How to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Jing Zhang is a prominent figure in the realm of sleep research, specializing in the intricate connection between sleep and memory. With an extensive research tenure exceeding 7 years, she…

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Last Updated On December 12th, 2023
How to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up

Key Takeaways

  • Strategies for Falling Back Asleep: Focus on staying calm and relaxed when awake in bed, avoiding excessive engagement with thoughts or checking the clock. Create a restful sleep environment by minimizing light, noise, and maintaining a comfortable room temperature. Employ relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or cognitive distractions to ease the transition back to sleep.
  • Consider Physical Factors: Evaluate the impact of physical factors such as mattress, pillows, room temperature, and sleepwear on sleep quality. Choose bedding that supports your preferred sleep position and enhances comfort. Be mindful of diet and nutrition, avoiding stimulants like caffeine or heavy meals close to bedtime.
  • Long-Term Habits for Better Sleep: Establish a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine to signal the body for winding down. Engage in regular physical activity but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime. Create a sleep-conducive environment with comfortable bedding, appropriate room conditions, and a technology-free zone.

Waking up in the middle of the night is a common thing for many of us. Sometimes you have no trouble falling asleep again. But it can be really annoying when you just want to fall back asleep fast but can’t.

Many of us experience this, suddenly waking in the middle of our sweet slumber and then no longer able to sleep.

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Let’s discuss the science behind how to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night.

Tips to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up

There are several practical strategies you can use to help you fall back into slumber. From setting the right room ambiance to mental and physical relaxation techniques, here are some tips to help you.

Staying Calm and Relaxed

The key to falling back asleep is staying calm and relaxed. Though you are awake, avoid indulging in your thoughts to prevent alertness of the brain.

Looking at the clock can also cause anxiety, and for some, it makes them count the hours they slept and the hours they needed to sleep more. Instead of doing anything, try focusing on your breath.

Focusing on your breath can slow down your heart rate — signaling your body that it’s time for rest. Reassure yourself that it is a common experience and stay in a comfortable position, keeping your eyes closed and your body at ease.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can be a powerful tool to help you transition back to sleep. As we mentioned, focusing on your breath can be soothing. It helps calm your mind and reduce stress. Look up breath regulation techniques like box breathing and experiment with what works best as a self-soothing practice.

You can also try progressive muscle relaxation, where you sequentially tense and relax muscle groups. This technique can also dissipate tension and prepare your body for sleep.

Sleep scientist Dr. Jing Zhang emphasizes that Verified Source ScienceDirect One of the largest hubs for research studies and has published over 12 million different trusted resources. View source progressive muscle relaxation is shown to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality, and it can be done whenever at the comfort of your bed, so it doesn’t hurt to give it a try. There are other relaxing techniques that you can use to keep your mind calm.

If you’re feeling particularly anxious, such as after a common nightmare, try the 5-4-3-2-1 senses grounding technique. With this method, you look for five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Cognitive Strategies

Midnight awakenings can send your thoughts racing, preventing you from slipping back into sleep. Cognitive strategies can help you Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source observe your thoughts for better sleep.

Engaging in cognitive distractions such as the ‘cognitive shuffle’ — imagining random, unrelated items or scenarios — can interrupt the pattern of persistent thoughts. 

This technique can divert your mind from stress-inducing concerns or the frustration of not sleeping, reducing mental arousal. 

Another approach is observing your thoughts Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source and reminding yourself that your thoughts aren’t reality. 

For those who have active minds at night after an unexpected awakening, turning on a nightstand lamp and jotting down thoughts in a bedside journal can offload worries and clear the mind for sleep. A notebook for journaling before bed can be placed on a nightstand to jot down thoughts and dreams in the middle of the night or early morning, too.

The key is finding the cognitive technique that feels effortless and calming. 

Exploring Melatonin for Mid-Night Awakening

If you find yourself struggling to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night, experimenting with a low dose of melatonin may be a viable option. Melatonin Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source is a hormone naturally produced by the body to regulate sleep-wake cycles, and it is available in supplement form.

Opt for a low dose, typically 0.5 to 3 milligrams, as higher doses may lead to grogginess the next day. A mild melatonin overdose can also make you feel more awake, which can negate the entire point of taking one to fall asleep.

Melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter, but we suggest consulting with a healthcare professional before incorporating them into your routine.

When to Get Out of Bed

If you find yourself tossing and turning after waking up in the middle of the night, it is often best to get up from bed. If you’ve been awake for more than 20 minutes, gently rise and move to a different space. 

You can try engaging in a quiet, non-stimulating, and peaceful activity, such as reading under dim light or listening to audiobooks. The change in environment can alleviate the pressure to fall asleep, and the act of getting up can reset your mental state. 

How to Prevent Sleep Interruptions

In addition to strategies for falling back asleep, implementing measures to limit sleep interruptions can significantly contribute to an uninterrupted night’s rest.

  • Technology-Free Zone: Make your bedroom a technology-free zone at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with relaxation, making it harder to fall and stay asleep.
  • Consistent Sleep Schedule: Stick to a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock and promotes better sleep quality.
  • Evaluate Evening Activities: Assess your evening activities and avoid engaging in stimulating or stressful tasks close to bedtime. Instead, opt for calming activities like reading a book or practicing gentle stretches.
  • Optimize Sleep Environment: Create a sleep-friendly environment by keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or background noise to block out disturbances. If you do need to get up at night, make sure to keep the lights dim, suggested by Dr. Jing Zhang.
  • Mindful Eating: Be mindful of what you consume in the evening and how late you eat before bed. Avoid heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime, as they can cause discomfort and indigestion, potentially leading to sleep interruptions.
  • Hydration Balance: While staying hydrated for good sleep is essential, try to limit fluid intake close to bedtime to minimize the likelihood of waking up for a bathroom trip during the night.
  • Address Stress and Anxiety: Practice stress-reducing techniques such as journaling or deep breathing exercises to manage anxiety that may contribute to mid-night awakenings.
  • Keep a Sleep Diary: It is a good practice to document your before-bed activities, sleep schedule, diet and your mood in a sleep diary. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source Dr. Jing Zhang suggests that by doing this, you can learn about what triggers your sleep interruptions. And it can serve as important information for your doctor if you seek professional help.
  • Comfortable Sleep Attire: Wear comfortable and season-appropriate sleepwear to ensure you stay at an optimal temperature throughout the night, reducing the chances of waking up due to discomfort.
  • Seasonal Bedroom Preparation: During the summer, consider using lightweight, breathable bedding and keeping the room cooler to counter warmer temperatures. In contrast, for winter bedrooms, opt for heavier blankets and warmer temperatures to combat the chill.

Let’s look at some of these points in greater detail!

Create a Restful Environment

Maintaining a sleep-friendly environment is crucial. It not only helps you fall asleep but also stay asleep. Try to keep your sleeping sanctuary free from disruptive light sources. You can use a sleep mask or blackout curtains to help you with that. 

Consider noise level; keep your surroundings quiet, or use a fan or something else to keep the background noise suitable to help you sleep. 

Your room temperature also matters. Cooler temperatures typically support better sleep. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that suit your sleeping style. Choose bedding that feels good against your skin. 

Physical Room Factors to Consider

Physical factors like your mattress and pillows, nightwear, temperature, and other factors greatly affect the quality of your sleep.

Assess your mattress and pillows. Are they supportive and comfortable? Do they contribute to quality sleep or restlessness? 

The right sleep setup should accommodate your preferred sleep position and provide support to the spine. 

Pay attention to your room temperature and sleepwear. Make sure you are wearing season-friendly clothes. Being too hot or too cold can interrupt sleep. Aim for a cool room and breathable fabrics, particularly if you are sleeping during a heat wave

Diet and Nutrition 

Be mindful of what you are putting inside your body and your overall diet. Heavy, rich foods can cause discomfort and indigestion. It can also impede your ability to fall back asleep. 

Avoid stimulating drinks and food that contain sleep disruptors like caffeine or sugar. Caffeine, if taken late during the day, can keep you awake long into the night. 

What you consume before going to bed can significantly influence your sleep cycle. If you feel hungry late at night, go for light and healthy bedtime snacks such as bananas or whole-grain crackers. Certain food contains tryptophan, which can induce the production of serotonin and melatonin — the known sleep promoters.

