How to get back to sleep in the middle of the night

Many of us know that sinking feeling of waking up in the middle of the night, and despite being tired, for some reason we're unable to fall back to sleep.

You lie there for hours and soon the dawn creeps into your room and it’s time to get up, but you don’t feel refreshed, and God help anyone who gets in the way of you and your morning coffee.

You've woken up in the middle of the night again - what now? Photo: Getty

While frustrating, it turns out that waking up in the middle of the night may not be the disaster you think it is, and there are ways to help you get back to sleep right in time for World Sleep Day!

Why People Wake During The Night

Dr Conor Heneghan, PhD and Lead Sleep Research Scientist for Fitbit, says that it’s actually perfectly normal to wake up multiple times during the night, though most times these are short awakenings of 30s-2 mins, which we don't recall the following morning.

“Sleep doctors tend to become concerned if a person consistently wakes up in the night and takes at least 20-30mins to fall back asleep,” Dr Heneghan tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “There are many possible underlying causes for clinical insomnia, including genetic factors, illnesses, stress and lifestyle choices - like too much caffeine, alcohol.”


Rachel Beard, of premium Australian sleep business brand A.H Beard, says understanding why you are waking up in the middle of the night is the best way to help yourself get back to sleep.

“Is it a result of something that is happening before going to bed? For example, if you are waking up to go to the bathroom at night and you are having lots of liquid before bed, maybe you can minimise the amount you drink prior to bedtime,” she explains.

“Or if you are someone that has their to-do list on their mind, you can try writing it down before going to bed to get it out of your head and minimise it impacting your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.”

woman waking up
Understanding why you are waking up in the middle of the night is the best way to help yourself get back to sleep. Photo: Getty

Could Exercise And Diet be impacting your sleep?

If you’ve ever wondered if exercising during the day or eating certain foods can impact sleep, Dr Heneghan says it absolutely can.

“Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your sleep. Studies have shown that moving during the day can support better sleep quality and minimise anxiety, too," he adds.

"If possible, however, avoid vigorous activity too close to bedtime - less than one hour before trying to sleep.”

Diet also has an important role to play in getting quality sleep.

“A balanced diet is another factor in overall wellness, including sleep,” Dr Heneghan explains.”But by the same token, poor sleep can also impact your appetite and body weight because it affects your appetite-regulating hormones, leading to more cravings, often for higher-calorie foods.

"There is also some evidence that dinner too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep patterns, particularly if it is atypical for your normal circadian rhythm.”

Hands holding fork and knife and eating delicious juicy steak with grilled cabbage,tomatoes and cheese on table at cafe in city street. Man tasting bbq with vegetables in restaurant
Is your dinner spoiling your sleep? Photo: Getty

How To Get Back To Sleep Quickly

If you’re waking up and finding it difficult to nod off again, Dr Heneghan says that there are some things that can help.

“Firstly, if someone is having consistent problems (e.g., every night, >4 weeks) with either falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early, they would be advised to have an initial conversation with their

primary care doctor about possible underlying issues. For people who have occasional bouts of waking up in the night, they should at least first consider controllable lifestyle factors such as excess caffeine consumption late in the day, alcohol late at night (it may help you fall asleep faster, but has a rebound effect of lighter sleep later in the night), or lack of a wind-down routine for the hour before sleep.”

Rachel, who is part of A.H. Beard's new Sleep Wellness Centre - where you can sign up for a complimentary program that kicks off May 1 - agrees that if you do find yourself awake in the middle of the night, avoid looking at screens and turning on bright lights.

“When we do this, the light suppresses the production of Melatonin – our body’s natural sleep hormone, tricking our brain into thinking it’s time to be awake, making falling back asleep difficult," she stresses.

"Meditation and breathing exercises are also great to reset your mind and body, allowing you to drift back off to sleep and if you find you are laying there for longer than 20 minutes, get out of bed and move around. Some light yoga or stretching can help relax your body and assist with falling back to sleep.”

Dr Heneghan adds that some experts also recommend getting up if you can't sleep, going to another room and doing something relaxing until you feel sleepy - but don't jump into work or scroll through news feeds or other stimulating material.

“Try not to watch the clock too much either."

The 15th annual World Sleep Day is Friday, March 18. The slogan and theme for World Sleep Day 2022 is 'Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World'. Read more stories here.

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