If you tend to
wake up in the middle of the night, then you know it can be mighty difficult to fall back to sleep. Many times, it seems like the more you want and need to be asleep, the more awake you feel. But that's exactly why there are a few things you need to avoid doing if you wake up — including trying to fall back asleep.
To get tired again, "we need to keep our brains and bodies prepared for sleep,"
Chelsy Castro, JD, MA, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist and consultant, tells Bustle. "[Your brain doesn't know] that you plan on going back to bed after checking your email, going on social media, watching TV, or attempting to 'be productive,'" which is why these are just a few activities you may want to keep from doing.
"Once those systems get fired up, it is very difficult to quickly bring them back down to 'sleep mode,'" Castro says. "If we engage in activities that tell [us] it is
not time for sleep then our brains and bodies chemically follow suit. Thus it’s important to set ourselves up for 'sleep success' by avoiding these things and activities [...] and [instead] focusing on the things and activities that keep us in sleep mode."
With that in mind, read on below for a few things you shouldn't do if you happen to
wake up at night, in order to get back to sleep. Nadezhda Manakhova/Shutterstock
If you wake up in the middle of the night, it might be tempting to check the time and see how many more hours you have left before morning. But there are two solid reasons why this is a bad idea.
First of all, "looking at any source of light, whether a digital clock or phone, sends signals to the brain to wake up and turn off production of the
sleep-promoting hormone melatonin," Rose MacDowell, sleep expert and chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "The circadian rhythm and sleep-wake system are sensitive to light, and even a glance can make falling back to sleep more difficult."
But even more importantly, checking can create a feeling of urgency, MacDowell says, causing additional stress. And that's
anything but sleep-inducing.
Unless you wake up because you're hungry, you may not want to stumble groggily into the kitchen and have a middle-of-the-night snack, especially if it contains caffeine, since that can make you too jittery to sleep.
"Eating [also] activates the digestive system, which like sleep is controlled by the circadian rhythm," MacDowell says. "'Waking up' the digestive system by eating when these organs are usually inactive can desynchronize the circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep."
Don't Lie There For Hours
While it may seem beneficial to lie in bed and wait for sleep, it's actually better to get up and do something else for a while. And this is even more true if it's been more than twenty minutes.
Here's why: "Remaining in bed
when you can’t sleep can condition the brain to associate the bed with frustration and anxiety," MacDowell says. "If you don’t fall back to sleep quickly, get up and engage in a quiet activity such as meditation or reading a book by dim light until you feel ready to sleep."
By getting up, your bed will remain a comfy place for sleep, instead of a place where you lie stricken with anxiety. So get up, and "repeat as often as necessary until you fall asleep," MacDowell says.
"Smartphones, laptops, TVs, and other devices emit blue light, which has a similar effect on the brain and circadian rhythm as sunlight," MacDowell says. By glancing at them, you''ll essentially be telling your body it's morning, and time to wake up. "Exposure to blue light can wake you up further, and keep you awake longer," she says.
Again, if you want to do something for a few minutes until you get sleepy again, try reading by a dim lamp. This won't wake your body up in the same way, and will make it easier to fall back asleep.
Don't Turn On Bright Lights
"Similar to using technology, turning on the lights will send signals to the brain that it's daytime or that there's an emergency that must be dealt with,"
Kelly Benson, a holistic sleep specialist, tells Bustle. "When this happens, your brain will try to 'help' you by producing cortisol through the pituitary gland, which can take several hours to rebound from." So do yourself a favor and only turn on dim lamps if need be, instead of bright overhead lights.
Don't Take A Sleep Supplement
taking a sleep aid before bed may be helpful, they aren't always the best thing to reach for in the middle of the night, especially if it's almost morning.
As MacDowell says, "Most prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids are meant to be taken only if you’re able to sleep for at least seven hours. Sleep supplements and medications may make it easier to fall asleep, but difficult — and potentially dangerous — to wake up with sedating substances still in your system."
The last thing you want to do is wake up an hour or two later, and attempt to get on with your day while still feeling groggy. Instead, try to calm your mind and allow yourself to drift back to sleep naturally.
Don't Scroll Through Social Media
Scrolling through social media may seem like a relaxing activity. After all, you're probably only looking at photos and watching funny videos. But the reality is, even the most lighthearted posts can be more stimulating than you think.
"Social media (or any phone use really) can stress you out or provide energy,"
Carolyn Burke, campaign manager for The Sleep Advisor with a certification in sleep coaching, tells Bustle. "And the exposure to blue light hurts the sleep/wake cycle."
It can be tough to wake up in the middle of the night knowing you
need to fall back asleep in order to be a functional person come morning. But stressing about how many hours you have left before you alarm goes off will only make things worse.
"The more you pressure yourself to fall asleep, the more likely you are to stay awake," MacDowell says. "Deep breathing, mindfulness, and
progressive muscle relaxation can help distract you from negative thoughts and put you back to sleep." So instead of counting the hours, give these tips a try.
Don't Try To Problem Solve
"While not 'active' with regards to your body, mental tasks, especially problem solving, should also be avoided," Castro says. "Trying to solve a problem at night is likely to fire up your flight-or-fight response and release hormones that will get your body ready to wake up and be physically active."
If you find yourself thinking about what you need to do at work, or what you need to say to a friend, stop and distract yourself with something more relaxing.
"Some people believe that exercise will tire them out,"
Vinay Saranga MD, psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry, tells Bustle, and they get up to do a few pushups or squats in order to feel sleepy again.
But this is yet another thing to stay away from. "While exercise does help induce quality sleep overall," Saranga says, "the immediate impact of engaging in a physical activity will get the blood flowing and wake you up more."
"Rehashing the day’s events at night is likely anxiety-inducing," Castro says, and again will trigger your fight-or-flight response, leaving you too anxious and stressed to fall back asleep.
If you have something on your mind, try writing it down so you can remember to think about it in the morning. Because the best thing to do, when you need to sleep, is to keep your thoughts as simple as possible.
If you think now is the time to tidy your room or sweep the floor, you may want to reconsider. "Similar to exercising in the middle of the night, being 'productive' with housework will have the opposite of the desired impact," Castro says. "It will get you and keep you awake and out of 'sleep mode' due to the release of hormones triggered by your activity and likely exposure to light."
Don't Try To Get Work Done
Similarly, getting some work done "may seem like a good use of time if you're up in in the middle of the night, but any kind of high stress or high mental engagement activity [will] only make you more alert,"
Kathryn Tipton, MA LPC, a psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "We don't want you more alert at night. We want your body to be relaxed and mildly bored so that the signals for sleepiness can return."
And that's why you won't want to turn on lights, scroll through social media, or even check the time if you wake up in the middle of the night. By avoiding these common mistakes, it'll be much easier to
fall back asleep.