Are you struggling to fall asleep again after you did your midnight toilet tour? Or is it just that you can’t fall asleep at all? Maybe you wake up because of nightmares or bad dreams and then you can’t go back to sleep? It could also be that you are so stressed about something that it will wake you up in the middle of the night. And then that something won’t let you go back to dreamland again. There are a million other reasons why you can’t fall asleep again, these are just some of the most common ones. But the point is, if you are struggling to go back to sleep, because something is bothering you, keep reading. This blog post is definitely for you!

Is it only stress and bad dreams that are keeping me from falling asleep?

Certainly not! They are just the most common reasons why adults say they can’t go back to sleep after waking up somewhere between midnight and 4 a.m. There are other things that can keep you awake as well. Your daytime habits might play a role in whether you can go back to sleep after doing the 3 a.m toilet run. Heck! When you go to bed can even determine whether you’ll be able to go back to sleep in the early morning hours or not.

Let’s take a look at how your bedtime can influence your ability to go back to sleep, once you’ve woken up.

The first thing you should know about going to bed, is that you should listen to your body. It is extremely important to lie down when your body tells you to lie down. When you are tired and can’t focus anymore, switch off whatever you’re busy with and go to bed. Don’t force your body to stay awake, it is unhealthy. You can feel the affects of having too little sleep very soon after the fact. But chronically depriving your body of enough sleep could have some adverse effects in your future. Depriving your body of sleep seems to increase the odds of getting heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

But enough of that, let’s stop scaring you with old age illness and get back to the point. When you feel tired at night, get ready for bed and go to sleep. A really cool thing about the human body is that it has an internal clock system that can be trained! Scientists have a fancy word for a biological cycle that can be trained, they call it a circadian rhythm. Humans can fine tune that rhythm, so that their bodies can perform at its best. But we don’t, do we? Most of us (and here I include myself) are too lazy to get into proper rhythm.

So the second thing about going to bed, is that you should try to go to bed the same time every night. Even on weekends, if we really want to have our circadian rhythms at its best. Going to bed at the same time every night will most probably lead to getting out of bed at the same time every morning. And that is exactly what you want!

Now some of you might argue that my first and second points contradict each other, am I right?

I can understand that you find it contradictory. At first glance it does look kind of iffy, I must agree. But if you are in a proper sleep cycle, or circadian rhythm, your body will tell you to go to sleep around the same time that you always go to sleep. So if that is the case, you just have to listen to your body and drift off to dreamland. If, on the other hand, you do not have a proper sleep cycle and go to bed at a different time every night, you should probably listen for signs that your body is protesting. The first time your eyes start to droop, go to bed. Don’t go to the kitchen to make coffee or get a caffeinated soda, go to bed!

So let’s say I go to bed when my body tells me to, at around 8 p.m. What do I do if I wake up at 4 a.m and can’t fall asleep again?

If that is the case, you should simply get up at four and start doing something productive. You don’t have to eat breakfast immediately, unless you are ravenous. In that case, go right ahead! But start with a cup of lukewarm water with a slice of lemon in it first. The lukewarm water won’t give your digestive system the same kind of shock that cold water would and the lemon will balance the pH of your stomach, so that it can take in the optimum amount of nutrients throughout the day.

Obviously some of you might have other people in the house as well. For you I recommend that you do not go outside and mow the lawn at 4 a.m, when you wake up. I can almost guarantee that your housemates won’t like that. But there are other ways to be productive. You can water the garden, mark tests, read reports, write reports, do your homework, write a letter to your aunt in Australia. The options are infinite!

If you struggle to think this is a good idea, don’t worry, you are not alone. Until I started seeing the positive effect that getting up early had on my life, I wasn’t a believer either. But now I can tell you with a clear conscious that I am more productive on my early days than on the “normal” ones. go ahead and give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Okay that was a lot about when to go to bed and stuff, but what if I go to bed at 10 or 11 p.m and then wake up at midnight and can’t go back to sleep? What if my alarm is set to go off at 6 a.m, giving me 8 hours’ worth of sleep time, but I only manage to sleep for the first couple of hours before waking up. What then?

Well, getting out of bed and working might not be the best advice in this scenario. But I do have a few more tricks up my sleeve, maybe they can help.

Don’t watch the clock!

A large heap of broken antique watches and clocks

This is easier said than done, though. I mean, we go to sleep with all sorts of timekeeping equipment on and around us. A smart wrist watch that tracks your heart rate. The smart phone charging on your nightstand and the alarm clock right next to it. Some A.C units even display the time! So how do you stop watching the clock, if there are so many clocks to choose from?

