What's worse: Struggling to fall asleep in the first place or instantly falling asleep when your head meets the pillow only to wake up in the middle of the night? Neither scenario is ideal, but lying awake in the dead of night, counting down the minutes until you actually have to get up for the day, is a grueling feeling.
Fortunately, there are plenty of expert-backed ways to sleep through the entire night without waking up.
Reasons you might wake up in the middle of the night.
According to sleep expert Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., waking up in the middle of the night isn't uncommon. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research1, 35.5% of 8,937 participants surveyed reported middle-of-the-night awakenings at least three times per week, while 23% reported waking up at least one time per night.
Wake-ups generally take place during light sleep, or the second of the four phases of sleep when the body's core temperature starts to rise, explains sleep expert Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. Unlike in deeper sleep stages like REM sleep, the brain can easily be awakened during light sleep.
But what causes these middle-of-the-night awakenings? "Sometimes simply going through a stressful time can cause people to wake in the middle of the night," says Teitelbaum. He adds that another common reason people wake up in the middle of the night is their body is experiencing an adrenaline rush triggered by something like low blood sugar or a hormonal flux. (Learn more about middle sleep here.)
In order to put a stop to your late-night stirring, the first step is to identify why it's happening in the first place. If there's an obvious answer—i.e. you're feeling stressed or you're dealing with a stuffy nose—great. If not, something is, most likely, going on either subconsciously or physiologically, so you'll have to dig a little deeper to get to the root of the issue.
If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night consistently for more than two months, it's important to talk to a physician for professional help and guidance.
10 tips to help you sleep through the night:
Create a sleep routine.
If you've been keeping up with mbg's sleep content, you probably already know about this one. But hey, it's a cliché for a reason! According to Teitelbaum, creating a solid sleep schedule is key to falling and staying asleep through the night.
Think about it: If you eat breakfast at 9 a.m. every morning, over time your body will start giving off hunger cues around this time out of habit. The same goes for your sleep schedule. If you get into the habit of going to bed at 10 p.m. every night and waking up at 7 a.m. every morning, your body is likely to get into a rhythm of falling asleep and staying asleep until it's time to rise and shine.
Take a sleep supplement.
While they can't undo an unhealthy sleep routine, high-quality supplements can help prime the body for more restorative rest. If you're looking for a reputable one, mindbodygreen's sleep support+ combines magnesium bisglycinate, jujube, and PharmaGABA® for a formula that promotes natural, quality sleep, as well as a steady state of relaxation to ensure you stay asleep throughout the night.* The supplement is melatonin-free (read up on why here) and proven effective for calming the mind and body to help people sleep soundly and wake up feeling refreshed.*
Curb late-night cravings with protein-packed snacks.
Teitelbaum tells mbg that everyday stressors can cause a drop in blood sugar, making you both hungry and irritable (aka hangry). This is an especially common occurrence around bedtime, when your mind is racing with thoughts about the day's events and the day ahead and makes it even more difficult for cortisol stress levels to drop low enough to allow peaceful sleep.
So, rather than a chocolate chip cookie or bowl of ice cream for dessert, Teitelbaum suggests reaching for something like a hard-boiled egg or a handful of almonds to balance blood sugar and make it easier for you to fall and stay asleep. (Or opt for one of these five magnesium-rich bedtime snacks.)
Make your mental health a priority.
Feelings of stress can interfere with your sleep cycle2, so it's imperative that you are constantly checking in with yourself and making your mental health as much of a priority as your physical health.
Incorporate stress management tools like meditation, breathwork, journaling, or a calming supplement into your nightly routine to set yourself up for uninterrupted slumber.* If racing thoughts still continue to affect your ability to sleep or your quality of life, consider recruiting the help of a physician or specialist.
Meditate before bed.
A regular sleep meditation practice has been scientifically shown to help calm your mind before bed. A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis3 of randomized controlled trials published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, for example, found mindful meditation can significantly improve a person's sleep quality.
Of course, meditation can be practiced in a myriad of ways, so if sitting pretzel-style on the floor, in silence, isn't exactly your idea of calm, you might want to give guided practices or even meditative yoga sequences a try.
Limit liquids before bed.
If your bladder is to blame for your late-night awakenings, Breus recommends taking your last sips of liquid an hour and a half before bed. You should also make a point to stop by the bathroom before getting comfy under the covers. This way, you're running on empty with nothing to release in the middle of the night.
Ban blue light from the bedroom.
If you're tempted to scroll before you snooze, remember: Your phone isn't doing you any favors when it comes to clocking in some quality shut-eye. See, blue light and other forms of artificial light from devices negatively affect sleep4 by interrupting your circadian rhythm.
By mimicking daylight, blue light can suppress the production of melatonin (aka your sleep hormone) and therefore make it harder for your body to shut down properly. To limit your exposure, Breus suggests leaving your phone in another room, eliminating the temptation to scroll altogether.
Make your bedroom a sleep oasis.
It turns out, sexy time isn't the only time to "set the mood." According to a board-certified internal medicine physician at Crossover Health and the Host of TED Health Shoshana Ungerleider, M.D., a major part of good sleep hygiene is creating an ambience that's optimal for sleep.
"Since medical school, I have slept with earplugs and blackout curtains, and I make sure my room is 68 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler," she tells mbg. Making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool, she says, will help your body feel tired and ready for a long night's sleep.
Reserve your bedroom for sleep only.
Trying to fall (or fall back) asleep when your body feels the polar opposite of tired can be a literal nightmare. If your toolbox of sleep tactics (meditating, body scanning, counting sheep, etc.) isn't working, Ungerleider says you're better off getting out of bed.
"Use your bed just for sleep—meaning don't watch TV or work in bed if you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep," she tells mbg. Instead, "Do something which relaxes you, like read a boring book, listen to calming music, or drink caffeine-free tea. When you feel sleepy, go back to bed."
Use a sound machine to block out any unwanted noises.
One of the most common sleep disrupters is noise pollution. If you're constantly waking up in the middle of the night to sounds like traffic and public transportation, dogs barking, or your partner snoring, you know what a drag it can be. Luckily, there are ways to eliminate this type of sleep disrupter in the bedroom, like having you and your partner sleep in separate rooms, or investing in a sound machine that masks noise.
Sleep expert and head of content at Saatva, Christina Heiser previously told mbg that white noise "remains consistent across all hearable frequencies" and "creates a masking effect, blocking out the sudden changes in noise—like snoring or the dog barking or a truck rumbling down the street." Some machines also have pink, brown, and blue noise options—all of which are slightly different sound frequencies that achieve the same goal: to mask the noises in your environment that are keeping you from staying asleep.
There are many reasons why you might be waking up in the middle of the night. From environmental noise to stress, sleep disrupters lurk behind every bedroom door, but you don't have to endure the constant tossing and turning. Instead, make these little lifestyle changes to vastly improve your quality of sleep.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.