How to Get Back to Sleep in The Middle of The Night

8 Min Read | By Brett Janes

Last Modified 7 June 2024   First Added 7 May 2019

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.
There are many reasons you may be waking up in the middle of the night, from your partner snoring loudly next to you, or even troubled thoughts about the day before. In more serious cases, you may have something called sleep-maintenance insomnia which is a medical term used to define the inability to return back to sleep after waking up. Once you’re unexpectedly awake, it can often be difficult to fall asleep. But the good news is there are many ways for you to get back to sleep, with little effort.

9 tips to go back to sleep after waking up

If you’re a restless sleeper and can’t back to sleep each time you wake up throughout the night, try some of the following sleep tips below.

Unwind before you go to sleep at university via Sleep Matters Club

1. Get up and do something

If you can’t get back to sleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something low-key such as reading, meditating or listening to music. You might find it helpful to get out of bed so you can have a change of scene before trying to sleep again. It’s important that you associate your bedroom with sleep, so find another quiet space in your home to unwind with a relaxing activity. It’s best to stay out of your bedroom for 30 minutes until you feel sleepy again.

image of bedsheets with coloured light

2. Keep the lights low

If you do get up, keep the lights down low. This is because studies have shown that darkness helps produce the sleep hormone melatonin. Also, resist the urge to use devices with blue light, such as TVs, tablets, and smartphones in bed, as blue light also stops you from producing melatonin. Research has found when compared to dim lighting, bright bedroom lighting can reduce nightly melatonin production by as much as 90 minutes. To resist the urge of checking your smart devices, make your bedroom a screen-free zone, there’s plenty of time to scroll through your favourite apps in the daytime.

man watching clock

3. Don’t watch the clock

If you’re someone who is likely to check the time regularly, turn the clock around. If you wake up from anxiety, resist the urge to keep checking the clock – this will only heighten the anxiety of being awake. A YouGov poll on mental health in the UK found that 1 in 5 suffers from anxiety most or all of the time. This can often present itself at night when you cannot easily distract yourself from your thoughts. Instead of watching the time tick away, try and distract your mind with a mug of hot milk or watch traffic outside until drowsy again.

4. Keep the room cool

Another factor to consider in sleeping disorders is your core body temperature, which will be affected by how hot your bedroom is. A cooler bedroom will help you fall back to sleep more easily. The Sleep Council advises your bedroom to be between 16-18 degrees Celsius, so turn your heating off an hour before bedtime to adjust accordingly.

Check out our tips for staying cool at night to get better sleep. 

5. Try a breathing exercise to relax

If you can’t get back to sleep, there are relaxation breathing techniques you can experiment with. There are two different methods that are said to get you to sleep within two minutes, the 4-7-8 breathing method and the Progressive Muscle Relaxation method (PMR). Follow these steps for the 4-7-8 method:

  1. Placing the tip of your tongue behind your two front teeth
  2. Deep breath through your mouth with your lips parted slightly
  3. Simply inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds
  4. Complete at least 4 cycles until you feel relaxed enough to sleep

With the PMR method, the trick is to strain and then relax every muscle in your body, starting from your head to your toes. For example, smile to create tension in your cheeks and then release it. Do the same with your neck, arms, chest, legs, and feet to relax your whole body.

6. Try the military sleep method

When you wake in the middle of the night, your priority is getting back to sleep as quickly as possible. This is where the military sleep method comes in. Another kind of PMR, this sleep method aims to get you to sleep in just two minutes by relaxing each part of your body and clearing your mind completely.

couple walking on beach

7. Visualise sights, sounds and scents

When you just can’t get back to sleep, another method you can try is visualisation. It’s a type of meditation that can distract your busy mind and help you feel relaxed enough to drift away into a deep slumber. Think about memorable places you’ve been or even new imaginary places filled with dreams, magic, sweet scents, and soothing sounds. Anything that diverts your mind away from not being able to sleep is perfect.

