How to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up at Night

Tara Youngblood Sep 12, 2022

Wake up in the night

Did you know that it’s normal to wake up in the middle of the night? It’s a natural part of our sleep cycle. Most of the time, we don’t even remember that we woke up.

The problem comes when we can’t seem to fall back to sleep. Rather than a quick rollover as we cuddle back into the comfort of our covers, our brain is suddenly wide awake. Instead of the rejuvenating and restful sleep that we need and deserve, we spend the remainder of the night tossing, turning, staring, and swearing.

Fortunately, many practical solutions positively impact learning how to fall back asleep.

Body Temperature Plays a Role in Sleep

Falling into a deep sleep is linked with cooling your body temperature, and being hot can reduce the likelihood of you falling asleep and staying asleep—cool your body with one of our sleep systems; Dock Pro, OOLER or Cube. Temperature ranges from 55-115º.
Dock Pro vs cooling fans

Sleep Science: A Brief Overview

As the body’s circadian rhythm adjusts to the nighttime hours, levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin, increase. This signals the brain that it’s time to settle down and crawl into bed. As we fall asleep, our body enters into alternating cycles of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep.

Each REM and non-REM sleep cycle lasts between 90 and 120 minutes. On average, there are between four and six sleep cycles per night.

Numerous other hormones and enzymes do their part, so that amazing physiological changes occur. First, the body temperature begins to drop by between 1- and 2-degrees Fahrenheit. Breathing rate rises and falls between the non-REM stages (slower and more regular) and REM (more rapid and shallow).

Heart rate and blood pressure also oscillate during REM and non-REM sleep. Brain activity goes up during REM, even more than during the day [1]

Why Can’t I Fall Back Asleep After Waking?

The first thing to remember in answering this question is that you are not alone. According to the CDC, a third of US adults (on average) aged 18 and over report not getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night.

For those aged 25 to 64, it's between 35.6% and 37.8%, [2] This figure is particularly striking because these age groups typically carry heavy responsibilities for caregiving of children and elders, shouldering financial burdens, and developing productive professional careers.

Consumer Reports Statistic: 27% of people in a new survey of 4,023 U.S. adults said they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.

There are countless reasons why it’s challenging to get back to sleep after nighttime awakenings. What can cause you to wake up out of peaceful sleep?

Factors that influence your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep include: [3]

Sleep Factors

  • Stress

  • Sleeping Environment

  • Medications

  • Medical Conditions

Shift workers commonly have problems falling and staying asleep due to disruption in the natural circadian rhythm. Similarly, many airline travelers suffer from jet lag because the body becomes out of sync with the new time zone.

Improving Your Sleep Means Improving Your Health

Decades of scientific research have proven the extraordinary importance of sleep. [4] Health implications for compromised sleep include and are not limited to:

  • Decreased attention, memory, and cognition. [5]
  • Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. [6]
  • Increased risk of obesity. [7]
  • Anxiety and other mood disorders. [8]

Fortunately, there has been an explosion in scientific research on successfully addressing this major public health problem. [9]

How to Go Back to Sleep?

Tara Youngblood, Physicist, Chief Sleep Scientist, and CEO of Chilisleep compares the mechanisms of the brain and body that help us to effectively sleep and function at peak performance during the day to a complex and intricate internal clock.

“Your body’s internal clock syncs with different hours of the day, and a different organ works its hardest during different shifts. It’s best if you work with your organs so that they can perform when they’re meant to.” [para. 15] [10] Health experts have made several scientifically-based recommendations.

1. Get Out of Bed

Sleep experts recommend that getting out of bed is a good idea if you're unable to fall asleep within the first 20 minutes. Doing something relaxing in a different room can help distract your mind and make it easier to fall asleep when you return to your bedroom.

2. Avoid Looking at the Alarm Clock

Staring at your alarm clock can be easy, especially if you are awake and unable to fall back asleep. However, this practice can make you feel anxious about not being able to sleep.

People will usually try to determine how much more time they have left to sleep and worry if they will be able to fall asleep. [11] Doing so can make returning to sleep more difficult. People who often deal with anxiety usually worry about falling asleep, and individuals who have difficulties falling asleep tend to feel anxious.

3. Write Down Your Thoughts and Worries

If you have a lot on your mind before bedtime, including your worries, take some time and write as many down as possible. Writing down your thoughts can help ease your mind and remind you of anything you may need to do the next day.

Based on findings from a recent study, journaling before bedtime may help reduce stress and worry while increasing sleep time and improving sleep quality.

Sleep Tip: Set aside 15 minutes each night to write down positive thoughts and experiences and how you felt throughout the day. This can help "turn off" your brain and drift into a deep sleep.

