Fight Back Against Middle-Of-The-Night Alertness With These Tips

When you fall asleep at night, you probably expect to stay put until your alarm goes off seven or eight hours later. Sadly, things don't always go according to plan, and you might find yourself wide awake during the wee hours of the morning. In some cases, this could be the result of insomnia, a condition that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.


However, waking in the middle of the night doesn't always signal a sleep disorder, especially if it only happens occasionally. According to Medical News Today, it's common to wake up after a nightmare, to use the bathroom, or due to physical discomforts such as indigestion or hot flashes. Some medications can also interfere with rest, as The Sleep Doctor notes. And in other instances, an environmental disturbance like your snoring partner or crying child might be the cause of your middle-of-the-night alertness.

Regardless of the reason, there are ways to fight back when restlessness strikes. Use these practical tips to fall asleep — and stay asleep — tonight.

Rethink your bedtime habits

What happens in the middle of the night can often be traced back to what you did before hitting the sack. Deborah Szebeko, founder of Sound Asleep Club, tells Woman & Home that evening habits can make or break your sleep quality. "Creating a bedtime routine puts your body in a relaxed state and is the perfect opportunity to slow down and create rituals that help you unwind," she explains.


Your bedtime rituals might include taking a warm bath, reading a book, or sipping herbal tea while chatting with your partner or roommate. Besides these comforting activities, there are a few habits to steer clear of for a good night's sleep. Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding vigorous exercises late at night (though regular workouts done earlier in the day may improve sleep) and putting away brightly lit screened devices before bed (yes, that includes your e-reader).

Another habit to watch: devouring nighttime snacks and drinks. Save the caffeine for the morning and early afternoon, and limit alcohol before bed to snooze peacefully through the night. The Sleep Doctor also says to watch out for spicy, oily, and high-fat foods, which are known to interrupt slumber.


Turn your bedroom into a sleepytime oasis

If you're regularly jolting awake at odd hours, your sleeping environment could be to blame. Make your bedroom as comfy as possible, starting with your thermostat. Sleep psychologist Dr. Michelle Drerup tells Cleveland Clinic, "If your bedroom becomes uncomfortably hot or cold, you are more likely to wake up." To combat this, keep your room between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 19 degrees Celsius) at night.


Noise is another factor when creating a space conducive to sleep. According to Sleep Foundation, nighttime noise can cause fragmented sleep and may even trigger the release of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. These hormones can make you feel on edge and unable to drift back to sleep once you're up. If your home or neighborhood is full of alarming squeaks, bangs, and other sounds, mask the noise with a sound machine or pop in some earplugs.

Finally, add some finishing touches to make your bedroom ultra relaxing. Put up some blackout curtains, spray some lavender, and gather your softest blankets and pillows to snuggle up with. That way, even if you are woken up, you'll be too comfortable to keep your eyes open.


Don't go into panic mode

A lack of sleep can make it hard to function the next day, but panicking over this fact in the middle of the night can do more harm than good. Dr. Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, tells Well+Good, "If you have one or two bad nights where you're awake and then start to worry that you're up or get more worried about whether you'll sleep well the next night, that's when you start to put pressure on yourself to sleep, which is the worst thing to do, as sleep can't be forced."


Another middle of the night no-no: checking the time. Staring at your clock and stressing over the minutes of lost sleep only makes it harder to relax, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. Plus, the light from your digital clock or phone screen signals to your body that it's time to wake up.

Though it can be easier said than done, remain calm if you wake up, relaxing your muscles or trying a breathing exercise to soothe yourself back to sleep. Even if you lose out on some ZZZs, you can readjust your day tomorrow to accommodate.

Get out of bed

Leaving your warm, cozy bed might seem like the worst way to fall back asleep. However, experts recommend getting out of bed and moving to another room if you've been alert for at least 20 minutes (via Mayo Clinic). That way, you can focus on something other than obsessing over being awake.


Choose your late-night activities wisely, though. "Try to do something mindless. Fold your laundry, put away your dishes, or read a couple of pages of a boring book. And then when you're tired, come back [to bed], and start the process again," Dr. Rebecca Robbins, associate scientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, suggests to Well+Good.

If something stressful is weighing on your mind, don't engage with it for now. Instead, jot down a quick note to remind yourself to deal with it in the morning, whether it be a work assignment or a phone call you need to make. As tempting as it might be, 4 a.m. isn't the time to tend to these matters.

Talk to your doctor

Alertness in the middle of the night happens to all of us now and then, but if you notice that it's become a common occurrence, it might be time to pay a visit to a medical professional. According to WebMD, some medical conditions become worse at night, including arthritis, acid reflux, diabetes, asthma, and other conditions that cause painful or uncomfortable symptoms. Your doctor may diagnose and offer treatment for these issues, especially if they're keeping you up at night.


Some mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are also known to disrupt sleep. Stress, too, can keep you from entering into deep stages of slumber, which might cause that ill-timed wide-awake feeling. Keeping your stress in check is a good first step, but make an appointment with your doctor or therapist if you continue to miss out on shut-eye.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.