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Wake up at night
Health

How to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up at Night

Tara Youngblood · Aug 04, 2022
Wake up at night

The last thing you want to see after waking up in the middle of the night is how much time you have until you actually need to get up. The dread of trying to doze off before your alarm buzzes in five or six hours will play over in your mind as you struggle to fall back asleep. 

The good thing is, waking up in the middle of the night is actually a natural part of your sleep cycle.

The problem, however, occurs when you toss and turn, stare at your phone, or think about everything that happened the day before for hours until your alarm finally goes off. Rather than cuddling back into the comfort of your covers, your brain is suddenly on high alert. You then spend the remainder of the night tossing, turning, staring, and possibly even swearing.

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Fortunately, you can learn how to fall back asleep.

Why Can’t I Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up?

The first thing to remember in answering this question is that you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of US adults (on average) aged 18 and over report not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep per night.

For those aged 25 to 64, it's between 35.6% and 37.8%, [1, 2]. This figure is particularly striking. This age group typically carries heavy responsibilities for caregiving for children and elders, shouldering financial burdens, and developing productive professional careers.

Consumer Reports

27% of people in a new survey of 4,023 U.S. adults said they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.

Falling back to sleep after nighttime awakenings is challenging. Factors that influence your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep include:

  • Stress
  • Sleeping environment
  • Medications
  • Medical conditions [3]

Shift workers commonly have problems falling and staying asleep due to disruption in the natural circadian rhythm. Similarly, many airline travelers suffer from jet lag because the body becomes out of sync with the new time zone. [4]

Sleep-maintenance insomnia involves difficulty staying asleep or waking too early and being unable to return to sleep. It may occur over a short time or be a long-term condition. [5]

Tips on How to Go Back to Sleep

Tara Youngblood, Physicist, Chief Sleep Scientist, and CEO of sleepme, compares the mechanisms of the brain and body that help you to effectively sleep and function at peak performance during the day to a complex and intricate internal clock.

“Your body’s internal clock syncs with different hours of the day, and a different organ works its hardest during different shifts. It’s best if you work with your organs so that they can perform when they’re meant to.” - Tara Youngblood

Health experts have made several scientifically-based recommendations for returning to sleep.

Staring at an alarm clock

1. Avoid Looking at the Alarm Clock

Staring at your alarm clock or checking the time on your phone can be easy, especially if you are awake and unable to fall back asleep. However, this practice can make you feel anxious about not being able to sleep.

People will usually try to determine how much more time they have left to sleep and worry if they will be able to fall asleep. [6] Doing so can make returning to sleep more difficult. People who often deal with anxiety usually worry about falling asleep, and individuals who have difficulties falling asleep tend to feel anxious.

Sleeping Tip:

To ensure you wake up on time, set your traditional clock alarm and/or use the Dock Pro’s warm awake feature. Avoid using your phone as an alarm to reduce the temptation to scroll (and prevent the associated negative blue light effects) if having trouble returning to sleep.

2. Get Out of Bed

Sleep experts recommend that getting out of bed is a great way to fall back asleep if you cannot sleep within the first 20 minutes of awakening. Relaxing in a different room can help distract your mind and make it easier to fall asleep when you return to your bedroom.

3. Eliminate Bright Lights and Noise

If you're having trouble falling asleep, lights or sounds may be disturbing you.
Artificial light is pretty much any light that isn't natural. LED lights from TVs, alarm clocks, internet modem and router, chargers, and computers are known as artificial light, and it has the potential to keep you up at night, making it difficult to fall back asleep.

Try shutting your window to block out any sound from outside. Using earplugs or listening to white noise can also help you drown out disturbing sounds. 

4. Avoid Checking Your Phone or Other Devices

When awake, we feel the urge to look at our phones and browse social media or the internet to waste time. It actually can keep you awake longer. Some electronic devices and smartphones emit blue light, affecting your sleep cycles, alertness, and suppressing melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep cycles.

It’s recommended to limit the time you spend checking your phone. But, to help with blue light exposure, many devices now offer a "night mode" that alters your screen to a warmer tone.

5. Write Down Your Thoughts and Worries

If you have a lot on your mind before bedtime, including your worries, take some time and write as many down as possible. Writing down your thoughts can help ease your mind and remind you of anything you may need to do the next day, eliminating poor sleep.

Based on findings from a recent study, journaling before bedtime may reduce stress and worry while increasing sleep time and improving sleep quality by preventing or reducing sleep disturbances.

Sleeping Tip:

Set aside 15 minutes each night to write down positive thoughts and experiences and how you felt throughout the day. This can help "turn off" your brain and drift into a deep sleep.

Relax your mind with music before bedtime

6. Listen to Relaxing Music

Did you know listening to relaxing music can help you relax and quiet your mind? Music can slow your heart rate and breathing and even relax your muscles. The recommended music includes classical music, folk songs, and jazz. But, of course, music is a personal preference, and you're likely to relax and fall back asleep with something you enjoy.

Music Sleep Tip:

Try listening to relaxing music before bedtime. In a recent study [7], adults who listened to 45 minutes of music before going to sleep reported having better sleep quality starting on the first night.

7. Consistency in Sleep Schedule

It’s always beneficial if you can rise and go to bed simultaneously each day, even when you’re off work. Don’t worry if you need to make exceptions (holidays, traveling, and other special occasions). Just try to get back on that same schedule as soon as possible.

8. Breathing Exercise & Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a cognitive training practice that coaches you to calm your mind and body by letting go of negativity and slowing down your racing thoughts.

