Suddenly Awake at 3 A.M.? Here’s What Not to Do
Maybe you got up to go to the bathroom, maybe there was a noise outside, or maybe you just woke up on your own—but it’s the middle of the night and you just can’t get back to sleep. What gives? Called “middle insomnia” or “middle of the night insomnia,” this vexing phenomenon can truly ruin your night’s sleep and the following day — and as we know, bad quality sleep can affect everything from immunity to metabolism. Middle insomnia affects almost twice as many women as men, and it becomes more and more common as you age, but that doesn’t mean anyone should accept it as a given. Here are some simple dos and don’ts that can make a world of difference if you find yourself staring at the ceiling at 3 AM:
Don’t Turn On the Light
As an important hormone that helps send you off to sleep , melatonin deserves special attention here. Melatonin is an old-school hormone, the patterns of which were forged back when we slept and awoke along with the setting and rising of the sun. The biology of this didn’t change along with the advent of electricity, meaning that switching on bright lights sends your melatonin levels racing, and can make it much harder to get back to sleep as a result. If you need to get up, keep the lights as dim as you can, or hey, why not invest in a candle?
Don’t Use Electronics
Not just because it stimulates the mind and further draws you out of a relaxed state, but also because the blue spectrum light emitted from phones, tablets, and televisions has been shown to impede sleep. In fact, there’s powerful evidence that the only things you should ever do in bed is sleep and have sex; lying on your mattress and surfing the web or watching TV will weaken the connection in your brain between your bed and sleep. Spend a few weeks only using your bed for these purposes and see the difference it makes.
Yes, regular exercise is a great way to improve your sleep, but getting the blood pumping too close to bedtime can make the body think it’s time to start the day again. Instead, try some relaxing stretches or some self-massage .
Don’t Drink Alcohol
Sure, alcohol may help knock you out, but mounting evidence is showing that once the effect wears off, sleep becomes lighter and much easier to disrupt. Even when alcohol does help people to stay asleep, it’s been shown to disrupt REM sleep, the deepest phase of sleep, which is essential to refresh the brain’s ability to problem solve  and stabilize mood .
Don’t Agonize Over the Fact that You’re Awake
“As you lay there, you become tense, which makes it harder to fall back asleep. And then you become even more upset,” clinical psychologist Theresa Lengerich, PsyD told WebMD. “If this continues night after night, it can become a conditioned response that can cause insomnia all by itself.”
This age old method of relaxation has somehow lost its place in today’s society, but it’s an essential way to clear your head of anxiety and ruminations and lay out the welcome mat for an easy sleep. This guide is a good place to start, or you can try out the guided meditation app Headspace.
Do Try Some White Noise
Believe it or not, there’s a scientific basis for white noise helping us sleep. Not only does it help to block out potentially disruptive sounds (think dog barks and traffic), but in a survey of 2,021 problem sleepers, white noise was found to work almost as well as sleep medication when it comes to helping people doze off. If you don’t want to buy a white noise machine, switching on a fan or an AC unit can work just as well.
Do Eliminate Electronic Lights
We sleep best in absolute darkness, and even an alarm clock’s digits, AC unit’s “off” light, or just-too-thin curtains can be enough to perturb your circadian rhythm. Before seeing a doctor for sleeplessness, buy some blackout curtains and throw a towel over every electronic light in your room.
A lot of professionals use what’s called “the rule of three” to decide if middle insomnia is truly a problem: Are you waking up at least three times a week? Does it take more than 30 minutes to go back to sleep? Has this been going on for 30 days or more? If so, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor.
But for many people, the above tips are some of the best natural ways to beat middle insomnia and reclaim a good night’s rest.