How to get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night

Catriona Harvey-Jenner
·4-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Sleep issues can range from person to person. While some people struggle with the initial act of getting to sleep, others drift off without a problem, only to wake up in the middle of the night and find it impossible to drop back off again.

If you're one of those people - one of the mid-night wakers - here's a question for you: what's the first thing you do when you wake up during the night?

If your automatic reaction to middle-of-the-night waking is to check the time, you're certainly not the only one. But you're also committing one of sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan's most basic sins for getting back to sleep.

Dr Ramlakhan, Silentnight’s resident sleep expert, explained why checking the time is a sure-fire way to stop yourself from drifting back off. "It can be very tempting to check your phone when you wake up, either to check the time or any notifications, but it’s important you don’t," she urged. "Don't look at the time because the first thing you do is a calculation. You do a subtraction, and then you do a risk assessment, and by then you're wide awake."

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

And she's completely right. Many of us check the time during the night because we want to work out how much longer we have left to sleep before we're forced to get up. But the very act of looking at the time, then subtracting that away from your wake-up call time, is enough to put you right back into 'wide awake' territory.

Dr Ramlakhan explained that the "blue light that is emitted from phones can make us feel alert and awake," and added that different waves are emitted when we start becoming alert and engaging our brains. "When we sleep at night we go through stages of consciousness," the expert shared. When we're fully alert, we experience beta brain waves, while a more relaxed state would induce alpha waves. "When you look at the clock, to do a mathematical calculation you have to bring yourself right up into beta waves, which makes it harder to come back down again," Dr Ramlakhan advised. To make it easier to stop checking the time, try leaving your phone in another room and turning your alarm clock so it's facing away from you.

Photo credit: Jub Rubjob - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jub Rubjob - Getty Images

So that's one suggestion for getting back to sleep in the middle of the night, but if you want some other failsafe tips, the sleep experts had plenty to share...

How to get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night:

Know when to stop trying

"The biggest mistake we all make is that we lay in bed tossing and turning desperately trying to force ourselves to go to sleep. The best way to deal with it is to follow the 30 minute rule. If we are in bed for more than 30 minutes and not asleep, whether that is as we go to bed or in the middle of the night, then we need to reset our minds. This is best done by listening to something, a podcast, meditation app, the radio or a spoken word book to let our minds wander and for sleep to come again. We can do this in bed, or we can get out of the room and go into another one - but make sure the lights are left off."

- Sleep Expert James Wilson, AKA The Sleep Geek

Don't worry too much about it

"It’s important to note that between the five sleep cycles we go through in our sleep, it is natural to be in a nearly awake state as we pass between them, so a state of very light sleep or even waking up is perfectly normal."

- Dr Chris Dickson, Executive Chairman of Cambridge Sleep Sciences

Try a relaxation technique

"If you’re unable to sleep in the night, use some relaxation strategies such as the Calm app, which is packed with diverse content and understands that everyone is different in terms of relaxation and anxiety reduction. You do not want your brain getting used to you spending long periods of time awake in bed with a negative mind-set."

- Expert Sleep Physiologist Stephanie Romiszewski on behalf of LloydsPharmacy

Happy dreaming!

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