Put. Down. The. iPhone.
It happened again: The house is dark and silent, except for the dull rattle of the ceiling fan above you. The oak tree outside casts a looming, shivering shadow across the room. It’s 3:20 A.M., and you’ve been awake for half an hour. Yet again.
It’s normal to wake up once or twice during the night; it’s a result of your body’s natural circadian rhythm. You might even subconsciously have a “mini wake-up” as many as 20 times an hour without even realizing it, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
But if you’re one of five Americans who struggles with staying and falling back asleep, your circadian clock might feel like your worst enemy. To make it worse, losing sleep night after night can make you feel stressed or anxious about it, making it even more difficult to fall asleep the next night. (Here are more ways your body suffers when you’re sleep-deprived.)
One key to help you fall back asleep in the middle of the night is to relax—which is easier said than done, of course. When your mind is revved up, you might have a faster pulse, higher blood pressure, and more cortisol in your bloodstream, according to the National Sleep Foundation. You’re in fight-or-flight mode, so instead of slipping into slumber, your body is lying in bed and preparing for a hypothetical attack.
Sleeping should come more easily if you can find ways to relax. Here’s what experts recommend to help you fall back asleep in the middle of the night.
1. Do *not* watch the clock.
Tallying up the minutes (or hours) you’ve been awake or how many you have left until your alarm goes off in the morning will accomplish nothing except give you more anxiety. If possible, turn your phone upside, or flip your alarm clock to face the opposite wall.
2. Don’t ignore your needs.
Your body has a ton of needs that might wake you up: You gotta pee, you’re sweating, you’ve got chills, you’ve got a headache, your hand has fallen asleep. Getting up to turn on (or off) the fan might seem like it will wake you up more, but it will be worth it: Trying to just “push through” the discomfort will likely keep you awake longer. Address the problem ASAP, and you might be able to get back to sleep quickly.
3. Try lavender aromatherapy.
The scent of lavender might be able to promote calmness and help you sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Lavender essential oils in a diffuser or lavender-scented lotion might help you relax during the night.
4. Try 4-7-8 breathing.
A counting meditation is a great way to reset and slow down your mind. An easy strategy to do anywhere—like on your mattress at 3 A.M.—is 4-7-8 breathing.
Close your eyes and lie comfortably. Inhale slowly for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts, and exhale for eight counts. This temporarily trains your body into a slower breathing rate, which helps promote relaxation and sleep.
5. Get up and take a break if you need to.
If you’ve been lying there for aaaages, it might be time to get up. Suffering through insomnia in your bed might lead you to associate your comfy mattress with frustration and anxiety, which can continue to cause insomnia in the future.
Pick a calming and quiet activity, such as reading in dim light, listening to quiet music, meditating, writing in a journal, or do some yoga stretches.
6. But *don’t* check email, texts, or Twitter
Whatever you do, don’t scroll through your social media or read books on your iPad. The blue light emitted by these devices suppresses the body’s melatonin production, which alters your circadian rhythm. In other words, it will make you feel more alert and might keep you up longer.
Moral of the story: Don’t panic … and keep light to a minimum.
If insomnia affects you regularly, get more tips here.
Blue light has a dark side. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Medical School, 2017. (Accessed on July 4, 2018 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.)
How to relax. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on July 4, 2018 at https://sleep.org/articles/how-to-relax/.)
Put your stress to rest. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on July 4, 2018 at https://sleep.org/articles/put-stress-rest/.)
The effects of sleep deprivation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on July 4, 2018 at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy-sleep/health-risks/the-effects-of-sleep-deprivation.)
Up in the middle of the night? How to get back to sleep. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on July 4, 2018 at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy-sleep/sleep-better/waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-how-to-get-back-to-sleep.)