It has happened to all of us at one time or another: We’ve woken up in the middle of the night for whatever reason and we can’t get back to sleep. Here’s how to get back to dreamland; and quickly.

We look at the clock. We toss. We turn. We watch TV. We stare at the ceiling. We curse. But, no matter what we do, we can’t get back to sleep. Turns out we’re doing it wrong.

Stay in the Dark

When you first wake up, resist the urge to turn on a light unless you absolutely, positively must. Dr. W. Christopher Winter of the of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center says that our brains and bodies interpret light as a signal to wake up, so don’t flip on your night stand lamp, the hall light and the living room lamp on your way to the kitchen or bathroom.

Don’t Eat

Stay out of the cabinets and the refrigerator. It’s tempting to have the midnight munchies, but Dr. Winter cautions that when we eat in the middle of the night, our bodies get accustomed to getting food that time of night. Snacks in the middle of the night once or twice could lead to more sleep interruptions, so don’t go rooting around for food. Dr. Winter says only eat if you must. Sometimes when I feel hungry but I know I shouldn’t, I drink water. Our brains are very fantastical, but they cannot tell the difference between hunger and thirst, so we eat when we are actually thirsty. Try first to drink some warm water before you stick your hand in the Doritos.


Remember in school you had reading assignments that bored you to tears and often times, if you read at night you’d just fall asleep, drooling on top of the book? Turns out that works in adult life, too. If you find yourself awake and unable to go back to sleep, pick up the nearest book or magazine and start reading. Make sure it’s nothing that’s too exciting. Read until your eyes get tired and then drop off to sleep. However, don’t read anything off your laptop, tablet or phone. Dr. Winter says that the light electronic devices emit can wake you up and keep you awake, so if you’re going to read, pick up an actual book or magazine and not your Kindle Fire.

Don’t Fall Into the Nap Trap

As tempting as it is to hit the snooze button a few times the next morning or take a nap the next day, try not to. Dr. Winter says that we should punish our brains for waking us up in the middle of the night. He says that when we sleep in a little or take a nap the next afternoon, it’s just a reinforcing behavior and waking up in the middle of the night could become a regular occurrence.