The answer is rather simple, but most of you won’t like it… Remove all of those clocks from your bedroom. Leave your smart watch and your phone to charge in the study, or in the kitchen. Honestly, what is more important: To track your ever increasing heart rate as the angst of not being able to go back to sleep builds up? Or to get some actual sleep without worrying about your heart rate? Is it more important to get disturbed every now and then by a late night spam mail or a drunk text? Or is it more important to get some sleep? In my mind, the answer is a simple one. Sleep. Getting sleep is more important than knowing your lying down, wakeful heart rate.

Besides, as I’ve already implied, watching the clock just makes you more anxious about not being able to fall asleep again. It gnaws away at you, telling you that with every minute that goes by your day will be a bit more miserable. You have to start ignoring that voice and the best way to do it is to remove the clock.

Do a rhythmic exercise, like breathing.

If you lie awake and can’t fall back asleep, try to distract your mind from that fact. Think about something else. In fact, try not to think about anything, besides your breathing. Visualise the air as it goes from your nose to your lungs. Imagine the lungs expanding as new air rushes into it. Now see how that precious oxygen gets transported to throughout your body. Relax. Let every breath fill you up completely, expanding your chest and stomach. Breathe out. Let the air flow from your fingertips and your toes, force every last drop of air out. Squeeze your abs together to make sure you are completely devoid of oxygen. Breathe in again, allowing the air to expand your lungs and abdomen. Imagine as air flows through your body…

Didn’t that relax you? It definitely got me relaxed! While describing the process to you I nearly fell asleep…

If the breathing thing seems a bit too mystic for you, just count to two over and over again in your head. Breathe in on one, breathe out on two. In on one, out on two. In on one, out on two. In on one, out on two. In on one, out on two. In on one… I trust you get the picture. Try to do it rhythmically and do not think about anything else.

Still awake? Try to actively relax.

Try to actively relax? Are you kidding me?

It’s a bit of an oxymoron, I know. But sometimes you have to actively work your body to relax it.

So how do I go about actively relaxing my body, huh?

You just have to start with the toes and slowly work your way up to the tip of your head. Flex your toes towards the kneecaps, then tense them up so that they point down. Keep them tensed up like this for five seconds. Relax your feet and allow your heels to sink into the mattress. Now tense up your knees for five seconds, followed by the quads. Relax your knees and quads into the mattress. Flex your buttocks for five seconds and relax them. Tense up and flex your abdominal muscles and relax them.

Tighten your hands into fists for five seconds and the stretch your fingers as wide apart as they can go for five seconds. All the while keeping your hands next to your body. Pull your shoulders down by tightening the muscles in your upper back. At the same time, bring your chin towards your chest. Hold this flex for five seconds and allow your head to drop back onto the pillow and your spine to sink into the mattress. Clench your jaws for five seconds and then stretch your mouth wide open for another five. close your mouth and push your tongue into your palate. relax your tongue and jaw.

Not relaxed yet?

Feel better? More relaxed? If not, try to do it again and really focus on one specific area or muscle group at a time. You can also do this while lying on the floor. If it still doesn’t work, get into the push-up position with your hands below your shoulders and your feet hip width apart. Now actively spread your fingers as far apart as they can go, while pushing into the floor. Pull your shoulder down towards your feel and actively press into your heels.

Technically, this exercise should tense up most of the muscles in your body at the same time. Try to hold this position for as long as you can, while continuously breathing in a steady rhythm. Count on every inhalation and exhalation. Long and slow counts. Don’t time yourself with the clock that shouldn’t be in your room anymore! When you can’t hold the pose any more, get back into bed and lie on your back with arms by your side, palms facing up. Imagine your body is sinking into the mattress, sinking into sleep…

If, after going through all of this trouble, you still can’t fall asleep, get out of bed and read a boring book in the living room.

It is important to go and read the book somewhere other than in your bedroom. You don’t want to associate your bedroom with sleeplessness. But once again, don’t look at the clock. Get out of bed, read a boring book (I find that reading textbooks and scientific articles makes for good bedtime reading…). Read until your eyes are droopy and then go back to bed. Just get in bed, close your eyes and sleep.

Whatever you do to try and go back to sleep, don’t tell yourself that it’s hopeless!

Please let me know what you do when you can’t go back to sleep in the middle of the night. Also, try out one or two of the above mentioned tips and see if it works for you. Until next time, I’m out.