Three tips to help you get back to sleep

Medical Director at Bupa UK
28 September 2017
An image showing a person and a dog asleep

It’s 3am and you’re wide awake, feeling desperate to get back to sleep. Don’t panic; try these ideas to tame your insomnia.

If you’re staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, wondering how to get back to sleep, 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. 

It’s not just a miserable feeling either: insomnia is a health problem to take seriously. We know that sleep is essential for every aspect of physical health, from helping us fight off the common cold to avoiding heart disease. Sleep is also crucial for mental sharpness and emotional wellbeing.

Most people know the basic rules, like having a calm bedtime routine and keeping your room dark and quiet. What if you’ve already done all of this, but you’re still awake right now? Try these three tips and see if they can help you get back to sleep.

  1. Track your sleep

    First of all, give it a chance. You might get back to sleep if you let yourself. Try not to worry too much at this stage, because you might be overestimating how long you're actually awake. A wearable device, like a watch or armband with a fitness app, might provide some reassurance that you’re getting more sleep than you think. However, if you’re naturally a bit obsessive, this could make you feel more anxious.

  2. Do something boring

    If it’s not happening, don’t stay in bed tossing and turning. Get up, go to another room, and do something boring. See if you start to feel sleepy again.

  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. Write them down and promise yourself, “I’ll think about these problems in the morning.”

What not to do

There are other strategies that are really not solutions: they are likely to make your insomnia worse.

  • Don’t fire up your laptop or phone; their blue light can actually keep your body awake (although there are apps that filter this light on your screen).
  • You may think alcohol will work, but it actually disturbs your sleep patterns.
  • You’ll probably find your doctor is reluctant to prescribe sleeping pills, except as a temporary measure. 

Get your body clock back in sync

In the long term, the key is getting into good habits and sticking to them. People have different biological clocks, and this can change throughout different times in your life. When this clock is out of sync with your environment, you may have particular trouble sleeping at night.

The answer is to adjust your lifestyle, to get your body into a rhythm that promotes sleep. Here are four key habits to keep in mind.

  1. Each day, spend some time outdoors in the daylight.
  2. Eat your meals at regular times.
  3. Give yourself time to relax before bedtime, to wind down and put some distance between your brain and the worries of the day.
  4. If eating or exercising too close to bedtime keeps you awake ... don’t do it! 

Above all, go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time every morning. Keep the same sleep schedule every day. You might miss your weekend lie-ins at first, but eventually you’ll feel the benefits – even on a Monday morning.

For more information about insomnia, have a look at our topic page, which covers symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.

Even healthy people become unwell 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.

Steve Iley
Medical Director at Bupa UK

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