Updated: Oct 16, 2018
Get Back to Sleep Fast!
Sleep is so essential for a good, healthy life but is elusive to so many people. And sometimes it is not the ‘falling asleep’ aspect of sleep rather what to do when you ‘can’t get back to sleep’ in the middle of the night. This scenario creates so much anxiety for millions because one knows they should be sleeping, they want to be sleeping, they are tired but simply CAN’T.FALL.ASLEEP.AGAIN. Most people know what to do to get to sleep; create a good sleep environment, eliminate electronics, create some white noise to drown out noises that may wake you, to list a few. So even though this is an article about what to do when you wake in the middle of the night, it is just as important to consider what it is that one is doing to get themselves to sleep in the first place.The most crucial concept to understand is that whatever you are doing to GET yourself to sleep is what your body will need to do when it wakes in the middle of the night. For example, if you tend to be on your phone and that is what helps you fall asleep, then you will need to get back on your phone when you wake in the middle of the night to help get yourself back to sleep. If you are watching TV and falling asleep to that, when you wake up, you will have to recreate that environment. Neither of which are healthy environments for sleep, to begin with. But what do you do when something wakes you in the middle of the night? Below are some tips that you can incorporate in order to get back to sleep after waking.
Find something that puts you to sleep that is not going to stimulate you if/when you wake in the middle of the night. For example, fall asleep reading a book. When you wake in the middle of the night, start reading the same book. It will help you transition back to sleep without being awake for an inordinate amount of time. If you turn on the light to read, make sure not to turn on too many overhead lights and set a timer of when you will stop reading and try to go to sleep again. Make sure it is not a book that is highly entertaining. We want to ensure you are not riled up at this time and excited or wanting to read for hours.
Incorporate meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or conscious relaxation into the bedtime routine to help calm you and get you ready for bed. Use this same technique when you wake in the middle of the night to help calm you back to sleep.
This is where you focus on each body part from feet up to head and while you think of each body part, you are too tense and then relax each one.
Breathing: Incorporate a breathing technique that has been proven to work to get your mind settled and back to sleep. Start by sitting up straight in a comfortable position. Next, place the tip of your tongue on the ridge of your gums, just behind your upper front teeth. Expand your diaphragm and slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for another count of 7. Open your mouth slightly, keeping your tongue in place, and exhale for 8 counts. Repeat this cycle 4 times.
Journal. Write out your feelings, emotions, and worries onto a notebook that you keep on your bedside table. But ‘emptying’ these thoughts out of your mind and onto paper, will allow you to go back to sleep faster.
The second concept is that something is waking you whether it’s a noise outside, your partner snoring or most likely the end of a sleep cycle. If you wake overnight, it will likely take another full 90- minute sleep cycle to get yourself back to sleep. If you are stressing the entire time and thinking about falling asleep, then it will be harder to fall asleep.
In that situation, when you find yourself worrying about something (about how you should be sleeping and you can’t get to sleep, and why can’t you sleep while your partner is sleeping, etc), get out of your bed and leave your bedroom. You can at this time, read a book in the living room, do some light stretches, do something ‘boring’ such as working on a crossword puzzle/Sudoku, take a bath or shower, lie down on the floor of any room EXCEPT your bedroom. DO NOT USE ELECTRONICS at this time.
Know that it will likely be another hour and a half before you will be able to fall asleep again. So if you take the pressure off of yourself about ‘how long you have been awake’, then you will likely go back to sleep sooner.
The third concept to consider is the stimulating effect that electronics can haveand not simply because they are exciting but because of how they affect us on a chemical level. The blue light from electronics stimulate our retinas (eyeballs) and create wakefulness. So even if you woke up in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and sleepy and thought, ‘let me just check my phone to see if anyone ‘needs’ me or messaged me, etc’. Then before you know it, you are responding to emails, checking Facebook, planning the day and you are fully awake without the possibility of going back to sleep. The light tricks your brain into thinking it was time to get up.
You can put a red light filter on your device (phone, tablet, etc) that dims the screen and makes it red. Set it on a timer so that it automatically goes on at 10 pm, for example, and un-dims at 7 am (or whatever time you wake in the morning). There are several apps that do this for you.
The final concept is establishing good sleep hygiene as well as following your sleep cues. In our society, sleep is seen as a sign of weakness. You hear celebrities say, ‘I only need 4 hours of sleep’. It is a badge of honor for many. Remember sleep begets sleep so if you are pushing yourself too hard and not listening to your body of when it is tired and ready to go to sleep, it will have a higher likelihood of waking in the middle of the night. Incorporate being perceptive to these sleep cues as well as establish a good ‘sleep hygiene’.
Always use your bed for sleep.
Create a ‘neat’ environment free of clutter in your bedroom.
Try to aim for the same wake-up time daily. Don’t ‘sleep in’ on weekends. You want to aim for a bedtime at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning, as often as possible. Life always can get in the way, but try to maintain consistency as much as possible. The tendency is going to be to ‘sleep in’ if you had a rough night the night before but that may cause another bad night if you allow yourself to sleep in. Make a routine and keep it.
SLEEP CUES: Keep these cues in mind when watching to see when your body is telling you it is ready for bedtime. Most of the time we ignore these cues and push through them so that we go into another alert cycle.
Early Sleep cues: yawning, feeling sluggish, feeling unstimulated, uninterested in activities, fidgety, or some version of these.
Late Sleep cues: red eyes, feeling like you ‘can’t stop’, irritable.
Getting yourself to sleep before you go into the late sleepy cues will ensure you don’t become alert again.
Download the app for First Time Parent Magazine to see the original publication in their June edition, 'Get back to sleep fast!'