Out of all the questions about sleep, perhaps the single most common one is this – What should I do when I wake up at night? And this is no surprise. You could argue that insomnia at its core is about being awake when you should be asleep. And you typically want to be asleep a night.
So what are these three things you should do when this ain’t happening? Before we go there, we need to spend a few moments on sleep physiology to make sure the answer makes sense.
Think about that person you know who sleeps fantastic. Your friend/spouse/family member who’s asleep before their head hits the pillow. The one you’re envious of. Imagine asking them what they do to sleep so well. Most likely they’d simply reply with a shrug and a confused look. And that response is super important.
Sleep is a passive process. Sleep only happens when there’s no effort. The more you try/want/hope to sleep, the less you get.
That covered, let’s get to it!
1. Accept reality
When you wake up and become aware of being awake at night, yet again, your instinct is naturally to do something to make yourself fall back asleep. Perhaps listen to a soothing podcast, close your eyes and still your mind or count down from 100 in steps of 7.
This may seem like a sensible thing to do. Your brain is awake and active, and you want it to become relaxed and sleep. The only problem with this approach is that you’re trying to make yourself sleep. And the more you try, the more awake you become.
The first thing to do when you are awake at night is in fact a what not to do. And a very important one too – do not do anything that you hope will make you fall asleep.
This includes obvious ones like closing your eyes hard and trying to force your brain to shut down but also more camouflaged attempts like reading a boring book. You can’t fool your brain. If you’re picking up the most boring book you know, you’re trying to make yourself fall asleep.
2. Take an inner journey
If you’re awake in bed, but feel comfortable under those warm blankets and don’t want to be anywhere else, then go somewhere nice using your imagination.
Think of a pleasant memory or a tropical beach or anything else that makes you feel good.
If this comes easy to you, then just stay in bed and enjoy the imagery you’re creating. If your thoughts easily drift off, so will you soon enough.
3. Do something fun!
If taking that inner journey isn’t actually taking you anywhere, if you keep thinking of how you’re awake when you should be asleep, then you have to do something else to redirect your thoughts. What is most important when you decide what to do is this – you have to do something enjoyable!
Read a page turner. Listen to a podcast you’ve been dying to catch up on. See what happens in the next episode of that Netflix show.
You think that this would wake you up even more. But it will do the opposite. Because when you’re not afraid of waking up, your brain stops treating awakenings as something to get excited about.
In fact, when you get to a point where you genuinely look forward to waking up – you no longer do!
There you have it. This is your playbook. Now you no longer have to wonder what to do when you’re awake at night, which is in itself super important. Because the deliberation and ponder of whether to do this or that in itself produces so much anxiety and insomnia.
So go ahead and pick that activity you’ll get to enjoy when you’re awake. Customize your playbook. Start using it today and sleep better in no time!