It’s normal to wake up in the middle of the night. In fact, most of us wake up for 1 to 2 minutes every 2 hours, every single night. We just don’t remember doing so because these short periods of waking don’t last long enough to register in our minds.
But if you become distracted by a noise during a mini awakening, you may become aware that you’re no longer asleep. When this happens, it’s common to roll over and go back to sleep. However, there's nothing more frustrating than rolling over, waiting to drift off and then realising you’re wide awake.
Not sure what to do if you can’t sleep?
Next time you find yourself struggling to sleep in the middle of the night, don’t waste time counting sheep. Try 1 of the following strategies instead.
Identify if you're uncomfortable
Feeling uncomfortable can prevent you from falling back into a peaceful sleep. But unless you really pay attention, it can be hard to pinpoint why you can’t settle.
Take a moment to check in with your body and make yourself comfortable. If you feel too hot or cold, adjust your bedding or the temperature of your room. Grab a drink if you're thirsty and go to the toilet if you need to.
Get treatment for uncomfortable symptoms
Medical conditions that cause pain, shortness of breath, itching or other forms of discomfort can make it hard for you to sleep well at night. The symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can also keep you up at night.
When you can't get back to sleep, do you check the clock repeatedly, calculating how much sleep you can still get if you fall asleep right now? It’s a common behaviour, but it’s one that makes the problem worse.
Clock-watching can make you feel anxious, which can make it harder to relax and drift off naturally. Exposure to blue and green light from looking at your clock or phone can make matters worse by making you feel alert.
You can reduce your likelihood of checking the time when you wake up at night by turning your alarm clock to face the wall or by switching off your smartphone.
Try to relax
The following progressive muscle relaxation exercise may help you get back to sleep when nothing else works. It involves relaxing the different muscle groups in your body - 1 at a time.
Start with your legs, then your torso, then your arms and, finally, your face. Tense the muscles in each group for 5 seconds and then relax.
Get up if you can’t sleep
If you’ve been awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something you find relaxing. For example, read a book (but keep the lights low) or listen to soft music. Do this activity until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.
If you go back to bed and find you still can’t sleep, get up again and continue the relaxing activity. Repeat this as many times as it takes for you to fall asleep.
Resist the urge to change your sleeping pattern tomorrow
Our bodies follow a sleep cycle that needs routine to be effective. This means that if you’ve had a bad night of sleep, you’re more likely to sleep well the next night if you stick to your usual sleeping pattern.
Avoid the temptation to have a lie in, nap or an early night the day after a sleepless night. It may feel like a great way to catch up on lost sleep, but could lead to more sleepless nights in the long term.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you have trouble getting back to sleep. Everybody is different, so try out each strategy and pick the ones that work best for you.
And if you’re used to having lie ins to catch up on lost sleep, find out the truth about binge sleeping and what it can do to your body.