You know, millennials get a lot of crap for staying up late, mostly because we’re admittedly scrolling through social media or watching one too many Netflix episodes. TBH though, it’s not really that uncommon for anyone to toss and turn in the middle of the night. I’m not saying it’s right or healthy in any way; I’m just pointing out that everyone struggles with sleep sometimes, so it’s important that we figure out how to fall back asleep at night in the worst case scenario. Shutting off our devices an hour or two before bed is one way to do it, but there are a ton of other foolproof hacks out there that actually have some pretty legit scientific evidence to back them up. And no, counting sheep is not one of them.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, it's worth mentioning that, waking up in the middle of the night doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an insomniac. There are plenty of reasons why you might wake up mid-slumber, such as stress, the dire need to pee, body and room temperature, or even the sound of a notification coming from your smartphone, to name a few. But, according to Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo, it could also just be a case of genetics.
Rewind it back to the caveman era, and you can bet our ancestors weren’t worried about waking up once or twice in the middle of the night. Brantner tells Elite Daily that humans are naturally "biphasic," meaning our circadian rhythm works according to two periods of sleep commonly split up “with a period of wakefulness” in the middle of the night.
“Research shows that the optimal amount of sleep for an adult is seven to eight hours, much less than the amount of darkness we experience at night,” Brantner explains, and this period of wakefulness was considered a “time of calmness.” In other words, our ancestors weren’t freaking out that they’d be tired for a business meeting or an 8 a.m. class. In fact, Brantner says they probably used that time wisely by “praying, reading by candlelight, or even having sex.” Now there's something we could learn from our distant relatives.
I get it, though. Sleep is necessary to function, and if we don't clock in the recommended six to eight hours at least, the entire day ahead could be a wash. That being said, here are a few hacks to get you to fall back asleep if you wake up in the middle of the night and can't sacrifice a decent amount of shut-eye for anything (even some sexy time with the SO — sorry, boo).
1. Close Your Eyes And Wait It Out
Yes, it might be frustrating at first, but Brantner suggests staying in bed with your eyes closed and trying to fall back asleep for about 20 minutes or so before exploring more amusing options.
“Keep your eyes closed and try to quiet your mind,” he tells Elite Daily. “If you can grow to accept the wakefulness, you can spend less time being anxious about it, and [you'll] be more likely to get back to sleep.”
2. Go Over Your To-Do List
For those of you tossing and turning because too many adulting responsibilities have you stressed TF out, keep in mind that the more relaxed you feel, the easier it’ll be to fall back asleep. According to Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, Dr. Sujay Kansagra, waking up in the middle of the night is an opportune time to review your to-do list and put your mind at ease.
“In our fast-paced world, sometimes lying in bed is the first time you have to actually think [about what’s on your to-do list],” Kansagra tells Elite Daily. Reviewing your task list out loud, or jotting it down in a notebook kept by your bedside, he continues, could put these thoughts to rest, or at least ward them off until the morning.
3. Slip On A Pair Of Cozy Socks
Generally speaking, cooler temperatures are ideal for quality slumber, but Kelsey Down, a sleep wellness writer for Sleep Train, tells Elite Daily that warming your hands and feet draws blood flow to those body parts and “lowers your core body temperature.”
Down is fully aware that a lot of people have reservations about wearing socks to bed (it’s really not as gross as you think, guys), so if you're one of those people, she suggests trying to sleep with a heating pad at your feet instead.
4. Tune In To Pink Noise
You've probably heard the term “white noise,” but “pink noise” isn’t as commonly thrown around. It’s a shame, though, because these sound waves have been proven to maintain and improve memory, for one thing.
The difference between white and pink noise is that these rosy sounds have equal energy per octave, which basically just means the sounds come off more natural than those associated with white noise. If you’re interested in this method, Down tells Elite Daily that there are legit pink noise playlists already available on Spotify to download. So go experiment!
5. Take Advantage Of Essential Oils
If you haven’t figured it out already, essential oils are miracle workers in liquid form. Down points out to Elite Daily that lavender is a gem for promoting sleep, with scientific research to prove it.
A few drops in a diffuser works well, and you could also try rubbing a lavender-scented lotion (Kiehl’s has a fantastic one) on your hands when you wake up in the middle of the night. Breathing in the scent is a surefire way to calm your body and mind.
6. Lower The Temperature In Your Room
Even if you're someone who likes things toasty at night, Dr. Natalie D. Dautovich, an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation, tells Elite Daily that “a cool bedroom is conducive to better sleep.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the best bedroom temperature is anywhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, because when you’re winding down for the night, so does your body temperature, and this ballpark of temps is best to facilitate this natural phase.
7. Focus On Your Breath
I’m totally about to go super zen on you here, but seriously, breathing exercises are an excellent way to bring your attention back to the body to both physically and mentally decompress.
Dr. Danielle Forshee, a doctor of psychology and a licensed clinical social worker, tells Elite Daily that when your body is in sleep mode, it naturally goes “into a state of breathing throughout the diaphragm." On the flip side, when you’re stressed, you breathe through your chest.
If you take the time to really hone in on the breath and take deep inhales through your diaphragm, Dr. Forshee explains, your body will resort back “into a relaxed state,” making it easier to fall asleep.
8. Get Up
This is definitely going to come off as counterintuitive, but if you’ve tried lying still, breathing through your diaphragm, etc., and nothing’s working, Dautovich says it’s probably a good idea to get up and do something quietly in another room until you feel tired enough to fall back asleep.
The idea here, she says, is to “avoid creating a connection between being in bed and feeling awake.” Try reading a book or listening to a podcast; whatever you choose, do your best to avoid screens, because the blue light can make you feel more awake and mess with your sleep cycle even more.