Can’t Sleep? When to Just Get Out of Bed

Waking up once or twice during the night is normal. But if you wake up more than a few times during the night or if you can’t fall back to sleep, it might be time to try something else.

At some point, it makes sense to get out of bed. If you do get up, though, don’t worry -- you’re not giving up for the night. You still need rest, and your goal is to get back to sleep as soon as possible.

To do that, here are some helpful tips to help you get back to sleep after you get out of bed.

When to Get Out of Bed

Before getting out of bed, try to fall back to sleep for 20 more minutes. While you’re lying there, try not to watch the minutes tick by. It might be helpful to adjust your digital clock to face the wall and turn your cell phone off so you aren’t constantly checking the time.

Once the time is up, it’s OK to get out of bed. If you can’t sleep, don’t try to, says Michael Perlis, PhD, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The problem with staying in bed for any appreciable amount of time is that this reinforces sleeplessness, physiologically and psychologically,” Perlis says.

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What to Do After You Get Up

As comfy as your bed may be, it’s best to leave your bedroom when you get up. You want your brain to associate your bedroom as a place to sleep. “If you’re awake and you know it, you’re out of bed,” Perlis says.

Try a relaxing, low-impact activity

Do something relaxing that might make you feel sleepy. Activities that could help you relax include:

  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Meditating
  • Experimenting with deep-breathing techniques
  • Playing a repetitive game (Sudoku is a good bet)

Choose something calming and soothing that you could do any time of day.

Avoid brightly lit screens

Don’t rely on technology -- like your computer, phone, or the TV -- to lull you back to sleep. These screens can trick your brain into “waking up” and make it harder for you to fall asleep. It’s best to just keep the TV, computer, and phone turned off.

Avoid high-impact activities

Try not to do anything that will rev you up and make it harder to doze off.

Although you might’ve heard that you can make yourself drowsy by exercising, that’s not true. Even moderate exercise can keep you awake at night.

Don’t Eat or Drink Anything but Water

Eating at night can make it harder to get to sleep. This is because digestion slows down when you’re sleeping. Eating before you get back into bed can cause indigestion -- you might feel bloated, nauseous, or uncomfortable.

You should also steer clear of caffeine. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, don’t drink anything with caffeine after lunchtime.

Never drink alcohol as a way to fall asleep, Perlis says. This can cause rebound insomnia -- or early morning awakenings, where you wake too early. It can also lead to substance abuse.

How Long Should You Be Out of Bed?

Ideally, you should stay out of the bedroom for a minimum of 30 minutes, Perlis says. You can go back to bed when you start to feel sleepy. You’ll be more likely to fall asleep faster if you go to bed when you’re drowsy.

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Sometimes it’s helpful to pick a time up front, be it 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes, says Perlis. But you don’t have to obsess over the time. That can be counterintuitive and might make you more anxious about being awake.

There are a couple of exceptions to the get-out-of-bed advice. If you’re taking medications that make you groggy or if you have balance problems, you’re better off staying in bed for safety’s sake.

Rethink Your Sleep Habits

Everyone has a bad night from time to time, but working on your sleep habits might help. Make sure you:

  • Go to bed and wake up at a regular time, even on the weekends
  • Make your last hour of the day relaxing by doing calming activities, like reading
  • Only use your bed for sleeping or having sex
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol 5-6 hours before bedtime
  • Make your bedroom comfortable, dark, and cool
  • Don’t take naps during the day

Try that for a couple of weeks, and your sleep should get better. If your insomnia is chronic -- meaning you’re having trouble sleeping for more than 3 months -- it’s time to skip the tips and talk to a doctor, Perlis says. Talk to your doctor to check on any medical reasons for your insomnia, get more sleep advice, and see if you should see a sleep specialist.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 21, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Up in the Middle of the Night? How to Get Back to Sleep.”

Teens Health: “What Should I Do If I Can’t Sleep?”

Cleveland Clinic: “4 Simple Steps to Get You Back to Sleep Fast.”

Sleep Education: “Can’t Sleep? Do This, Not That!”

Stanford Health Care: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI).”

Mayo Clinic: “Indigestion: Overview.”

Sleep Foundation: “Good, Fair, or Poor: How Well Do You Sleep?”

Veterans Health Library: “Understanding CBT-I: Using Your Bed Only for Sleep.”

Michael Perlis, PhD, director, Behavioral Sleep Medicine program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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