Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on April 02, 2020

The Struggle of Insomnia

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About 20% of people wake up in the middle of the night, then struggle to get back to sleep. This type of insomnia can be stressful, not to mention exhausting. Keep reading for tips to help you quickly doze off -- and steps you can take to keep these mid-sleep awakenings from happening in the first place.

Forget About the Time

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As you toss and turn in the middle of the night, it’s tempting to peek at your clock. But each time you do, you’ll worry how much sleep you’ve lost and only add to your stress. That can make it even harder for you to relax and get back to sleep. Turn your clock toward the wall, put your watch in a drawer, and resist the urge to check the time on your phone.

Stay Away From Screens

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The blue light from any screen, whether a tablet, phone, or laptop, signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up. Keep devices out of reach when you wake up in the middle of the night. And while you’re at it, turn off all your screens an hour before bedtime, too.

Move to Another Room

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If you’ve been awake for 20 minutes or longer, you may want to get up and out of bed. Without turning on any bright lights, move to a different room. Don’t turn on the TV. Instead, do something peaceful and calming. You could take a few deep breaths or read a book. (Just don’t choose a real page-turner!) If you wait until you feel sleepy to go back to bed, you may find it easier to drift off.

Don’t Be Productive

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You may be tempted to make the most of your extra time awake, but don't. The middle of the night isn’t the right time to tackle chores, get ahead at work, or be creative in the kitchen. If you do and get something out of it, you reward your brain for waking up when it shouldn't. That makes it more likely to happen again.

Get Counting -- Backwards

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Is a “busy brain” the reason you’re up at night? If so, you’ll need to turn it off before you can get back to sleep. One easy way to do that: Count backwards from 100. It shifts your focus away from past regrets and future worries and forces your brain to stay in the present. Once that happens, you may feel relaxed enough to close your eyes and return to sleep.

Ease Your Muscles

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Your muscles need to be at ease for you to fall asleep. If you’re tense, you might not even realize that they are, too. A technique called “progressive relaxation” can help. Start at your feet and flex all the muscles in your toes for 5 seconds, then relax. Take a slow, deep breath. Repeat these steps with your legs, backside, belly, chest, arms, and face. You’ll feel the difference.

Unwind at Bedtime

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Find ways to ease your stress before you go to bed. You might want to listen to soothing music or a calming podcast. You could also do a few easy yoga poses or just sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. When you fall asleep with a quiet mind, you’re more likely to stay asleep.

Cut Back on Caffeine

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Whether it’s in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, or chocolate, caffeine triggers your brain to stay awake. And although these effects begin quickly (within an hour), they also linger in your body longer than you may realize. Half of the caffeine in your drinks is still in your system 3 to 5 hours after you drink it. To make sure your sleep doesn’t pay a price, avoid all caffeine after 1 p.m.

Aim for a Noise-Free Bedroom

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While you sleep, your brain is still listening. The sounds that it hears can wake you up, even from deep sleep. This is more likely the later it gets, or if the noise signals danger, like a crying baby or a police siren. Make your bedroom as quiet as you can. Earplugs might help. A fan or white noise machine can also block sounds that can jolt you awake.

Keep Cool

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Is your bedroom too warm? Cool temperatures help your body sleep. So try to keep your sleeping space between 60 and 67 degrees. It can be a challenge to stay cool if you’re going through menopause and are prone to hot flashes and night sweats. If you are, you may also want to turn on a fan. You might also want to cover up with several light blankets instead of one heavy comforter.

Go Easy on the Alcohol

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You may think a beer or glass of wine before bed helps you fall asleep. Alcohol does boost a chemical in your body that helps you sleep. But you quickly run out of this chemical. That can leave you wide awake before morning. (A drink before bed can also get you up to use the bathroom.) Cut back on the adult beverages and you’ll likely sleep more soundly.

Meditate

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Learn this popular practice and you’ll be able to quiet those racing, middle-of-the-night thoughts. It’s simpler than it sounds. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Think of a calming word or short phrase. You can also picture a place that makes you happy. If your thoughts wander off, don’t judge yourself. Simply return to your breathing and the focus you’ve chosen. The more you practice it, the easier it'll get.

Stick to a Schedule

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If you were up for a while during the night, you’ll likely be tired and groggy the next morning. If you can, try not to sleep in or take a nap to make up for it. It’s crucial to stick close to the same bedtime and wake-up time every day. It trains your body to know awake time vs. sleep time. Once it does, you might find yourself waking up less often.

Talk to Your Doctor

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Some people wake up in the middle of the night because of a health issue. If you try these tips and still find yourself awake when you should be asleep, let your doctor know. Chronic pain, mental health conditions like depression, and sleep issues like sleep apnea may be to blame. If so, your doctor can suggest a treatment or refer you to a specialist who can help.

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