How to fall back asleep in the middle of the night

Check out our page to read more tips for what to do when you can't sleep.

00:00 Introduction
00:18 Why do I wake up at 2-3am?
01:03 Tip #1: Don't Look At The Clock
01:45 Non-Sleep Deep Rest
02:58 Tip #2: Try 4-7-8 breathing
03:58 What if I still can't sleep?
04:57 Outro

It is well established that restful, restorative sleep is important for physical and mental health. Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep and remain asleep, is one of the most common sleep issues. As many as two-thirds of adults report occasional bouts of insomnia. Others report chronic or ongoing insomnia, which can affect as many as 10 to 15% of adults.

If you’re one of the millions of people who can’t sleep at night, you may benefit from our tips and suggestions for how to fall asleep faster or get back to sleep if you awake at night.

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About the Author: Joy Packard

28 Comments

  1. As someone who regularly wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about sleep, I’m going to try out these helpful tips. Thanks!

  2. Great job! So many videos go on and on about how bad a lack of sleep is, and why you should get more. They just add to the worrying, which doesn’t help at all. Restorative rest is a great concept for putting the mind at ease. Thank you!

  3. This is fantastic advice and similar to what I’ve been doing for years to help battle my insomnia. Great to know that I’ve been doing more or less the right thing. Thank you!

  4. Great tips! I’ve been waking up around 2:30 am lately because I’m warm or hot, so I get up, look at the clock, go to the restroom, but can’t fall asleep. This happens if I had a stressful day, so when I wake up, my mind goes into overdrive. I’ve found if I’m calmer and quieter before bedtime, then later when I wake up I’m able to fall back to sleep okay . I’m aware I’m about to enter a hypnagogic state because I feel cooler. I may or may not sleep, but at least like you said I have deep rest. 😴💤🐻💤

    1. I would wake up warm. When I started flipping my pillow over, and taking off the covers, I was able to get to sleep much faster, or often now, not wake up except for the few seconds it takes me to do those two things.

  5. Thank you! I started the 4-7-8 breathing technique a few years ago (found it thru Dr. Weil). I’m normally a shallow breather. But I’ve noticed, after a few segments of 4-7-8, my breathing for the next few mins is deep.
    Also, my trick for going to sleep is to distract my brain. I do this by listening to soft ambient music or sounds for a while (my timer is set to stop playing after one hour).
    Yes, I can almost set my clock by what time I wake up (always to pee, no matter how much I’ve had to drink the hour before bed). So I’ll definitely try what you mentioned (no clock, don’t get up unless I have to owe, don’t get up for beverage).

  6. You described my sleep pattern to a tee! It’s a given that I wake up around 2 or 3 am and it seems like it takes about an hour (if I’m lucky) to fall back to sleep.
    I’m less likely to allow myself to be irritated or worried after hearing this – thank you!!!

  7. One thing that works for me is actually trying NOT to fall asleep, literally trying to keep my eyes open. It’s counter intuitive but it works. Kind of like when you fall asleep watching tv. I read about POW’s coming to this realization when the anxiety of never knowing when they would be beaten would keep them constantly awake, yet they needed sleep, and this would give them what little sleep they could get.

  8. Thanks for such good information! I’ve had several severe neurological symptoms for 7 mo, and with it for the last 5 weeks I’m getting 4 hrs/sleep/night on average. It’s encouraging to me to hear you can get some restorative sleep by just resting in bed which I’ve done so much of. My cortisol levels are so high that I feel like I’m being chased by a tiger as I’m trying to fall asleep. I do fall asleep usually around 10:00 or earlier so I suppose that helps too. I heard that every hour before midnight is equal to two hours after midnight. I think if I could lower my lactic acid in my shoulders and feet, it would help my sleep somewhat. I’m starting to take methylene blue for this, and Dr. Eric Berg says that Digoxin will lower lactic acid very quickly. He’s helped me more than any dr. I’ve gone to – they don’t have any idea about what’s causing this. I believe that it’s coming from my intestines as I’ve had fast motility for 14 yrs. B1 has helped me some for energy.

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. I had always assumed that I woke because I needed a pee, I never realized it was “the other way around”. I followed your advice, and got back to sleep quite quickly, the first time in 3 or 4 years!

  10. Thanks. Get back to sleep at night is difficult. Strangely, I have done the breathing exercise and it works. Since I have not seen your video, this exercise came automatically to me and of course I did not follow your timing. I just breathe in, hold a while and slowly breathe out. Great advice!

  11. Good advice, and probably works for very many people.

    My “sleep” (or rather lack of sleep) timeline is as described here: usually no problem falling asleep, but I never stay asleep long.

    I wake up because of 2 symptoms, separately or simultaneously: abdominal pains (gastric or intestinal) and/or overwhelming anguish on whatever topic (from the structural works required by the maintenance of my home to the inflation rate passing by Ukraine, global warming, and so many other wrought topics). I went through all possible tests, with no real abdominal ailment ever diagnosed. it is really the anguish that prevents me from falling back asleep and gets me to focus on the various pain points.

    If I simply lie there breathing as suggested here, the anguish spirals out of control, I get cold sweats, shivers, muscle contractions, picturing colliding worst case scenarios. I then get up , flick on some device and try to solve or simply reframe the triggering topic. Needless to say that digging through those rabbit holes rarely works in terms of getting back to sleep, and I stay up till breakfast and the working day. “Stop thinking about stuff” does not work for me either: the more I try to ignore those waves, the more I focus on them. I am in a constant state of exhaustion. Some medications work and manage to keep me asleep, but only for a couple of nights before my body stops reacting to them. Been going on for many years.

