If you’re wondering how to sleep better, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a study by the CDC, one in three adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
We’ve established that sleep is essential—it’s recommended to have at least seven hours or more to maintain healthy brain function and physical health. But when you’re not getting adequate rest due to waking up in the middle of the night, it can lead to frustration and anxiety. Not only are you awake, but you’re doing the dreaded dance of “How much shut-eye can I get if I doze off at this exact moment?” or “Should I just stay up?”
Janet Kennedy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor is here to reassure you that, “night waking is normal.” But if your night waking is frequent and becoming an issue, there are some factors that you may want to look into such as hormone levels.
“Progesterone helps us to stay asleep and when those levels fluctuate at different stages of the month or of life (think: pregnancy or menopause), night waking can be more prevalent and prolonged,” Kennedy says. Another common time to wake in the middle of the night is when your blood sugar drops.
Shirin Peters, MD, an internal medicine specialist and founder of Bethany Medical Clinic in New York City, agrees and even says that night waking can come in patterns. “Many people find themselves waking up at the same time each night,” she says.
In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, 35% of people regularly wake up at 4 A.M. Kennedy gives an explanation for this, saying it’s “when natural melatonin levels are waning and body temperature starts to rise.” She assures us that this is a normal part of the circadian process, but it can make it harder to fall back asleep.
To help you get the rest you deserve, we consulted with sleep and medical experts to share their best advice for waking up in the middle of the night and how to sleep better.
Make some lifestyle changes.
While some reasons are out of our control, there are a few things we can do to help improve sleep. “Drinking caffeine or alcohol late in the day, overheating or having a poor sleep environment and needing to use the bathroom,” are all reasons why people may wake up in the night, says Peters. You can obviously limit your caffeine and alcohol, play around with your room temperature, and stop drinking liquids at a certain time to prevent these sleep disturbances.
Yes, really. Kennedy says that the difference between laying down and sitting up can be massive. “Thoughts are scarier and less rational when we are lying down,” she says, which makes sense because we’re more vulnerable when we’re in a sleeping position. “Sitting up brings back our rational mind and psychological defenses.” Once you’re upright, “something that feels like a big deal might not turn out to be so important,” adds Dr. Kennedy.
Write it down.
Grab a pen and some paper. In fact, it would be smart to leave a notebook and pen on your nightstand, because both Peters and Kennedy say that journaling is a good antidote for night waking. “Journaling your thoughts and getting them all out on paper can provide mental relief,” says Peters.
And don’t worry about being able to read what you wrote, adds Kennedy. This is more about an action to ease your mind than doing something productive. “If you write down the ideas that pop into your head, you won’t keep yourself awake worrying about whether you’ll remember in the morning,” she explains, but “most of what you come up with isn’t going to be as important as it seems when you’re lying down.”
Say no to screen-time before bed.
Kennedy refers to things like searching and scrolling as “daytime activities that signal alertness and stress,” which is the last thing you need in the middle of the night. Peters notes that the stress hormone, cortisol, can be impacted by screen use, too, which will make it even harder to fall back asleep.
To resist the urge, try putting your phone away in a nightstand drawer or using the Phone Bed Charging Station, which is keeps your phone out of reach, ideally in another room. The idea is that you tuck your phone in its own bed before retiring to yours, allowing you both to “recharge” overnight.
Gone are the days of sleeping through a rager in the dorm room next door. For a good night’s rest, your best bet is creating a soothing space for a sound sleep. Kennedy recommends making sure the room is dark or using a sleep mask. We like the silk Sleep Mask from Slip because it’s gentle on your lashes and hair. There are also versions that are like a weighted blanket for your eyes, forcing you to keep them shut. Try Lunya Weighted Washable Silk Sleep Mask.
Peters says that meditating can really help, too. If doing it on your own is a no-go, try an app with guided meditations like Calm. The app also has sleep stories that you can listen to while you doze. We love anything by Erik Braa. His deep baritone sends us off to dreamland in the most soothing way, every time.
Just stay awake.
As much as it kills us to say it, sometimes it’s just worth powering through and starting your day. This is particularly true if you woke within an hour of the time that you need to be up. Dr. Kennedy says that, “dozing in and out of sleep for long periods in the morning will make you feel worse than waking up too early.” Instead of trying to force yourself back to sleep or freaking over the fact that you’re awake, Dr. Peters says to try one of the calming activities above like journaling or meditating. Instead of a sleep story, there are daily programs that can help you jumpstart your day. We like Jay Shetty’s words of wisdom for getting in the right headspace for the day ahead.
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