4. Listen to Relaxing Music

Did you know listening to relaxing music can help you relax and quiet your mind? Music can slow your heart rate and breathing and even relax your muscles. The recommended music includes classical music, folk songs, and jazz. But, of course, music is a personal preference, and you're likely to relax and fall back asleep with something that you enjoy.

Sleep Tip: Try listening to relaxing music before bedtime. In a recent study [12] adults who listened to 45 minutes of music before going to sleep reported having better sleep quality starting on the first night.

5. Consistency in Sleep Schedule

It’s always beneficial if you can rise and go to bed simultaneously each day, even when you’re off work. Don’t worry if you need to make exceptions (holidays, traveling, and other special occasions). Just try to get back on that same schedule as soon as possible.

Read More: 11 Tips on How to Create a Better Nighttime Routine

6. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a cognitive training practice that coaches you to calm your mind and body by letting go of negativity and slowing down your racing thoughts.

Meditative, deep breathing exercises and guided meditation encourage relaxation and self-compassion. This, in turn, can decrease stress levels. In a randomized clinical trial, mindful meditation practice conducted by certified specialists improved sleep quality for older adults. [13]

Meditation Exercises

Prioritizing your mental well-being through meditation allows your body to find and maintain relaxation. The below exercises can help you relax and re-center.

Read More: Meditation: A Simple and Safe Way to Help You Sleep

Decreasing Body Temperature

The optimum room temperature for healthy sleep is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This will definitely help, but it’s your body that needs to drop those 1 - 2 degrees so that you can fall asleep and stay asleep. Cooling mattress systems including the Dock Pro, OOLER, Cube and breathable sheets can make a major difference.

You’ll also be able to keep your body temperature down if you exercise earlier in the day rather than a couple of hours before bedtime. If you can’t resist doing some kind of exercise in the evening, consider a relaxing yoga routine.

Go Outdoors Daily

A quick morning walk in the natural light for as little as 15 minutes per day can help to reset your internal clock. [14]

  • Other Helpful Tips
  • Read a book
  • Turn off electronics to eliminate blue light

When To Seek Help

If you continue to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, we recommend that you get evaluated by a doctor, particularly if you notice increased anxiety, irritability, or decreased alertness during the day. Remember that approximately one-third of US adults have reported sleep problems.[15] It’s crucial that you get the support and professional consultation you need. You may have an underlying condition or illness that needs attention.

To Sum Up

It can be frustrating knowing that you can’t fall back asleep. It would be best to start small, making minor adjustments to your lifestyle until you feel comfortable taking the next step. It’s recommended to keep a sleep diary to help you remember what works and what doesn’t. [16]

There are several resources available to help you learn more about the incredible science of sleep:

With just a little bit of patience, practice, and exploration, you are certain to develop your own personal toolbox on how to fall back asleep more efficiently.

Citations

[1] Ambardekar, N. (Medical Reviewer). (2021, March 13). Sleep: What happens to body temperature, brain activity, and breathing. WebMD. View Resource

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (n.d.). Sleep and sleep disorders. View Resource

[3] Office of Communications and Public Liaison. (2013, August 13) Brain basics: understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. View Resource

[4] Worley, S.L. (2018) The extraordinary importance of sleep: The detrimental effects of inadequate sleep on health and public safety drive an explosion of sleep research. P&T. 43(12): 758–763. View Study

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kwok, C.S., Kontopantelis,E., Kuligowski, G., Gray, M., Muhyaldeen, A., Gale, C.P., Peat, G. M., Cleator, J., Chew-Graham, C., Kong, Y., Loke, Y.K., MD; Mamas, M.A. (2018). Self-reported sleep duration and quality and cardiovascular disease and mortality: A dose-response meta-analysis. Journal for the American Heart Association, 7:e008552. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.118.008552. View Study

[7] Office of Communications and Public Liaison. (2013, August 13) Brain basics: understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. View Resource

[8] Ibid.

[9] Worley, S.L. (2018) The extraordinary importance of sleep: The detrimental effects of inadequate sleep on health and public safety drive an explosion of sleep research. P&T. 43(12): 758–763. View Study

[10] Hubbard, A. (2020, November, 30). How to Fall Back Asleep After Waking at Night. View Resource

[11] Scullin, M. K., Krueger, M. L., Ballard, H. K., Pruett, N., & Bliwise, D. L. (2018). The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists. Journal of Experimental Psychologyl, 147(1), 139–146. View Study

[12] Lai, H. L., & Good, M. (2005). Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(3), 234–244. View Study

[13] Black, D.S., O’Reilly, G.S., Olmsted, R., Breen, E.C., Irwin, M.R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances:A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 4, 494-501. View Study

[14] Ambardekar, N. (Medical Reviewer). (2021, March 13). Sleep: What happens to body temperature, brain activity, and breathing. WebMD. View Resource

[15] Pathek, N.[Medical Reviewer] (n.d.). Waking up in the middle of the night. View Resource

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