You wake up at 2 a.m. covered in cold sweat. Perhaps you’ve been subconsciously worrying about money, or maybe your cat jumped on your chest. Whatever the cause of your interrupted sleep, it’s unpleasant to find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night—not to mention incredibly challenging to go back to sleep!
Getting sufficient rest has countless benefits for your mental and emotional health. While one night of insomnia isn’t a crisis, consistent sleep deprivation can have negative and lasting consequences.
So, what should you do when you’re wide-eyed at midnight? Follow our short guide so that you can start getting sufficient sleep tonight and every night.
Take a Deep Breath
When you wake up suddenly, it can be startling. Besides the initial shock, there’s the natural concern that you won’t be able to fall back asleep.
This can quickly spiral out of control as you imagine sleeping through your alarm or showing up at meetings unable to string two thoughts together.
Don’t let anxiety takeover. Instead:
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of four
- Exhale through your mouth
- If you’re not afraid of waking up your partner, let out an audible sigh
These simple actions can start sending your brain and body the signal that it’s still relaxation time.
Start to Quiet Your Mind
After you’ve taken your first deep breath, use a tried-and-true method: start counting sheep.
Why does this work? Focusing your brain on a simple, repetitive, and slightly boring task takes your mind off your anxieties, preparing you for sleep again.
Of course, sheep aren’t your only option. Try the following alternatives:
- Count backwards from 100
- Use a meditation mantra like “I am grateful for the rest I’m getting”
- Practice another meditation technique
Not well-versed in mantras and meditation? Not to worry! New technology can help.
Invest in a Sleep Device
Sleep aid devices are designed to gently train and coach restless sleepers. Depending on your needs, look for features like the following:
- Guided meditation – Use your device to gently calm and quiet your mind
- Breath rate detection – Some devices can detect common physiological stress indicators and provide strategies to address them
- Ambient sound – If rainfall always helps you sleep, invest in a device that mimics its sound
While a sleep machine may feel like an indulgence, investing in yourself is an important form of self-care that can benefit your health. That way, you can show up for the other people in your life.
If You’re Up, You’re Up
Sometimes, sleep just isn’t in the cards. No matter how many strategies you try, your mind is crystal clear.
In fact, you might not want to waste the ideas that are suddenly flowing! If this is the case, try a gentle activity that can focus your mind and relax your body.
- Read a book, using a warm-toned book light to maximize the chances you’ll fall back asleep
- Write down your ideas, or journal about how you’re feeling so that you can identify potential triggers for restless sleep
- Do gentle yoga, focusing on restorative poses like legs up the wall that can help calm your nervous system
Who knows? After twenty minutes, you may be ready to get some more shut eye.
Set the Stage for Sleep Tomorrow
Eventually, your alarm will go off, and you’ll start your day. After a poor night’s sleep, take action to maximize the chances that you’ll sleep well on the following night.
- Avoiding caffeine, especially after 3 p.m.
- Skipping naps, which can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime
- Getting exercise to make sure you’re sufficiently tired
- Taking supplements like valerian root and melatonin
Hopefully, you’ll be able to hit the sheets and get uninterrupted sleep!
Change is Possible
If you often wake up in the middle of the night, it’s easy to develop the belief that you’re just a “bad sleeper” or even an “insomniac.”
These limiting beliefs can hide what’s in plain sight—the behavioral and environmental factors that are contributing to your poor sleep. If you’ve been sleeping poorly for a week or more, consider a bedroom makeover or a new sleep routine.
Just remember that change is possible. With time and effort, we have every confidence that you’ll find your unique path to better sleep.