What’s the last thing you do before turning in each night? Back in the 20th century (or what the kids call “ancient history”), guys would have said something like “brush my teeth,” “set the alarm clock,” or “drain the weasel.” These days, however, more than half of Canadian men check their smartphones right before dozing off. The pandemic has not helped matters. So many guys are sleeping too much or too little with their regular routines blown to smithereens.

As one of the registered counsellors providing private video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, many guys tell me they struggle with “stress waking” in the middle of the night. It’s no wonder with everything going on right now. The good news is that you can do things to help you fall back asleep after waking up.

What to do when you wake up in the middle of the night

Get up

What!?! Yes, get out of bed. Get out of the bedroom. Counterintuitive? You bet! But, it works because you have to restart your bedtime routine, which means you need to get up first. When you wake up in the night and have trouble returning to dreamland, have a glass of water, wander around the house for a bit, read a chapter of a book, or listen to an audiobook. One thing you definitely do NOT want to do is look at your phone. It’s tempting, but it won’t help you fall back asleep anytime soon.

Don’t disrupt the rest of the house

If you live alone, you can do whatever you want. If not, rummaging around like a raccoon tipping over garbage cans is going to upset your clan in the process. Yeah, pretty obvious. Just sayin’.

Start a worry journal

Man writing in a journal

One way to curb spiralling thoughts in the middle of the night is to write it all down. The process is simple: using paper and pen, jot down all of the worries in your mind. Big or small, write it down. When the list is finished, read through it a couple of times. As you read, start to notice what’s important or what feels urgent. You might see that some worries are totally out of your control at the moment, such as, “Will my 5 year old get into college?” You may also notice that some worries are unnecessary, such as, “Do people at work like me?”

Cross off all of the worries that don’t matter, are not immediate issues, or you have no control over. When 1-4 concerns are left, focus on a plan for each one. If the plan cannot be done in the short term, then don’t worry. It can be put away until it’s more relevant in your day-to-day life. This entire process takes 15-20 minutes and can save hours of time spent staring at the ceiling and overthinking everything while desperately trying to bring on sleep.

Reset for sleep with your normal bedtime routine

Once you’ve gotten out of bed to stretch your legs and reset your brain, prepare for sleep like you usually do. If you don’t have a routine or want to make yours better, here are some research-backed tips that can help.

Preparing to meet Mr. Sandman

No screens before bed

Overall, your life may not be busier or more stressful than it was before you got a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. In many ways, these devices make life easier. The difference is that handheld electronics allow stress to resurface when you should be winding down. Checking work email, sending texts, or browsing social media right before bed prevents your brain from being relaxed when your head hits the pillow. Ideally, knock it off 60 minutes before ‘lights out.’

Clear out all the electronics

The bedroom should be reserved for two activities: sleeping and sex. Ban TV, smartphones, tablets, and laptops—they’re too stimulating and will wreck the mood for both. With your phone ‘on,’ it’s like you’re sleeping on call, waiting to hear the ping of a message or alert.

Even with notifications turned off, it’s hard to resist the urge to check social media or send a text if you’re having difficulty falling asleep or waking at night. Sometimes just knowing that the phone is there can create anxiety about an expected email or unresolved issue at work. Leaving the phone in another room can lessen the impulse to “quickly” have a look and help calm your mind.

If you use your phone as an alarm clock, remove the temptation and kick it old school with an alarm clock. Goodbye sleep distractions!

Keep your sleep schedule regular

The pandemic has really done a number on sleep schedules. Guys are going to bed later and sleeping longer than usual or cutting hours of sleep due to the stress. The trouble is, your body clock isn’t meant to work that way. Not everyone needs eight-hour sleep. Seven to nine hours are recommended to stay healthy and it’s really important for your body to be able to predict when it needs to prepare for sleeping and for waking. The punchline: going to bed around the same time every night can help you sleep better.

Create a bedtime routine

Going to bed around the same time and following the same bedtime routine every night can make a difference. 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. All of this sends signals to your brain that it’s time to start relaxing and get ready for slumber.

There’s an app for that

Your sleep prep routine can also involve sleep apps, relaxation music, or anything that sends soothing messages to your brain.

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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