We need to teach our bodies to fall asleep again. Most of us have been there: wide awake at 3 a.m. and no inkling that falling back asleep is on the horizon. For those of us who experience this regularly, it’s even more frustrating and exhausting. Constant bouts of sleepless nights can significantly affect our:
Why does nighttime waking happen ?
Most people wake up once or twice during the night. The reasons why are endless. For most, it’s likely behavioral or environmental reasons like drinking caffeine or alcohol late in the day. It may also be due to a poor sleep environment. There may also be deeper reasons such as a sleep disorder or another medical condition.
Generally speaking, adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. You can expect to cycle through light, deep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep several times during a full night of sleep.
The majority of deep sleep happens early on in the night. In the morning, you’re mainly in REM and light sleep. That’s what makes it easier to wake up.
Health implications of waking at night
Waking up in the middle of the night is extremely common. However, chronic waking and insomnia can have harmful effects on the body. If you wake up in the middle of the night, that means you haven’t achieved deep sleep.
In a meta-analysis of 74 studies researchers found that disrupted sleep patterns correlate to a higher risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. According to the CDC adults who sleep less than 7 hours a night are more likely to report health problems like heart attack, asthma, and depression.
Meditation & Relaxation Techniques
Meditating to fall back asleep is a great option to calm your restless mind. Using meditation:
- activates the parasympathetic nervous system
- lowers the heart rate
- encourages slow breathing
One study showed that participants who engaged in a mindful awareness practice showed significant improvement over those who received sleep hygiene education.
Deep Breathing to Fall Back Asleep
Deep breathing is a well-known method of stress reduction and relaxation, if done correctly. Taking slow deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth using the diaphragm, can help relax the body and mind and in turn help with sleep.
Start by putting your hand on your stomach. Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath through your nose, making sure that you can feel your abdomen rise. Try to breathe in for a slow count of six. Release that breath very slowly — to the same count of six — through your mouth.
Try Guided Sleep Meditations
Meditation, of course, is a great way to calm the mind. But if you’re not a practiced meditator, the act of trying to keep your mind focused might become a source of stress.
You could try a guided sleep app, some of which actually embed delta sleep waves. Put it on loop so you don’t wake up
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Another option is progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes and working your way up to your forehead, tightly tense each of your muscles for 5 seconds and then let them relax completely. Do this until you’ve tensed and relaxed the entire body, from your face to your toes.
Stop the Mental Blame Game & Avoid Clock Watching
If your brain has been in high gear all day, it has a harder time shutting down. Bring it back to neutral at least a couple of times a day with 5-minute breaks of breath work.
You also start repeatedly worrying about the effects of lack of sleep. And as with most worries, you probably judge yourself for it.Throw yourself a little compassion and become calm about the situation.It’s important not to get worked up about one bad night’s sleep because anxiety itself makes it difficult to fall back asleep.
Avoid watching the clock again and again as you usually end up trying to determine how much time you have left to sleep and worrying about whether you will fall back to sleep in a reasonable amount of time. Seeing the time may only rev you up again.
Set Your Environment up For Sleep Success
Go for an environment that’s dark and cave-like, yet safe and comforting. If you want to make some tweaks to create a soothing space, the following tips can help:
- Install blackout curtains to keep your room light-free.
- Use an eye mask and earplugs.
- Invest in a white noise machine.
- Listen to a soothing playlist.
- Replace night lights with red lights.
One study showed that red light had a less disruptive effect on sleep phases than blue light.
Don’t Drink Alcohol or Coffee Before Bed
As alcohol is metabolized it forms acetaldehyde which is stimulating.Therefore if you drink too much alcohol right before going to bed, in about four hours it is converted to aldehyde which can disrupt sleep and wake you up.In addition to awakenings during the night, alcohol can cause frequent trips to the bathroom because it inhibits a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH), resulting in increased urination.
Coffee consists of caffeine which causes you to stay up and awake. This causes sleep disturbances.
Write Down Your Worries
It’s best to try to get rid of your worries as much as possible, well before bed. Experts say. “Close the day by capturing anything left to do tomorrow so you don’t have to work on that at 3 am and bullet point ongoing issues so you have a clear picture”. Do a quick writing dump of worries, thoughts and ideas before sleeping and release pending tension.
As tempting as it can be, don’t pick up your phone when you wake in the early morning. There are a few reasons why this affects your sleep. First, you can get sucked into whatever is popping up in your inbox or trending on social media and become too stimulated to sleep.
Additionally, the blue light can affect your body and make you feel like it’s time to wake up.
No Sleep: Get up after 20 minutes
Experts say “Don’t just lie there staring at the ceiling”. If you can’t get back to sleep after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed and go into another room where there is dim light and do something calming until you feel drowsy again. Sometimes reading a book can help you fall back asleep. Avoid phones or TV.
Some natural sleep aids are available over the counter. Many are herbs or supplements that are generally considered safe. However, you should always tell your doctor before taking any herbal supplement or over the counter sleep aid.
Waking in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep is a common problem. When it happens more often than not, it’s important to make changes.
Good sleep is essential to our physical and mental well-being. A few simple tweaks may be all it takes to sleep soundly. If you aren’t able to find a solution by changing some habits or environmental circumstances, consider talking with your doctor or seeing a behavioral sleep medicine therapist. They can help explore the causes and the best ways to resolve your sleep problems.