You have experienced this situation before. You wake up in the middle of the night, and you desperately want to go back to sleep. “I’ve got a full-on day tomorrow, and I need all the rest that I can get”, you anxiously remind yourself. You toss and turn hoping that you will transition into a deep slumber, only to realise that it’s just wishful thinking. You have been through this before, so you know that deep sleep will be hard to come by anytime soon or it may not come at all.
There is a common, widespread myth that “if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, you should just stay in bed”. If you are able to stay relaxed in bed, experts would agree that staying in bed may help you fall back asleep. However, if you feel anxious, agitated and/or tense because of your inability to drift back off, sleep experts suggest that you should desist from trying so hard.
If 20 minutes have gone by and you are still unable to fall asleep, then you should get up and do something else. The reason behind this is that your brain thrives on making associations. This means that if night after night you stay awake for long periods in bed, your brain will quickly learn that your bed is a place where you should be awake.
Some people find it hard to follow this advise because they think they are sacrificing precious sleep time by getting up and anxiety levels may rise, but what you have to understand is that you need to start training your brain again to relearn the association with your bedroom being about sleep rather than wakefulness.
If you decide to follow this evidence-based advise, these are a few recommendations on what to do when you get up in the middle of the night:
1.-Meditate for at least 10 minutes.- Go to another room, sit down and meditate. Meditation will quiet your mind and will slow down the fight-or-flight mechanisms of your nervous system (which are mainly responsible for insomnia).
2.-Perform deep breathing techniques.- Most deep breathing techniques aimed at calming down your nervous system will do the trick. My favourite one is referred to as the 4-7-8 technique. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat this cycle up to 6 times only.
3.-Read something light.- Go to another room and read a short story, a light novel or anything that has a calming effect on you. Stay away from the news, heavy fiction, work-related material, dense poetry, etc., since some of this material will require increased levels of attention. Make sure NOT to turn on the light and use a clip-on lamp that you can attach your book or magazine.
4.-Do not eat.-Digesting food in the middle of the evening will definitely interfere with your natural sleep cycle. Besides, eating in the middle of the night may contribute to weight gain, abnormal cholesterol levels, alterations in blood sugar regulations, altered hormone function and inflammation.
5.-Stay away from digital devices.- Digital devices radiate blue-light which upon contact with your retina triggers brain activity and halts the secretion of melatonin (the hormone responsible for inducing sleep). If you decide to read, stick to old-fashioned paper.