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How to fall back asleep if you wake up at night

It can be incredibly frustrating to wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to fall back asleep. What should you do if you find yourself in this situation? Erica Eaddy, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician, offers some advice. 

What causes you to wake up in the middle of the night?

There are many different reasons people wake up in the middle of the night, says Dr. Eaddy. These include:

Dr. Eaddy says she’s noticed a trend of sleep problems among her patients this past year—likely attributed to the stress and anxiety of the pandemic, combined with working from home.

“It can be hard to find work-life balance, which can throw off your sleep schedule,” she says.

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

“Don’t try to force yourself back to sleep,” says Dr. Eaddy. “If you can’t fall back to sleep within 15 to 20 minutes, do something calming in another room until you find yourself getting drowsy. Then try to go back to sleep.”

This can include reading a boring book (reading the latest thriller or watching Netflix may be fun, but it can make it harder to fall back asleep), listening to soothing music or practicing meditation.

Avoid staring at the clock, as this can cause anxiety and stress.

Dr. Eaddy also recommends to:

  • Make sure your room is dark, cool and free from reminders that stress you out. For example, you don’t want to work from home in your bedroom, if possible.

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

  • Eat a healthy diet.

  • Exercise regularly, but avoid intense exercise within three hours of bedtime.

“You could also try melatonin supplements, but you’ll want to discuss that with your doctor before starting anything new,” she says.

What to avoid for a good night’s sleep

Dr. Eaddy recommends to avoid:

  • Using electronic devices an hour before bedtime or if you wake up in the middle of the night. “The light from the screens can stimulate you and make it even harder to fall back asleep,” she explains.

  • Drinking coffee, tea or alcohol in the afternoon

  • Smoking

  • Napping during the day

When to see a doctor for sleep problems

“If you’ve tried all of these tips and still have trouble sleeping or are waking up several times a week, talk to your doctor,” says Dr. Eaddy. “You may need an assessment for a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, or a chronic illness.”

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