Waking up in the middle of the night and trying (unsuccessfully) to fall back asleep is beyond frustrating—which is exactly why Robert Rountree, M.D., says you should just stay awake instead.
Here’s why the acclaimed integrative medicine doctor says that trying to force yourself to sleep is not productive, and his take on what to do instead.
Why you shouldn’t stay in bed awake for too long.
People who tend to ruminate on unfinished work, impending responsibilities, etc., will have an especially tough time falling back asleep the longer they stay awake in bed at night.
“If you’re waking up thinking about all the things you didn’t get done that day, that’s a warning sign,” Rountree told mbg co-founder and co-CEO Jason Wachob during a recent Sleep Summit Masterclass. It signals that you went to bed with a lot of unprocessed information. Staying in bed, shutting your eyes, and obsessing about why you can’t sleep won’t quiet those thoughts. Instead, the mind needs to be distracted.
“If it’s been more than 30 minutes, you might as well get up and do something else,” Rountree said. “You’re better off just going and reading with a little bit of light or doing something that’s non-stressful.”
What to do instead of force yourself to sleep.
This is not to say you should be pulling all-nighters. But you might find that getting out of bed and engaging in a calming activity is more likely to ease you back into sleep than just staying put. Some practices you can try include taking a warm bath with lavender oil; listening to some soft, soothing music; or Rountree’s personal favorite method, pressing play on a guided meditation. (This is the one time it’s OK to use your phone on restless nights; otherwise, you’re better staying off electronics.)
Snacking, drinking alcohol, attempting high-intensity exercise, working, or starting at the clock in the wee hours will only make it more difficult to fall back asleep.
How to promote better sleep altogether.
To avoid waking up in the middle of the night in the first place, there are some preventive measures to take. First of all, stick to the same bedtime and wakeup times to help out your body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock. People who do this are better able to fall and stay asleep, compared to people who maintain a yo-yo schedule with different sleep and wakeup times, sleep researcher and co-author of Sleep for Success! Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., previously told mbg.
While low doses of melatonin (about half to 1.5 mg) can help someone fall back asleep, it’s not the most effective method for poor sleepers, Rountree told Wachob. “Most people find once they’ve done it for a while, it loses its effect.”
Instead, he recommended a magnesium supplement, like mbg’s magnesium+, which contains jujube to support healthy cortisol levels and calm an overactive mind, as well as PharmaGABA to enhance sleep quality.*
And if you’re still struggling to sleep through the night, consider following these expert-approved tips for a more restful night and more seamless morning.