Tossing and turning in bed, looking at the clock, the mobile phone or even the TV, thinking, dwelling on problems, how many times have we woken up in the middle of the night and never been able to go back to sleep? And what is described is so common that experts have even given it a name, calling it sleep maintenance insomnia. Night awakenings with difficulty falling asleep are estimated to be the most common sleep problem, even more common than difficulty falling asleep at bedtime (Molin et al, Nat Sci Sleep, 2014). So what can we do to improve the quality of our night's rest, avoid night awakenings or, if these happen, go back to sleep without problems? Let's see what the experts recommend!
Night awakenings, don't look at the alarm clock
As researchers at Johns Hopkins University and numerous scientific studies suggest, it is better to turn the alarm clock towards the wall and not look at it. In fact, after waking up at night, the more you look at the alarm clock, the more this action increases frustration and fuels stress, insomnia and wakefulness (Krakow et al, J Nerv Ment Dis, 2012 - Buenaver, Johns Hopkins Health Blog).
Nocturnal awakenings, avoid any discomfort
After a nocturnal awakening, in order to go back to sleep it is important to avoid a situation that is not perfectly comfortable. Therefore, if you need to go to the bathroom, do so (Buenaver, Johns Hopkins Health Blog). The advice, in this case, is to turn on only a small light, the bare minimum that allows you to see without putting your brain in a state of wakefulness. In fact, exposure to strong electric light, such as you would normally have in a room when you turn on the light, drastically reduces the production of melatonin, which is a sleep-promoting hormone. Its reduction makes the body believe that the night is over and the awakening phase begins (Gooley et al, J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2011).
Night awakenings, how the room should be
Both to prevent night awakenings and to get back to sleep more easily, it is important to take some precautions. In particular, the room should be cool, dark, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, and noise should be limited as much as possible, whether it be traffic noise, by closing the windows, or noise from electronic devices such as the telephone, which should be switched off (Buenaver, Johns Hopkins Health Blog). In fact, being exposed to noise during sleep can alter the very structure of sleep, reducing the deep sleep phase, which is the regenerative one, and increasing the possibility of nocturnal awakenings (Fietze et al, Noise Health, 2016).
Night awakenings, the importance of meditation
Meditation can be of considerable importance in helping you fall asleep again after a nocturnal awakening. You can use different relaxation techniques, such as imagining pleasant spaces or landscapes, or even visualizing each part of your body and relaxing it, as in the case of Jacobson's progressive relaxation. Jacobson's progressive relaxation has been shown to improve sleep quality, even in the presence of pain and in people recovering from surgery (Ibrahim et al, Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res, 2021). In the app, in the meditation section, you can listen to this meditation and make it yours, calling it to mind when you need it most.
Night awakenings, if you really don't fall asleep get up
It may happen that you just can't get back to sleep after waking up at night, in this case it may be useful, 15-20 minutes after waking up, to try to get out of bed, go to another room, perhaps listening to some relaxing music, reading a few pages of a book, always turning on a dim light. Then when you feel tired you can go back to bed (Buenaver, Johns Hopkins Health Blog).
Nocturnal awakenings, attention to sleep hygiene
Finally, here are some tricks and guidelines to counteract nocturnal awakenings. These tips have been shown to improve sleep quality and promote uninterrupted sleep (Finogenow et al, Psychotherapy, 2017). It is important to limit the intake of caffeine, especially in the late afternoon and evening hours, avoid the consumption of alcohol before going to sleep, the consumption of evening meals that are too heavy, abundant and spicy and watching action films, it is also important to ensure an active lifestyle during the day. The room, as indicated in the previous paragraphs, should be quiet, dark and cool. It's also important not to dwell on thoughts like, if I don't sleep now I won't make it through the next day. Such a mental attitude can only increase stress and reduce the possibility of falling asleep. As well as thinking that if it has happened a couple of times, then surely you will always wake up in the middle of the night. Instead, it may be useful to think that waking up at night is something that can happen from time to time, without it being a rule, and that it is important to sleep but if sleep is disturbed for once, you will still be able to get up the next day, go to work and take care of daily chores (IQWIG, Germany 2006).