How to get back to sleep, fast

Learn how to get back to sleep with these easy and effective relaxation techniques

how to get back to sleep
(Image credit: Getty)

Want to know how to get back to sleep if you wake up during the night? of course, prevention is better than cure, and if you are being kept by something very specific (too much coffee during the day, for example), then you may find that eliminating the thing that disrupts you sleep will solve the problem. 

However, if you're taking all reasonable steps to sleeping well – buying the best mattress, not drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, not being on your phone before bed – and are still waking up in the night, there are things you can do to minimise the disruption to your sleep by training yourself to get back to sleep. 

These techniques don't require any specialist knowledge or technology, although some people may also find it helpful to try them out in combination with a sleep tracker.  

1. Get out of bed for a little while

If you wake up during the night and can't get back to sleep after a quarter of an hour or so, the best thing to do is actually to get out of bed and go to another room for a little while. Try doing something very sedate for half an hour or so, such as reading a book (preferably not a thriller). Make sure that if you have a light on, it's a side lamp or a dimmable light set on low.  

2. Try the visualisation technique

This is a very old technique – remember when your parents would advise you to picture sheep jumping over a fence? This does work equally well for adults, although it is usually more helpful to imagine a calm and still environment – a waterfall, for example – than an activity. It's easier to do this with your eyes closed, but some people actually prefer to visualise with their eyes open. 

3. Try the muscle tensing method

If you wake up a lot during the night, you will probably notice how tense you suddenly feel, your body unable to relax. The answer? It's not lying as still as you can. You should actually try to tense every muscle in your body, one by one, then relaxing. This will alleviate some of the tension and feelings of having no control over your sleep. 

4. Breathe deeply

This is another time-tested technique for getting back to sleep, but you should do it like mean it for maximum efficacy. You should be able to count up to five on each inhalation and exhalation – that's a full 10 seconds for each breath. Breathing this way even for just five minutes will allow your mind to calm and your body to relax.

5. Try thinking, another way

Many people report 'racing thoughts' as soon as they wake up in the middle of the night. If you are a middle-of-the-night worrier, take comfort: thinking itself is not your enemy, it's what you're thinking about while awake. Rather than trying to stop your mind in order to get back to sleep, try redirecting your thoughts to something neutral: something interesting you read the other day rather than money issues, for example. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll drift off if you think about something random, rather than a very specific problem that needs solving.