How to Get Back to Sleep When It Feels Impossible

Emily Abbate
by Emily Abbate
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How to Get Back to Sleep When It Feels Impossible

There are few things more rewarding and enjoyable than snuggling in bed at the end of a long day. Especially since quality time with your pillow and some good shut-eye can be the ideal recipe for optimal functioning and better mood. Cue a familiar scene: It’s dark, your eyes open, and it’s definitely not morning. The dreaded middle of the night wake-up. After a bit of tossing and turning, you’re convinced: More sleep is not in your immediate future.

Sound familiar? Don’t worry: On average, you should aim for 7–9 hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While getting back on the dream train may feel impossible, with the right tricks and tips, it is possible. Here, experts weigh in with their best suggestions for falling back asleep.

1

AVOID LOOKING AT THE CLOCK

Clock-watching can generate a lot of anxiety and frustration when you wake up at night and struggle to fall back to sleep. With each passing moment, you feel anxious about not having fallen back to sleep. Instead of watching the clock, Leigha Saunders, ND, recommends wearing a sleep mask. “This has the double benefit of boosting melatonin production, the hormone that helps you sleep, and preventing you from looking at the clock frequently,” she says.


READ MORE > DO YOU NEED MORE SLEEP DURING THE WINTER?


2

THINK OF WHAT YOU WERE LAST DREAMING OF

Sometimes, it’s hard to recall the details of what’s going on in your dreams. But if you can, that could be the key to getting back to dreamland. “If you remember any snippets of what you were dreaming, go back to putting yourself in those dream images,” suggests Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, physical and chronic fatigue specialist. “This can put you quickly back to sleep, by triggering the sleep centers in the brain.”

3

DON’T JUDGE YOURSELF

Getting angry at the scenario won’t do you any favors, says Paul Greene, PhD, of Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. “The worst thing you can do is tell yourself how awful it will be if you can’t get back to sleep,” he adds. “This feeds worry, which will keep you up, creating a vicious cycle.”

Instead, Greene says to treat the scenario with kindness. “Remember, even if you’re sleep deprived tomorrow, you’ll survive and will sleep that much better tomorrow night.”

4

ELIMINATE ANY EXCESS LIGHT

Light is your body’s cue to wake up, according to Jason Piper, founder of Build Better Sleep and a certified sleep coach. “Once your body receives this information, it starts putting into motion body processes that are meant to keep you awake.” So, if light is entering your sleep space in the middle of the night, try to get rid of it. “You want your room to be as dark as possible (like so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face).”

5

UTILIZE PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION

For many of us, our first instinct is to be extremely focused on the act of going back to bed. Instead, embrace simply relaxing, says Saunders. “When you focus on consciously falling back to sleep, you can become anxious and frustrated if it doesn’t happen,” she says. “Instead, focus on a progressive relaxation. Starting with your toes, scrunch them up and hold while counting to 5 or 10, then relax.”


READ MORE > HOW TO GET MORE REM SLEEP


Progressively move through your entire body, focusing on one area at a time. “By the time you’ve reached scrunching your nose, you probably won’t be awake.”

6

GRAB A PEN AND PAPER

Another helpful technique to clear your mind is writing down whatever you’re thinking about. “I often recommend my patients leave a notepad or journal on their bedside table,” says Saunders. “What you think about at night can cause anxiety and worry, even if it’s just trying to remember what you have to do tomorrow. Writing it down takes the pressure off your mind.”

7

TRY ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING

This simple trick can lower your heart rate, blood pressure and promote relaxation, says Piper. Start lying down in bed with your eyes closed. Take your thumb and index finger and place it over your nose like you are going to pinch it, but don’t actually pinch it. Close off your right side nostril and take a deep breath through your left nostril. Hold that breath for a count of 3, then close your left nostril and release it through your right nostril. Repeat this up to a count of 10, then cycle through up to three more times. “I guarantee you’ll feel the calm come over you, roll over thinking about something happy or relaxing, and let sleep come over you again.”

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About the Author

Emily Abbate
Emily Abbate

Emily has written for GQ, Self, Shape and Runner’s World (among others). As a certified personal trainer, run and spin coach, she’s often tackling long runs or lifting heavy things. In addition to that, she’s working on Hurdle, a podcast that talks to badass humans and entrepreneurs who got through a tough time —a hurdle of sorts— by leaning into wellness.

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