Meditative, deep breathing exercises and guided meditation encourage relaxation and self-compassion. This, in turn, can decrease stress levels. In a randomized clinical trial, mindful meditation practice conducted by certified specialists improved sleep quality for older adults. [8]

Performing Meditation Exercises

Prioritizing your mental well-being through meditation allows your body to find and maintain relaxation. The below exercises can help you relax and re-center.

Yoga Nidra for Sleep

Yoga Nidra, or “yogic sleep,” is a form of guided meditation that applies deep breathing and reflection to promote a balanced connection between mind and body. Because Yoga Nidra allows the body and mind to rest while the consciousness is awake, it’s often associated with promoting deep sleep.

Enjoy the outdoors

9. Go Outdoors Daily

A quick morning walk in the natural light for as little as 15 minutes per day can help to reset your internal clock. [16]

Sleep Science: A Brief Overview

As the body’s circadian rhythm adjusts to the nighttime hours, levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin, increase. This signals the brain that it’s time to settle down and crawl into bed. As we fall asleep, our body enters into alternating cycles of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep.

Each REM and non-REM sleep cycle lasts between 90 and 120 minutes. On average, there are between four and six sleep cycles per night.

Numerous other hormones and enzymes do their part so that amazing physiological changes occur. First, the body temperature begins to drop by between 1- and 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Breathing rate rises and falls between the non-REM stages (slower and more regular) and REM (more rapid and shallow).

Heart rate and blood pressure also oscillate during REM and non-REM sleep. Brain activity increases during REM, even more than during the day [9]

Improved Sleep = Improved Health

Decades of scientific research have proven the extraordinary importance of sleep. [7] Health implications for compromised sleep include and are not limited to:

  • Decreased attention, memory, and cognition. [10]
  • Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. [11]
  • Increased risk of obesity. [12]
  • Anxiety and other mood disorders. [13]

Read more about sleep duration.

Fortunately, there has been an explosion in scientific research on successfully addressing this major public health problem. [14]

Working Night Shift or Long Hours?

This free online education resource for nurses is good information for anyone working nights. We know the summer can be particularly difficult trying to sleep during the day with more hours of light, people mowing their lawns, and kids out of school!

Decreasing Your Body Temperature

The optimum room temperature for healthy sleep is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help, but your body needs to drop those 1 - 2 degrees so you can fall asleep and stay asleep. [15] Cooling mattress systems, including the Dock Pro, OOLER, Cube, and breathable sheets, can make a significant difference.

You’ll also be able to keep your body temperature down if you exercise earlier in the day rather than a couple of hours before bedtime. If you can’t resist doing some form of exercise in the evening, consider a relaxing yoga routine.

When To Seek Help

Suppose you continue to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. In that case, we recommend you get evaluated by a doctor, particularly if you notice increased anxiety, irritability, or decreased alertness during the day.

Remember that approximately one-third of US adults have reported sleep problems. [17] Maintenance insomnia can be related to medical and/or psychological conditions. Your sleep problems may require multiple treatment approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, devices, and diet and exercise. 

It’s important that you get the support and professional consultation you need. You may have an underlying condition or illness that needs attention.

Final Thoughts

It can be frustrating knowing that you can’t fall back asleep. It would be best to start small, making minor adjustments to your lifestyle until you feel comfortable taking the next step. It’s recommended to keep a sleep diary to help you remember what works and what doesn’t.

There are several resources available to help you learn more about the incredible science of sleep:

With just a little bit of patience, practice, and exploration, you are certain to develop your own personal toolbox on how to fall back asleep more efficiently.

Citations

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (n.d.). Sleep and sleep disorders. View Study

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. Data and Statistics Short Sleep Duration Among US Adults View Resource

[3]  Office of Communications and Public Liaison. (2013, August 13) Brain basics: understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. View Resource

[4] Ibid.

[5] What Are the Five Types of Insomnia? (n.d.). MedicineNet. View Resource

[6]  Scullin, M. K., Krueger, M. L., Ballard, H. K., Pruett, N., & Bliwise, D. L. (2018). The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 147(1), 139–146. View Study

[7] Lai, H. L., & Good, M. (2005). Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(3), 234–244. View Study

[8] Black, D.S., O’Reilly, G.S., Olmsted, R., Breen, E.C., Irwin, M.R. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances A Randomized Clinical Trial.

[9] Worley, S.L. (2018) The extraordinary importance of sleep: The detrimental effects of inadequate sleep on health and public safety drive an explosion of sleep research. P&T. 43(12): 758–763. View Resource

[10]  Ibid.

[11] Kwok, C.S., Kontopantelis,E., Kuligowski, G., Gray, M., Muhyaldeen, A., Gale, C.P., Peat, G. M.,  Cleator, J., Chew-Graham, C., Kong, Y., Loke, Y.K., MD;  Mamas, M.A. (2018). Self-reported sleep duration and quality and cardiovascular disease and mortality: A dose-response meta-analysis. J Am Heart Assoc. 2018;7:e008552. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.118.008552. View Resource

[12] Office of Communications and Public Liaison. (2013, August 13) Brain basics: understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. View Resource

[13] Ibid.

[14] Worley, S.L. (2018) The extraordinary importance of sleep: The detrimental effects of inadequate sleep on health and public safety drive an explosion of sleep research. P&T. 43(12): 758–763. View Study

[15] Ambardekar, N.[Medical Reviewer] (2021,March 13) What happens to your body when you sleep? View Resource

[16] Pathek, N.[Medical Reviewer] (n.d.). Waking up in the middle of the night. View Resource

[17] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (n.d.). Sleep and sleep disorders. View Resource

About the Author

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood is ChiliSleep’s co-founder and CEO. An accomplished scientist, author, and speaker, Tara’s unique ideas are revolutionizing the future of sleep health by making sleep easy, approachable, and drug-free.
Learn more about Tara.

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