    Thought I’d throw this here in comments in case anyone else has been through similar experiences. My doctors have been of no real help beyond prescribing those medications.

    1. My own answer is to relax and drift into a nice fantasy. Thinking of nice things and an imaginary place where nothing bad can happen does allow me to easily drift off to sleep even after waking up.

    2. ⛳️A friend of mine got long term abdominal pain and doctors could not find anything in her either.
      Then somebody in her office told her to try Probiotics and her pain was gone instantly… now she tries to eat little bit of fermented food everyday.

      Hope your liver is working fine. Get it tested.

      I could not sleep, if I ate too much sugar.. now I have given up all processed and white sugar. I don’t eat fruits at night.
      I turned Plant Based Whole Food ( PBWF) 6 months ago from vegan. So No oil, No Sugar and No processed food and very little whole grains.
      I don’t read any news or go binging on social media.. I know if there is important news..someone in the family or friends will send text or WhatsApp…
      I keep my phone in airplane mode and WiFi off.., also I don’t check the phone during sleep hrs.
      Happy sleep! 💤

    3. Don’t worry…be happy…none of this stuff you’re worrying about is going to matter 20 to 30 years later when you’re dead anyway 🙂

    4. It sounds like you have a severe anxiety disorder. In addition to medication to treat anxiety (not just sleep medicine), you would probably benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You have to train your brain to be able to focus on something that doesn’t cause you anxiety. For me, it was a cozy fireplace while it was snowing outside. It’s like meditation, only with a neutral image in your head instead of nothingness. The more detailed the scene, the better. Eventually, I was able to fall asleep within a minute of picturing my scene. A mantra could be substituted if you need sound to overcome intrusive thoughts. Or maybe your imaginary scene could include sound like rainfall or ocean waves. I wish you luck and I hope you can overcome this problem.

  12. Very interesting and helpful. 4–7-8 works for me and that was before seeing this video. I’m retired so a pre breakfast walk or even light cardio is my current key to longevity. Truly detest waking up too early thxs

  13. Great tips, thank you. Just a little correction; 4-7-8 breathing doesn’t lower co2…it increases it. The relaxation effect comes from increasing parasympathetic nervous response, which is the rest, digest and recover phase of our autonomic nervous system. Increased co2 levels are also relaxing, which is why you breathe into a bag to calm an anxiety attack. Hope this helps.

  14. At last someone who says what I’ve been doing for years is the right thing to do. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been struggling with chronic insomnia. I’m getting a bit better now sleeping an average of 5 hours a night, often without waking up compared to the 1.5 to 3 hours a night 3 years ago. But, I always stayed in bed until the morning. And I now know that is why despite my insomnia I can manage to do my day of work without too much problem. Yes, some days I’m really tired, but when I activate myself, it kind of goes away. So thank you for clarifying this issue. I was so concerned every time I was hearing that we should never stay in bed when we can’t sleep. Thank you for your positive attitude. You can inform without being an alarmist like so many on the internet.

  15. Really interesting stuff. I’m so happy to hear that an hour of relaxation is as good as 20 minutes’ actual sleep. One thing I’ve been told is to form my tongue as if I were going to pronounce the letter “R” while I do my relaxed breathing. I’ve noticed if I do that, I really start to yawn if I do the 4-4-4 or 4-7-8 or whatever pattern breathing.

  16. After 40+ years of chronic insomnia trying everything including sleep clinics and pills (rubbish except once in a blue moon and in an emergency), I can confirm that everything he says helps while the usual advice of, “If you can’t sleep, get up and do something until you feel sleepy again ” doesn’t. At least for me, it doesn’t. In fact, I’ve always been worse when I’ve gotten up and always been better when I’ve stayed in bed. “Non-sleep deep rest” is very real, so it’s important to stay resting, particularly for your eyes, even if you aren’t sleeping. To add to it there have been times I’ve been sure I was awake only to find when I looked at the clock, an hour or two had passed when to me it only seemed like a minute. If you get up you’ll miss out on sleep you otherwise would have gotten.

    The main sleep killer is tension. So whatever you can do to reduce that will help. First off, one night of bad or lost sleep is not going to kill you, so stop worrying. It’s the worry as much as anything else that will affect your performance the following day. But do stay away from machinery, please. Find a way to distract your mind from your worries, like engaging in wild, but not so wild you get an adrenalin rush, fantasies that give you a holiday from your normal day-to-day world far away from what’s troubling you.

    And don’t ignore physical issues. Have yourself checked for sleep apnea and restricted airways due to allergies or physiology.

  17. Thanks for the biological reasons behind waking up at 2-3am. I saw my dad facing this issue and that was one reason why I didn’t stress too much about it when it happened to me. If I don’t fall asleep right away, I usually read on my Kindle until I fall asleep or watch a YouTube video. It’s only when these don’t work that I get worried. But now I will try the breathing exercises first. Thanks again.

  18. Thanks for this, Dr Breus ! I sometimes will spend minutes 5-10 mins studying a photo online of a famous painting and it helps make me sleepy (usually). I know you shouldn’t be watching the screen but sometimes there seem to be exceptions. (Nothing frightening – just a beautiful Matisse or someone like him). Bonus: You have another wonderful image in your head forever if you study it carefully.

  19. This can be challenging to do, but if I’m dealing with anxiety, I’ve found that by telling myself after getting in bed that this is the time for rest, that I can resume my worrying tomorrow and blanking out anxious thoughts, really helps.

  20. Agree about relaxing and just laying there. I’ve done that for years. I think about how comfortable I am, how I used to hate getting up for school or work when I wanted to stay in bed. So appreciating the comfort of my bed and just relaxing helps me fall back asleep.

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