It’s the middle of the night, and you’re suddenly awake and staring at the ceiling. Thoughts are cycling through your brain, and you can’t fall back asleep. Sound familiar? Not only is this frustrating, but the lack of sleep can start to seep into your daily life, affecting mood, productivity and overall well-being.

As one of the registered counsellors providing video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, many guys tell me they struggle with waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to fall back asleep, often accompanied by stress and worries about life.

Understanding nighttime wake-ups

Waking up at night can stem from:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Aging 
  • Hormones
  • Medication
  • Caffeine
  • Inconsistent bedtimes
  • A bright or noisy room
  • Shift work
  • Napping during the day
  • Physical pain
  • Nicotine or alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Snoring
  • Insomnia

Strategies for getting back to sleep

Get up when you’re thinking too much

It sounds counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do is get up, have a glass of water, wander around the house, read a chapter of a book, or listen to an audiobook. This prevents you from getting stuck in your thoughts.

Often, people will lie there for an hour or 2, waiting for exhaustion to set in. Getting out of bed and restarting helps break that cycle.

Write down what’s on your mind

Two hands holding a journal and a pencil

One way to curb spiralling thoughts in the middle of the night is to write down what’s on your mind. Jotting things down on a page can help them feel small, contained and more manageable to tackle in the morning.

Don’t look at your phone

It’s tempting, but it won’t help you fall back asleep. Handheld electronics allow stress to resurface when you should be winding down. Checking work email, sending texts, or browsing social media prevents your brain from relaxing.

Need an alarm clock? Use a digital alarm clock that sits on your night table. Want to listen to a before-bed meditation or audiobook? Use a Bluetooth speaker and keep your phone in the other room.

Reset for sleep with your normal bedtime routine (again)

Once you’ve stretched your legs, reset your brain and prepare for sleep. Use the washroom, turn the lights out or do whatever you usually do before falling asleep. It will help signal to your body that it’s time to sleep and prepare your body for a restful sleep.

Create an optimal sleep environment

Creating the perfect environment for sleep is crucial to falling and staying asleep. 

  • Keep the room cool. The ideal temp is 18.3 degrees Celsius.
  • Keep the room dark. Use blackout curtains if needed.
  • Keep the room quiet. A fan or noise-blocking curtains can help if there is outside noise.
  • Keep electronics out of the room. 
  • Wash your sheets every 1 to 2 weeks. 
  • Keep your room clean. Clutter can make it hard to sleep.

Long-term strategies for better sleep hygiene

Developing good sleep habits long-term can help improve your ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep.

Keep your sleep schedule regular

It’s important for your body to be able to predict when it needs to prepare for sleep and when it needs to prepare for waking. Try to be consistent with your bedtime–even on weekends–and it will be much easier to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up. 

7 to 9 hours of sleep is recommended to stay healthy.

Create a bedtime routine

Turn off technology at least 30 and ideally 60 minutes before bed so you can unwind and be ready for sleep. Use this time to brush your teeth, read, turn off lights in the house, and have a pee in more or less the same order at the same time every night. 

This signals your brain that it’s time to relax and get ready for slumber.

Read or listen to something relaxing

Man in bed at night reading with lamp turned on

Do something quiet, like reading a book, listening to relaxing music or meditating in your favourite chair in a quiet corner of your home. Consistently doing this is another way to signal to your brain that this is expected at this time of day. So when you put your head on your pillow, your mind is already shutting down and ready to fall asleep.

Exercise daily

Something as easy as a 20-minute walk outside daily can improve your health in many ways, including getting quality sleep. It doesn’t have to be vigorous; it can be as simple as getting outside with the dog and playing for half an hour or taking a 20-minute walk at lunch.

Limit alcohol intake

Alcohol can make you feel more stressed and lead to more sleep issues. Even one or two drinks in the evening can have an impact. People often use alcohol to help them fall asleep after a stressful day. Because it’s a depressant, it’s easier to fall asleep quickly after having a couple of drinks. 

However, your body processes alcohol while you sleep, which affects your sleep cycle and causes restlessness or night waking. So despite falling asleep well, you don’t get restful sleep and wake up exhausted.

Know when to contact a professional

Taking steps to improve your sleep quality will help avoid the frustration of nighttime wake-ups and being unable to fall back asleep. Your physical and mental health also benefit in countless ways with a solid 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Speak to a healthcare professional or a counsellor if night waking is a consistent problem for you.

Do you have a trick for falling asleep quickly and easily in the middle of the night? Go ahead and share it in the comments below!

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