrupted for very long.
- Deep Breathing: Deep breathing exercises can help ease your body and mind (8). Lay on your back with your hand on your stomach and your eyes closed. Breathe in as deeply as you can, hold your breath for a moment, then slowly exhale. Repeat these steps, or try other breathing exercises that you find effective.
- Meditation: There are many ways to meditate, but generally, meditation focuses your attention on your breath, your body’s sensations, or a mantra to clear your mind and relax your body. Meditation can help with sleep issues (9) and can also help with mental and emotional well-being.
- Get Out of Bed: When you wake up, you might be tempted to lay in bed until you fall back asleep. But, if you’re tossing and turning, staying in bed might decrease your likelihood of falling back asleep. If you are awake for longer than 15 minutes, it’s best to move to another room until you’re sleepy again. This movement will keep you from associating your bed with stress and sleeplessness.
How Can You Get More Uninterrupted Sleep?
Wondering why you can’t stay asleep through the night? Keep this advice in mind:
- Develop a Sleep Schedule: In order to sleep through the night, you should maintain a regular sleep schedule every day. Develop a relaxing nightly routine and establish a firm bedtime. It might help to avoid trying to catch up (10) on sleep on the weekends.
- Put Away Electronics: Try not to use electronics close to bedtime and during the night so that your body engages in melatonin production and other processes that help you feel sleepy.
- Manage Stress: Using relaxation techniques like reading, meditation, listening to music, taking a bath, or doing yoga can help relax you.
- Cut Out Substances: Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially near bedtime. Instead, drink warm milk or some non-caffeinated herbal tea to relax.
- Get Physical: Evidence suggests that exercising during the day may improve sleep quality (11), especially in middle-aged and older adults.
- Create Your Dream Space: Where you sleep can impact how well you sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool and quiet with no artificial light. Choose a comfortable mattress. Turn the clock away from you so you’re not tempted to count the hours.
- Consult Your Doctor: If you find that your irregular sleep pattern is affecting your physical health or your ability to complete daily tasks, make sure to work with your doctor to find the cause and appropriate treatment to improve your sleep quality.
Waking up in the middle of the night can be discouraging and stressful. Focusing on relaxation and stepping away from your bed are useful methods for getting back to sleep as quickly as possible. Additionally, making lifestyle and evening routine changes can lead to better sleep patterns and can help you avoid experiencing disrupted sleep in the first place.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26039963/ Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28579842/ Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26468189/ Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/insomnia Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000805.htm Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26900325/ Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000853.htm Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000874.htm Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://magazine.medlineplus.gov/article/irregular-sleep-schedules-can-lead-to-bigger-health-issues Accessed on March 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25729341/ Accessed on March 17, 2021.