The good news is, having a strategy in place can give you a better chance of drifting off when you wake up in the middle of the night. Here are five simple expert-approved tricks for getting back to sleep.
1. Use the 20-minute rule
Willing yourself to go back to sleep isn’t an effective way of putting your body into rest mode. If your eyes are open for any longer than 20 minutes, it’s time to take action. “If you can’t get back to sleep, then leave the sleeping zone,” advises sleep expert Sammy Margo. “Get out of bed, make it, and walk away. Go do something that’s not too taxing, such as reading a magazine article or unloading the dishwasher. Then, return to your bed and restart your sleep ritual. Perhaps that means getting into your go-to sleeping position or using a pillow spray, whatever it is, start your bedtime routine again.”
You could also try some bedtime yoga or listen to sleep-guided meditations to encourage your body and mind to enter relaxation mode and prepare for sleep.
2. Distract yourself
When it's 2am and you're lying in bed wondering how to get back to sleep, it can be very tempting to keep checking your clock, but try to avoid watching the minutes tick by. “As tempting as it is to look at the clock or your phone, it’s best not to,” says Margo. “Not only can it make you feel anxious about missing out on sleep, but blue light exposure suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. Instead, try listening to an audiobook, or do some meditation or visualization.”
A study by the University of Oxford found that people who used imagery distraction (visualizing a peaceful setting or environment), fell asleep faster than those who did not. “Often, you will drift off while doing this,” says Margo. “But if not, employ the 20-minute rule and leave the sleep zone if this isn’t working.”
3. Grab a notepad
Stress and anxiety are key driving factors behind poor sleep, and research by the Eastern Michigan University shows that writing can help organize thoughts and empty the mind of worries at the end of the day. “If anxious thoughts are preventing you from getting back to sleep, keep a notepad beside your bed so you can scribble your worries down if you wake up during the night,” says Margo. “That way you can reflect on and review them the next day.”
Alternatively, you could write down five things you are grateful for in the moments you're wondering how to get back to sleep. They can be anything from wearing your favorite cozy pajamas to having a warm, safe place to rest your head.
4. Tweak your environment
A noisy bedfellow or a light outside can wreak havoc on your sleep, so try tweaking your environment to help you sleep better.
“Make sure that your curtains and blinds are closed and wear an eye mask,” says Margo. “Your body loves absolute darkness when going to sleep, and maybe you’re waking up because of light or noise disturbance. Make sure that lamps from the street aren’t shining in from outside and invest in some earplugs that will help reduce the surrounding noise in your environment.”
A pair of earplugs can be a real blessing when you're wondering how to get back to sleep with a snorting partner beside you!