How to fall back to sleep after waking up

What to do, and what not to do

We’ve all been there. We’ve woken up from a peaceful slumber, thanks to a nightmare, a random sound or the urge to pee, and as we try to get back to sleep, we find we just can’t. Our minds are awake and racing, and the more we try to fall back asleep, the harder it is.

But there are ways to help yourself get past this hurdle and back to dreamland. Here’s a roundup of do’s and don’ts for falling back asleep, so you’re better prepared the next time this happens to you.

Do

  • Try leaving the room: “If one is awake after 15 minutes, it may be helpful to leave the bedroom and engage in restful activity and return to the bedroom when sleepy,” says Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, a triple board-certified physician and Yoga Medicine® teacher. She suggests listening to relaxing music, writing in your journal or reading a book in low light until you feel tired again.
  • Try breathing techniques: Bhanote recommends trying guided meditation or visualization to quiet the mind, and if you’re feeling tense, progressive muscle relaxation may do the trick.

Don’t

  • Turn to screens: Bhanote says bright light, like the light from your phone, tablet or computer, will trigger your body to be awake.
  • Pour a drink: “Avoid reaching for an alcoholic beverage. Even though alcohol may initially make you feel relaxed and sleepy, studies demonstrate that it decreases quality and sleep duration.”
  • Watch the clock: Keeping your eye on the clock will actually increase stress and anxiety about going to sleep, Bhanote says, and could further prevent you from falling asleep.
A word on sleep supplements

“Sleep medications are often used, but at best they produce negligible outcomes and often come with a number of side effects,” Bhanote says.

“The pineal gland, which is located deep in our brain, is responsible for producing the circadian hormone melatonin. As we age, our production of melatonin decreases.”

Many of her tips above can help increase your body’s natural production of melatonin, but you can also increase it naturally by getting some sun in the morning, exercising and eating foods that boost melatonin production such as tart cherries, goji berries, asparagus, pomegranate, olives, broccoli, walnuts, sunflower seeds and flax seeds.

“As for essential oils,” Bhanote says, “some studies have shown benefit in improving sleep quality and providing relief from disrupted sleep. The most frequently studied oil is lavender. Another consideration is lemon balm, which has been used both as a tea, capsule or essential oil.”

But, she says, as with any medication, essential oil or supplement, you should be cautious and discuss usage with your health-care provider.

Bonus sleep hygiene tips

“Behavioural interventions can be effective in managing sleep issues,” Bhanote says. “This may include getting into bed with the intention to sleep only when sleepy, using the bed and bedroom [only] for sleep and sexual activity, keeping the same wake time irrespective of hours of sleep, and avoiding napping until sleep is regular.”

You may also want to consider limiting your caffeine intake to the earlier part of the day and no later than 2 o’clock, she says. “Caffeine can stay in our body for variable amounts of time and everyone metabolizes it differently. Studies have also shown that caffeine can interfere with melatonin production.”