What Should You Do If You’ve Woken Up In the Middle Of the Night And Can’t Get Back To Sleep?

woman sitting in bed in the middle of the night

So you’ve woken up earlier than you’ve wanted to.

What you do now depends on whether it’s in the middle of the night or an hour or two before you usually wake up. 

Consider the other people in your house. You don’t want to interrupt their sleep. Be considerate. Put yourself in their place. If you’re not considerate, they may make you pay, right? 😉

If you’ve woken up two hours or less before your wake up time… 

If you’ve woken up two hours or less before you wanted to get up and you have the freedom to move around, you might as well start your day. If you feel fully rested, the chances of getting back to sleep are slim.  

Use the time to do something good for yourself. You could, for example, plan out a menu for a healthy lunch and dinner; all the better if you’re able to come up with enough dinner plans that you don’t have to think about what’s for dinner for the rest of the week.

Digital clock reading 4 a.m.
Waking up two hours before a 6 a.m. wakeup and you can’t get back to sleep.

Or you could work out. If you don’t have a regular exercise program or a vigorous workout doesn’t appeal to you for some reason, try stretching. 

Do you have a crock pot, especially one with a timer? If you have the ingredients on hand, you can set up an easy, healthy low-effort dinner.

Try to use the time as a gift. Anything is on the table, all the better if it works into your personal goals or benefits you somehow. 

It’s a good time to use the time to do something health-focused because by waking up too early, you may find yourself feeling very tired at the end of the day. You’ll at least be able to tell yourself that you did something productive with the time. 

If you’ve woken up in the middle of the night… 

If you’ve woken up in the middle of the night a few hours after you’ve gone to sleep and you know that won’t be enough for you to make it through your day, your goal should be to get back to sleep as soon as you can. 

Try very hard to avoid doing anything mentally or physically stimulating. At the same time, strongly consider not taking anything for sleep other than maybe some herbal tea, because it might make you so sleepy that you’ll sleep through your alarm and have a bad next day.  

Digital clock reads 1 a.m.
Waking up in the middle of the night.

Try to figure out why it’s happened. For example, did you have a heavy meal late in the day and start having indigestion? Did you take a long nap in the afternoon and mess up your circadian rhythm? Did you have a nightmare and have woken up simulated and upset? There are many possible reasons why someone might wake up hours after going to sleep. Try to understand why you did. 

In addition to avoiding mental stimulation, avoid physical stimulation as well. Don’t wake up at 1:00 in the morning and start drinking coffee even if you think you have no effects from the caffeine. Be aware that coffee is a diuretic that might lead you to fall asleep and then have to get up again in a few hours because you have to pee. 

Don’t exercise, either. At least as far as it’s doing strength-bearing or cardiovascular exercises. Some stretches ought to be OK.  They might actually help you fall back asleep. 

The best thing to do if you’ve woken up a few hours after you’ve gone to bed are some of the most boring (to you) chores you can think of.

Think of the chores you avoid. The ones that are like pulling teeth when you think about doing them. If you’re averse to sweeping and mopping your kitchen floor, do that. If you hate vacuuming and you’re not going to bother anybody, do that. If you can turn your lights on and straighten out your bedroom, go through bills and pay them if you can if you’re certain you’re awake enough. 

For further reading:

Try this the next time you wake too early

Should you bore yourself to sleep?

Classic 117-year-old advice to stop insomnia

Follow these 5 principles to get the best sleep possible anywhere, anytime

Get a light-up pen before you have your next good idea in the middle of the night

What to eat at night before you go to bed

James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life.

There are a lot of things you can do to take advantage of waking up in the middle of the night. You’re limited only by the layout of your house or living area, and whether or not you’ll wake up the other people who are trying to sleep. 

There's gold (figurative) in your dreams.
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