Imagery visualisation has been scientifically proven to help you fall back asleep, so next time you lay wide awake, imagine yourself soaking up the sun on a luxurious beach or even test the classic counting sheep method. If you find you need more help with this kind of mindfulness, try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method that leads you through each sense to help clear your mind to get back to sleep or the 10-3-2-1-0 method.

8. Lifestyle changes

To get rid of sleepless nights in the long term, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make that will increase your chances of a good night’s rest. First and foremost, it’s important to establish a sleep pattern by falling asleep and waking up early morning at the same time every day. It’s also important to schedule for around 8 hours every night. If you’re someone who struggles sleeping at night, ensure you don’t nap during the day.

9. Keep a sleep diary

It might be helpful to start keeping a sleep diary to stick to a sleep schedule. With this, you can record your sleep patterns and habits and then talk to your GP about them to see if you can devise a strategy for sleeping better. There are many benefits of keeping a sleep journal, including reduced stress, increased creativity and improved sleep in the long term.

Why do I wake up in the middle of the night?

It is common to wake up once or twice during the night, and this may be because of the glass of wine you’ve enjoyed before bed, noisy pets, restless kids, or an uncomfortable bed. There’s no shortage of nuisances that make staying asleep difficult. And studies show that sleeping badly has become a widespread problem that is widely unrecognised. Here are 6 common causes that will leave you wide awake.

A colourpoint kitten in a white bed

1. Sharing a room with your pet

While our sleep survey found an 18% increase in sharing the bed with a pet since 2016, the Mayo Clinic discovered that 53% of those who sleep with their pet are disturbed by them during the night! To solve this, train your pets to sleep in another room– establish the bedroom as off-limits at all times and stick to it. Also, feed and let pets out earlier in the day to move their routines forward, and don’t respond when they bark or cry.

2. You or your partner snoring

As many as 1 in 4 people in England snore regularly, and twice as many men snore as women. The NHS advises sleeping on your side, rather than your back, to alleviate gravitational pressure on the airway. Other changes, such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, can help. Remember that snoring can signal underlying conditions, such as sleep apnoea, so consult your GP if it’s becoming problematic.

3. Drinking alcohol before bed

Up to 7.9 million Britons have used alcohol to help them sleep, according to research, even though doing so often results in waking up in the middle of the night. This is because alcohol results in lighter sleep, even though it may send you to sleep quickly. It’s best to avoid alcohol for at least 4 hours before bedtime to avoid suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin. Also, try not to stay up past your usual bedtime, as this only increases alcohol’s sleep-depriving effects.

The Science Behind Why Alcohol is Bad Before Bed

mum reading story to child

4. Your kids need attention

1 in 10 people says their children disturb their sleep. This rises to 26% for parents aged 25-34 which is the age they are most likely to have young children. Although this may be a bit trickier to fix, it’s best to be consistent, so if they try to hop in your bed, always escort them back to their room. They’ll soon get used to sleeping in their own room, and you can enjoy your bed to yourself.

5. It’s time for a new bed

After 7 years, a bed in regular use will have deteriorated by up to 75% from its ‘as new’ condition, which will consequently result in poor sleep hygiene for you. If this results in discomfort or back pain, it might help to invest in a mattress topper which offers extra cushioning. Failing this, if your mattress is over 8 years old, it might be time to renew.

You can find some more helpful advice around this in our Bed & Mattress Guide; it’ll ensure you find the best mattress for your pressure points.

6. Restless leg syndrome (RLS)

Over 80% of people with RLS also suffer periodic limb movements (twitchy legs) while asleep. Massaging your legs before bed will help with this, as will taking a warm bath or applying a hot compress to your legs to help relax the muscles. To further relaxation, try doing some light stretching or yoga before bed.

All our sleep tips shared on how to get back to sleep have been summarised in the infographic below. Next time you’re lying wide awake at night, remember our guide to help you drift off back into a peaceful dream. If 20 minutes pass and you just can’t sleep, get up and read your favourite book, meditate or listen to some soothing sounds.

How to Get Back to Sleep In The Middle of The Night Infographic

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