Can't Sleep? When to Get Out of Bed

From the WebMD Archives

You wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep.

Whether you drank one cup of coffee too many earlier, or you've got a lot on your mind, it's time to decide whether to get up or stay in bed.

Getting out of bed makes sense at some point. Tossing and turning endlessly isn't going to help.

If you do get up, though, you're not giving up for the night. You still need rest. So your goal should be to get back to sleep as soon as possible.

Some activities help with that. Others put sleep even further out of reach.

What you do now, in the wee hours, will affect how the rest of your night goes. That could make all the difference in how you feel tomorrow.

Try This Before You Get Up

Give yourself about 10 more minutes in bed. While you're lying there, try not to watch the minutes tick by.

Worrying about how long you've been awake backfires. It "perpetuates insomnia," says Russell Rosenberg, MD, chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation.

He recommends keeping clocks out of sight and guessing how long you've been lying there.

If you're still awake after what feels like 10 minutes, it's time to get up for a little while.

At that point, "trying to make yourself fall back asleep is counterproductive," Rosenberg says. "The harder you try, the more elusive sleep becomes."

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 really want to think of your bedroom as a place to sleep," not as a place for other activities, says Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, medical director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine.

Do something "mildly entertaining" but "sedate," Rosenberg says, until you're sleepy enough to go back to bed.

For instance:

  • Read.
  • Listen to music.
  • Meditate.
  • Do relaxation exercises.

Choose something calming and soothing that will nudge you in the direction of sleep. Avoid doing anything that will rev you up and make it harder to doze off.

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.


Low-Key Activities, Low Lights

Resist the urge to get stuff done, even though you're wide awake. This is one time when it's better to be inefficient.

Keep your TV, computer, and phone off, and leave work alone. Your to-do list, online banking account, and Facebook can wait.

"Try to avoid [doing] anything productive," Rosenberg says. "If you feel good about getting something done, you'll reinforce the habit of waking early." Plus, you're going to be much sharper after you get some sleep, so chances are you'll handle those chores better then.

There's another reason to stay powered down. Anything with a screen lights up. The light from that screen could trick your brain into thinking it's daytime and that you need to be awake, Rosenberg says.

Troubleshoot Your Sleep Habits

Everyone has a bad night from time to time. Working on your sleep habits can help.

That includes going to bed at a regular time, making your last hour of the day relaxing, keeping your bedroom restful and devoted to sleep, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.

Try that for a couple of weeks, and your sleep should get better. If not, 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 Louise Chang, MD on August 27, 2012



National Sleep Foundation: "Insomnia."

American Sleep Association: "Insomnia."

Roth, T. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Aug. 15, 2007.

Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, medical director, Stanford Sleep Medicine Center.

Kloss, J.  Neuropsychopharmacology: The Fifth Generation of Progress.

Cleveland Clinic: "Menopause and Insomnia."

Cleve Kushida, medical director, Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine.

Russell Rosenberg, MD, chairman of the board, National Sleep Foundation.

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