Long-Term Habits for Better Sleep

For a better solution to your nighttime awakenings, it is best to adapt to long-term habits that promote restful sleep.

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  • Create a consistent bedtime routine to signal your body that it is time to wind down, such as reading, warm bath, or gentle stretches.
  • Keep naps short and early in the afternoon to avoid complications in falling asleep at night.
  • Engage in physical activities regularly, which will contribute to the quality of sleep. However, avoid engaging in vigorous exercise a few hours before bedtime.
  • Make sure that your sleep environment is conducive to rest with a comfortable mattress, appropriate bedding, and a cool, dark, and quiet room.

When to Seek Professional Help

Occasional sleep disturbances are common, but if you frequently find yourself awake at night, unable to return to sleep, it may be time to seek professional help for a potential sleep disorder. It is particularly important to seek medical guidance if sleeplessness is affecting the quality of your life.

Inadequate sleep can affect your mood, energy levels, or ability to function during the day. Long-term sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness can increase your risk for various health conditions. Consulting with a sleep specialist can help assess underlying sleep disorders, such as insomnia, or any other mental condition.


Should I go back to sleep if I wake up tired?

If you wake up feeling tired and your schedule allows you to sleep for a few more hours, it is best to attempt to go back to sleep. It may be obvious to state, but getting more sleep will help you feel more rested. Ensure your sleep environment is rest-conducive to prevent a future sleep disruption and use relaxation techniques to help you drift off.

How come when I wake up, I can’t go back to sleep?

Many people experience difficulty returning to sleep after waking up, which can be due to stress, an unstable sleep environment, or a disrupted sleep cycle. Anxious thoughts may flood your mind, hindering the relaxation needed for sleep. Difficulty falling back asleep may also be a response to stimulants or poor sleep habits.

How do I fix waking up in my sleep?

Waking up in the middle of the night and struggling to go back to sleep can be attributed to various factors, including stress, anxiety, or an overactive mind. Racing thoughts or unresolved concerns may hinder the ability to relax and return to a restful state. Environmental factors like excessive noise, uncomfortable room temperature, or an unsupportive sleep setup can also contribute to sleep interruptions.

To fix issues of waking up in the middle of the night, it is best to establish a consistent bedtime routine, optimize your sleep environment, manage stress levels, and avoid caffeine and devices before bed. If you still find it hard to get quality sleep after putting in effort, consult a healthcare provider.

Is nocturnal waking a sign of insomnia?

Frequent nocturnal waking can be a symptom of insomnia, especially if you have trouble falling back asleep. Insomnia is characterized by persistent issues with initiating or maintaining sleep, impacting your overall well-being and daily functionality. There are even terms that refer Verified Source Harvard Health Blog run by Harvard Medical School offering in-depth guides to better health and articles on medical breakthroughs. View source to insomnia characterized by difficulty falling asleep vs difficulty staying asleep, known as sleep-onset insomnia and sleep-maintenance insomnia respectively.

Sometimes insomnia is acute, or in other words a short-term ailment, but there is the possibility of chronic insomnia. If nocturnal waking becomes a regular pattern and significantly affects your daytime mood, functionality or performance, it may be worth discussing your potential insomnia symptoms with a healthcare professional. They can help you explore potential underlying causes and solutions.

How do I fall back asleep after waking up?

To fall back asleep, remain calm and relaxed in bed, practice deep breathing, or use visualization techniques to quiet the mind. Avoid stimulating activities, such as checking the time or overthinking, as they can increase alertness.

If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and engage in calming activities like reading until you feel sleepy again. It will help reset your mental state for a more successful return to sleep.


Nocturnal awakenings are common. It is a sleep disturbance experienced by many of us. While such sleep disruptions can be frustrating, you can manage to fall asleep fast and experience needed deep sleep with different tips and strategies.

From a conducive sleep environment to your diet, exercise habits, and a new bedtime routine that enables more sleep, you can optimize many factors and have quality sleep at night instead of recurring complaints about how you can’t sleep.

However, if the condition is persistent and broken sleep affects your day-to-day activities, it is best to consult with a professional sleep expert.

About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

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