If there’s one thing all humans have in common, it’s being able to relate to the annoyance that is a sleepless night.
The tossing. The turning. The “OH MY GOD IT’S 4AM ALREADY”.
Yep. We’ve all been there.
For some, it’s an annual occurrence on the back of one too many coffees in the office after 4pm. For others, it is a completely debilitating battle every night (for these people, professional help is essential).
Regardless of where you sit on the sleeplessness spectrum, the truth is that we all want to sleep better.
We spoke to sleep psychologist Dr Liora Kempler from Integrated Sleep Health to find out exactly what you should and shouldn’t do if you wake up in the middle of the night, and how your habits during the day can affect the quality of your sleep at night.
The answers are surprising.
Firstly, Dr Kempler emphasises that everyone wakes up around twice every night, but that most people don’t remember.
“Everybody wakes up during the night, it’s a normal part of the sleep staging,” Dr Kempler explains.
She added that waking up in the night is a good thing, and that it’s essential from an evolutionary perspective to ensure you are still safe.
“I think one of the problems that arises is that people wake through the night and then think that they have a problem, and then they catastrophise when really it’s not a problem at all,” Dr Kempler explains.
Waking up in the night is normal. But if you find yourself awake and aware of it, what you do determines how you sleep for the rest of the night, and can even result in bad habits.
“It’s not the waking that’s the problem, it’s what happens during that wake that can become a problem,” explains Dr Kempler.
Here are the best and worst things you can do if you wake up in the night.
1. Get out of bed after 15 minutes.
If you’ve been lying in bed in the middle of the night for 15 minutes or longer, Dr Kempler says it’s time to get out of bed.
“Our brains will start to associate bed with whatever we do in it, so it will associate bed with sleep once we sleep in it and if we worry in it, it will associate bed with worry to the point where you’ll eventually have a really relaxing day and then lie down and immediately feel alert, thinking and worrying because that’s basically what you’ve taught your brain to do,” she explains.
She says the best thing you can do is go into another room and sit in a dark room on a chair. It allows you to take your worrying or thinking out of the bed, takes the pressure off the sleep, and allows you to get sleepy again. When you find yourself on the brink of sleep, it’s time to jump back into bed.