Three tips to help you get back to sleep

Julius Patrick
Lead Sleep Physiologist at the Cromwell Hospital
19 December 2019
Next review due December 2022

If you’re staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, wondering how to get back to sleep, you’re not alone. You can be sure many others are doing exactly the same. That’s because up to one in three people in the UK have trouble sleeping at night. Some of the most common things that keep us awake are stress and worry.

We know that sleep is essential for every aspect of physical and mental health, from helping us fight off the common cold to avoiding heart disease. And it’s crucial for mental sharpness and emotional wellbeing.

It’s important to understand what the basic rules for good sleep are, like having a calm bedtime routine and keeping your room dark and quiet. These can help create an environment that promotes better sleep. But what if you’ve tried this and you’re still awake right now? Try these three tips and see if they can help you get back to sleep.

1. Try a relaxation exercise

First of all, give it a chance. If you do, you may find you can drift back to sleep. Secondly, try not to get overly anxious about not being able to get to sleep. Turn your alarm clock away from you so you can’t see it. It can be stressful to see the minutes ticking by, especially if you feel like you’ve been awake for some time. Instead of occupying your mind with the thought of being awake, focus on relaxing.

You could try a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. This is where you tense and release the muscle groups in your body starting down at your feet and working your way up your body. Tense each part of your body for a few seconds and then release.

Meditation and mindfulness are also popular techniques. These can teach you to be in the present moment – keeping your mind and body relaxed, which may help you fall sleep.

Try these relaxation strategies if you can’t get to sleep or you wake up in the night. But also try doing them before bedtime as part of your pre-sleep routine.

2. Do something boring

If it’s not happening, don’t stay in bed tossing and turning. It’s best to get up after a while if you still can’t sleep. This is because you may start to associate being in bed with not sleeping, making the problem worse.

Get up and go into another room if you’re still awake after about 20 minutes (just guess this rather than clock watch). Do something relaxing or boring. Listen to some calming music or read something that isn’t very interesting. Don’t look at a screen though or watch TV. See if you start to feel sleepy again and then go back to bed.

3. Write down your worries

Maybe a specific worry won’t let you get back to sleep. Maybe a lot of worries are keeping you awake. When there’s a lot on your mind it’s hard to switch off. One way to ease the weight of your worries is to write them down with a plan to deal with them the next day. The idea is that you will have taken care of the worries for now. That way you don’t have them going around in your head when you’re trying to sleep.

More tips for a better night’s rest

Our habits and routines influence our ability to fall asleep – and stay asleep. These include your schedule, work pattern, the bedroom environment and other lifestyle choices. Use the following as a checklist to make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of sleeping well.

  • Do something relaxing and calming before going to bed. This might be reading, listening to some music or having a bath. Give yourself time to unwind. Try turning off all your tech and screens one to two hours before bed. The light from these devices makes your brain think it’s still daylight.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day (even on days off and weekends). For me, this is the single most important thing you can do to try and improve your sleep.
  • Make sure your bedroom is set up for sleep. You want it to be as dark as possible, quiet and a comfortable temperature. Only use your bedroom for sex and sleep, so no TV, laptops, tablets or phones.
  • Exercise will help you sleep, but do it earlier in the day. Don’t do it four hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t have caffeine, nicotine or alcohol six hours before bed. You might think alcohol will help you sleep but it won’t – it’s likely to disrupt your sleep.
  • Don’t eat too late at night, especially not a heavy meal.

You could also try keeping a sleep diary. Record things like:

  • the noise, temperature and amount of light in the bedroom
  • the time you went to bed
  • what you were doing beforehand
  • how long you think it took you to fall asleep
  • if you woke up in the night and if so, how many times?
  • how you felt the next day

This type of information can help build a picture of what’s going on and you might be able to see some patterns.

If you’ve tried the tips above and they aren’t working, see your GP for advice. It may be that you have a sleep, psychological or medical condition, or it could be the effects of medication you’re taking or other substances.

Find out more about insomnia, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.

Even healthy people become unhealthy sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance

Julius Patrick
Julius Patrick
Lead Sleep Physiologist at the Cromwell Hospital

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