Sleep is a basic bodily function, so you’d think it would be easy. For some people, maybe it is. However, millions of folks across the country struggle every day with a getting a solid night’s sleep. Why do we keep waking up in the middle of the night?
Insomnia is a complex topic, with about a million possible explanations. From your health to environmental factors, there are a lot of potential reasons you aren’t getting your full eight hours.
There’s also a whole cottage industry of systems to help you sleep better, from relaxing yoga routines to heavy-duty medications. In other words, we hear a lot about the things you should do, but aren’t as informed about activities you need to avoid.
We’re here to help. Below is a a comprehensive list of all the tempting things you shouldn’t do if you find yourself waking up in the night. From checking your phone to hitting the head, here’s everything you should never do in the middle of the night.
Why Do I Keep Waking Up At Night?
Lots of people suffer from insomnia, or difficulty sleeping, at one point or another. Some people struggle to get to sleep in the first place, while other folks have trouble staying asleep. If you keep waking up in the middle of the night, you fall into the second category, and there could be a few different explanations.
Some people wake up due to stress and anxiety, which can affect dreaming. Others may be dealing with some kind of hormonal shift that causes wakefulness. Still others might have environmental issues to deal with, like a snoring partner or a night-owl neighbor. Nevertheless, waking up in the night doesn’t have to rob you of your full eight hours.
Read through to learn what steps to avoid if you want to fall back asleep.
DON’T: Sit Up
If you slowly exit dreamland and realize you’re awake again, try to hold perfectly still. When you realize you’re awake, it might be tempting to sit up in bed, but it’s better for your sleep cycle if you remain reclined.
That’s because just the minor motion of sitting up actually raises your heart rate. Your heart beats slowly when you’re asleep, and sitting up starts it pumping faster. This in turn boosts blood flow to the brain, causing you become more alert and less asleep.
DON’T: Check Your Phone
You may have already heard that computers and screens are bad for your sleep cycle. The type of blue light that they emit sends confusing signals to our brains, prompting our circadian rhythms to get messed up.
Basically, checking your phone or computer makes your brain think it’s daytime. Plus, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram engages your brain and makes it hard to drift back into soft, sleeping thoughts.
DON’T: Check Your Clock
Whatever you do, don’t roll over and check your clock. In fact, it might be better to keep a clock that doesn’t light up, so you can’t easily read what it’s saying. Not only is the bright light of a digital clock distracting, it’s not good for your sleep cycle to know what time it is.
If you see that it’s 4 a.m., you may start calculating how many hours you have left until you have to get up, and you may stress over it. Unsurprisingly, stressing over how much you need sleep is not conducive to dropping back off. It’s better to fight curiosity and simply refuse to look at the clock.
DON’T: Wake Up Your Partner
This one should probably go without saying, but if you find yourself wide awake at 2 a.m., try to let your partner sleep. It probably goes without saying that you shouldn’t wake your partner up outright — they need their sleep too! If you flip on the light or clamber noisily out of bed, you’re just going to end up with double the cranky, sleepy people the next morning.
Of course, there are exceptions: if your partner is making enough noise in his or her sleep to wake you up, there’s a chance that they need to be woken too, particularly if they have asthma, sleep apnea, or allergies that might contribute to snoring and difficulty breathing while asleep. If that sounds like your partner, a trip to the doctor might be in order.
DON’T: Toss And Turn
When you wake up in the middle of the night, your whole body tends to be very still, with all of the muscles relaxed. It’s natural to start wiggling around to try to get some sensations going, but you should resist.
Your muscles are relaxed because it’s easier to sleep that way, and they don’t need to be active during the night. When you start moving and rustling around, it “wakes up” your muscles and gets them active again. You might have a hard time getting back to that first comfy spot, because now your muscles are all tensed up. It’s better to stay totally still and avoid tensing up; you’ll float right back to sleep!
DON’T: Get Up To Pee
If you drink too much water before bed, there’s a good chance you’ll wake up in the night because of a full bladder clamoring to be emptied. There’s not much you can do about it, other than drinking less water before bed. When you gotta go, you gotta go!
Lots of medical conditions also make peeing in the night a necessity. People who are diabetic, pregnant, or have a bladder or prostate condition should never ignore the urge to go. However, if you wake up for some other reason and happen to notice a slight urge to go, just hold it. It’s common to think that relieving yourself will put you back to sleep, but that’s not how it usually works out.
Getting out of bed, switching on the light, washing your hands — these actions all send signals of morning-time wakefulness to your brain, which make it harder to drop off again.
How Can I Fall Back Asleep Quickly?
So, if you do find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, what should you do to drift off again?
First of all, try not to get up or even shift around. Stay right where you are and consciously relax all of your muscles so you feel like you’re melting right into the mattress.
Then, take deep, slow breaths while letting your mind wander aimlessly.
If you find yourself starting to stress or fixate on one topic, deliberately think of something soothing and let your brain play “word association” with that topic until conscious thoughts start to turn into dreams.
Before long, you’ll be fast asleep once more!