Updated: May 31
Have you ever been woken up at night, and then try to fall back asleep with no avail? Urrgggg!
You were sleeping fine until the neighbor’s dog started having a hissy fit or a robo-caller decided to call your landline at 2:30 am, and now you’re up. For good.
If you’ve ever been there, trust me, I know the feeling. But follow these simple steps to be able to get back to sleep no matter what life throws at you at night.
Who’s Waking You Anyways
Now obviously, the first question to ask yourself is what’s waking you up. If you’ve only been woken up once or twice, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
If it’s the occasional car alarm or mornings first rays, you can try ear plugs or blinders. If it’s your emergency line (my father is an MD often on call) or your toddler having a nightmare, there is not a lot you can do to prevent that, life happens.
But what if it’s not so simple. What if you are the one waking yourself? First thing to do, as I recommend to all of my sleep clients, is to make sure you get checked out by your doctor. Sleep apnea can cause frequent waking and can be a very serious issue if left untreated. It could also be a wide variety of other medical conditions, pain, hormone imbalance, you name it. You want to get checked out sooner than later.
But if all of these culprits are ruled out, and you still find yourself waking up frequently in the night, it’s time to do a deep dive into your mind to figure out what’s going on. Hard to pinpoint it in a one page article, but here are some questions to consider:
What’s occupying your thoughts during the day? How could you address these issues so they are not carrying with you to bed?
Are you having recurring dreams or nightmares? Sometimes it's not always so easy to read into dreams. It might just require laying off the late night chili, but perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell you something you avoid during the day.
Do you feel you are accomplishing your life mission? Is your life in sync, mind, body and soul? Do you give yourself time to honestly address life’s biggest questions?
What are your greatest fears? What can you do to tackle these head on as opposed to sweep them under the rug?
Your waking might be your mind catching up with you in a very real way. You can put a band-aid on the issue, but sometimes it requires really probing to uncover the root of the issue to be able to get to ground zero and calm the mind from the inside out.
I’m Awake, Now What?
Ok, let’s say you tried everything and you are still waking up. Like I said, many times these things are just beyond your control. Newborns? Should I say more?
Let’s go through some practical steps to get you back to bed for as many hours as you can try to squeeze out before your alarm clock erupts.
First point in order is don’t catastrophize. You have to remind yourself that whether you get back to sleep or not, you will be just fine.
There are healthcare workers and fighter pilots that work around the clock. Even if you get below your optimal numbers, you will survive. Taking the pressure off makes it much easier to actually fall back asleep.
Second, and this might sound obvious, try to lay as low as possible. Deal with the barking poodle or your crying toddler with dim lights and a quiet tone. Use the bathroom, get a drink, and then back to bed.
Don’t check the time. Don’t check the news. And for the love of sleep, don’t check your phone! If you work with me, you know that sleep enemy #1 is that little smart phone of yours. Make sure it is away for good.
Thirdly, back to bed tiger. Don’t send your mind racing into your big plans tomorrow. You can try to get back to that exciting adventure dream you had been jolted out of, but better not to focus your mind on anything specific.
Don’t force yourself to sleep. Meditation works great to calm the mind and allow sleep to come.
Redesign the Night
It could very well be that your whole sleep cycle is off and your nightly awakenings could be avoided entirely.
Consider this. If you go to bed at 2 AM and try to sleep until 9 AM every day, like a good frat boy in college, that might work when you are 19, but when you are 37 or 57, you are no longer speaking your body’s language.
Take note of what time you are waking if it happens frequently. Maybe that is actually your body’s natural time to wake up, and by shifting your sleep cycle entirely, you can avoid the night wakings by calling it morning time!
Also, consider if you are getting enough exercise and diet. The more tired your body is and released of tense energy, the less likely you will naturally wake during the night and the more easily you will be able to get back to sleep if woken up.
Doron Lazarus is an executive sleep coach and the founder of Lazarus Insomnia Consulting. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit at www.lazarusconsulting.org