There is a lot of information on the internet about healthy sleeping habits, commonly referred to as sleep hygiene. Behaviors such as maintaining a regular bedtime, making the bedroom comfortable, not watching TV in bed, etc. – all of these can be very helpful for helping people go to sleep. However, if you have difficulty waking up in the middle of the night, these tried-and-true interventions are probably not terribly helpful. You may however, find the following techniques to get back to sleep helpful:
Once you realize you are awake, try to immediately get back to sleep. The lights stay off, your head on the pillow. Rather than think about your day, or plan the next day, go to sleep. There will be plenty of time to deliberate or plan tomorrow. If you find it difficult to turn off your mind once it gets going, try one of the other techniques mentioned below.
Let it go. Tell yourself to let it go, and that if what you are thinking about is truly important, you will surely resume thinking about whatever it is tomorrow.
Do your planning before bedtime. If you have a good idea what you will worry about once you are in bed, worry about it before hand. Write out the source of the worry, and next to each worry write the solution or the next step. When the worry occurs to you while you’re in bed, remember that you’ve already identified a solution, and postpone the worry until tomorrow. You may even find it helpful to have the piece of paper on your nightstand to use as a visual reminder that you’ve already done all the thinking you need to about that topic.
Count your breaths as a way to distract your mind. Imagine you are becoming increasingly sleepy with each exhalation.
One mistake people make is staying in bed for hours when they are unable to fall back asleep. When you stay in bed while you are not sleeping, you are essentially training yourself to be awake, alert, and frustrated in bed, all of which are moving you in the opposite direction from sleep. The more you toss and turn, the more you teach yourself that this is what you do in bed, not sleep. You can undue this cycle be getting out of bed once you’ve been awake for 15 minutes. Stand beside the bed in the dark, counting your breaths, imagining that you’re feeling sleepier and heavier with each breath. Once you feel drowsier, return to bed.
You may find these exercises helpful the next time you have difficulty falling back asleep. They come from a cognitive behavioral treatment for insomnia. For severe insomnia, it is recommended you consult a mental health professional.
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