How To Fall Back Asleep After Waking In The Middle Of The Night

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If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep, chances are you might be prolonging your sleeplessness without even knowing it. Whether you're stressing about it, especially if you have to be up early, or tempted to turn on the TV to pass the time, you might be keeping yourself awake for longer.

The first thing to know is that waking during the night is fairly common.

"Most of us experience mini-awakenings without even noticing them — up to 20 times per hour," states Johns Hopkins Medicine. "When it comes to observable wake-ups, most people have about two or three per night."

"But up to one in five Americans have difficulty getting back to sleep — a frustrating, sleep-robbing problem that experts call 'sleep maintenance insomnia.'"

Below are a few useful tips that will help you doze off quickly and get back that much-needed rest.

Try To Relax

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Peacefully drifting off to sleep might seem impossible when you're tossing and turning at 3 a.m., but there's an easy trick to it: making yourself relax. According to HelpGuide, instead of willing yourself back to sleep, you should focus on unwinding and clearing your mind.

"Make relaxation your goal, not sleep," advises the media outlet, suggesting a few relaxation techniques for you to try.

One option is breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing.

"Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage," details Cleveland Clinic. "Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible."

Other ways to go are meditation, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Don't Watch The Clock

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As you're trying to instill a sense of inner calm, don't feel pressured to keep checking the clock. In fact, it's a good idea to avoid checking the time, and that includes your smartphone.

"Counting the minutes of missed sleep since waking up in the middle of the night increases stress and anxiety, which could delay your return to slumber," explains Johns Hopkins Medicine.

While you're turning your alarm clock to face the wall, make sure to also stay away from bright screens.

"Exposure to blue and green light from your clock, phone, tablet, or computer can make you feel more alert."

Get Out Of Bed

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If you feel that 20 minutes have passed you're still wide awake, get out of bed and find an activity that's both quiet and non-stimulating.

“Sit in a comfortable chair in another room,” advises Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis Buenaver. “Read a book, with just enough lights on so that you can see the print comfortably."

"If your mind is racing (perhaps you’re going over a work presentation you’ll give in the morning or trying to solve a problem in your life), distract yourself by listening to quiet music or a recorded book for a few minutes. Don’t do anything stressful like working or paying bills.”

Whatever you end up choosing, make sure you keep the lights dim so as not to signal to your brain that it's morning time.

Create A Soothing Environment

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When you're feeling drowsy again and return to bed (or even before that, if you decide to skip Step 3), make your sleep space as comfortable as possible.

"Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark and that your bedding is just right so that you don’t feel too warm or chilly," says Johns Hopkins Medicine.

To set up a relaxed, comforting environment that will help you fall back asleep, HealthLine recommends that you invest in blackout curtains and get yourself a white noise machine.

Wearing a sleep mask will also help, as will earplugs. Create a soothing playlist and have it ready to play.

In addition, it's also advisable that you replace night lights with red light, which has been proven to be less disruptive on sleep phases than blue light.

Stick To Your Normal Sleep Schedule The Next Night

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While you might be tempted to overcompensate the following night and make up for lost sleep, Buenaver cautions against the idea.

One of the best ways to improve sleep quality is to follow a sleep schedule, which allows your circadian rhythm (or sleep-wake cycle) to stabilize. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.

“Don’t sleep in, don’t nap, and don’t go to bed early the next night. Get up at your usual time and go to bed at your usual bedtime. You may feel a bit more tired than usual during the day, but by increasing your body’s appetite for sleep you’re ensuring a better night — and you’ll put yourself on track for sound sleep after that.”