It’s something we can all sympathise with – a broken night’s sleep.
You lie there in limbo, wondering how to drift back into the land of nod.
“One of the most common difficulties I’m asked is: ‘What should I do when I wake up during the night?'” says Dr Maja Schaedel,clinical psychologist in the Sleep Disorder Centre at Guy’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – and co-founder of The Good Sleep Clinic.
“Waking during the night can be caused by many different reasons, such as restless legs or subtle jerky movement in our limbs, sleep breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea, or needing to urinate more frequently as we get older,” explains Schaedel.
“So it’s always important to rule out any physical difficulties which may be making your sleep more disrupted.”
However, she says it’s very common to have disturbed sleep initially, but then to develop more of a psychological difficulty related to it, such as insomnia.
“This is when our body and brain starts to develop associations with struggling to fall asleep; or waking up during the night, or in the early hours of the morning – and even when there is no physical reason preventing us from sleeping, we still struggle,” notes Schaedel.
And we all know how frustrating it is to wake up feeling grumpy and exhausted.
As Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity puts it: “Sleep is an essential part of our health just like diet and exercise. It affects our moods, behaviours and overall wellbeing – so a lack of it can cause major disruptions to your everyday life.”
To break the barrier between you and a great night’s sleep, here are a few things you can try…
“Spend some time during the evening writing down all of the thoughts and concerns from the day,” says Schaefer. “This will help to teach your body and brain that daytime is for thinking – night-time is for sleeping.”
Artis says: “When you’re having trouble sleeping and can’t understand why, a sleep diary can help identify what’s keeping you awake.
“Sometimes issues are a result of bad sleep habits, for example, drinking too much caffeine before bedtime, not exercising, or poor sleep hygiene.”
“Sleep needs to find you,” says Artis. “Keep your eyes open and gently resist sleep, or try to adopt a carefree, accepting attitude towards wakefulness. The more relaxed your mind is, the easier it is to drop off.”
“When you keep an eye on the time, your mind starts to count down how long you have left to get some sleep,” warns Artis. “This generally leads to tossing and turning and thinking about what you need to do the next day, which increases stress and anxiety.”This frustration often sends your body into ‘fight or flight’ response, where your mind starts to race, your heart rate increases, and your blood pressure raises. All of which, ultimately, prevent you from going back to sleep.”
“Don’t be tempted to look at your phone or watch something on a tablet/TV. Checking your devices often leads to ‘just checking a message, email or social media’ which then sets the brain in gear,” says Artis.
“Also, the blue light emitted from screens suppresses melatonin which tells your body it’s time to wake up. It’s best to remove temptation in the first place and ensure there is no tech in the bedroom before you go to bed.”
5. Come to terms with your thoughts
“When your thoughts show up at night – identify them as just thoughts,” says Schaedel. “It’s OK they have come into your mind – that’s normal, but don’t start to engage with them. Spending time attending to them and mulling them over gives them energy.”
6. Keep your mind in the present
“Focus on the present moment, such as a pyjama button, the crease in the sheets, the gentle rise and fall of your tummy when you breathe,” advises Schaefer. “When you find your mind being drawn towards your thoughts, simply bring it back to the here and now experience.”
Progressive muscle relaxation can help control stress and anxiety – and could help you nod off. It involves tensing and then relaxing your muscles, one by one. “It’s when you focus on squeezing and releasing the muscle groups in your body systematically,” says Schaefer.
“If after 20 minutes you’re still struggling to go back to sleep, get up and move to another room,” suggest Artis. “Make sure you keep the lights dim and do something calm and relaxing.”
She says to choose something you enjoy but avoid tech. “Reading, listening to music, relaxation techniques or having a milky drink are conducive to sleep. Staying in bed awake decreases sleep efficiency, meaning we associate the bed with activities such as being awake, planning, worrying and not for sleeping.”
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox