Woke Up In The Middle Of The Night? This Is The Fastest Way To Fall Back Asleep
Look, we've all been there: You wake up in the middle of the night, and no matter what you do, you cannot fall back asleep. You've counted enough sheep to fill up a football field, and, still, you're tossing and turning under the covers.
Rather than lying in stillness—or worse, grabbing your phone and scrolling through social media—take a breath and follow this advice from behavioral sleep doctor Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM. On the mindbodygreen podcast, she discusses how to (quickly!) fall back asleep after a late-night wake-up and what you can do to sleep through the night.
How to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night.
First step: Don't look at the time, especially on your phone. "I really argue that the clock is just going to make it worse for many people," says Harris. Not only can that blue light exposure keep you awake for longer1, but depending on how late it reads, you might start to feel frustrated about not getting enough sleep—which may only make you feel more wired.
Rather, she recommends actually getting out of bed: "If you start getting frustrated or your brain's getting active and you're not falling back asleep, get up, go sit somewhere, and do something calm and relaxing," she says. (Like reading, for example.) Don't bring your phone, as the blue light isn't doing you any favors—but you can turn on a dim light while you engage in that quiet activity.
Here's the thing, though: The activity itself might not make you sleepy. "It's just really meant to pass the time," says Harris. You may think that the point of the activity is to lull you back to sleep, but that's actually a misnomer. "The point of getting out of bed is so that you're not teaching yourself that the bed is a place to toss and turn," explains Harris. Read: The more you lie in bed trying to force yourself to feel sleepy, the more your mind may associate your bed with that lack of rest. "The bed becomes more about that than actual sleep," Harris adds. "So [sitting] on the couch and reading is great, but don't try to force the sleepiness to happen. You're just using it as a placeholder, and then get back in bed only when you're sleepy again."
How to prevent those wake-ups.
If you do wake up in the middle of the night, actually getting out of bed might pay off in the long run—but Harris has a couple of strategies to prevent those 2 a.m. wake-ups in the first place. One of those strategies? Going to bed later. Yes, really: "It's weird, but if you have trouble falling asleep or even with early morning wakings, I'll have you go to bed later," she says.
It's the same logic as above: If you don't feel sleepy, lying in bed and trying to force it can actually make matters worse. "I'd rather you go to bed when you're really sleepy so that you feel more confident in your ability to fall asleep," she notes. Not only will you likely be able to fall asleep faster, but chances are you'll have fewer wake-ups, too. And if you need a little extra support to make your eyes feel heavy, experts have a few favorite natural sleep aids and bedtime routines to try as you wind down.*
Waking up in the middle of the night can be frustrating, but don't put too much pressure on yourself to fall asleep instantly—that may only exacerbate the issue. As Harris tells all of her clients who struggle with sleep: "If I don't sleep well tonight, I'll sleep well tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, definitely by the third day."
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.