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Why you can’t stay asleep (and how to fall back asleep fast)

30 August 2023

Have you ever found yourself awake at 4 a.m., wondering why you can't sleep? Many of us wake up several times at night but often don't notice because we are only briefly awake.

However, there are times when we do notice and lie there wishing we could get back to sleep much faster.

Below are several factors that may be waking you up and tips for how to get back to sleep fast.

Factors that can cause waking up at night:

Many factors contribute to nighttime awakenings, including:

  • Stress: If you are under significant stress, you may experience racing thoughts that contribute to lighter sleep and rumination, which prevent you from sleeping. If this sounds familiar, try the Chorus Sleep Sessions inside the app. These audio sessions are specifically designed to quiet racing thoughts and help you get to sleep.

  • Alcohol: While alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep, it is highly detrimental to staying asleep. As your body metabolizes alcohol, the sedative effects wear off, and it has an arousing impact - causing tossing and turning or waking before you'd like. Additionally, alcohol severely reduces the amount of REM sleep you get, which harms cognitive functioning and emotional health.

The general rule of thumb is it takes 1 standard drink 1 hour to leave your system. Therefore, if you have one glass of wine, finish it at least 1 hour before your planned bedtime.

  • Noise: Whether it's traffic sounds from a busy street, birds chirping, or your partner snoring, noise can disrupt our sleep. If your environment is noisy, try sleeping with earplugs or using the White Noise / Sleep Sounds inside the Chorus app.

  • Dinner schedule: Indigestion or being too full close to bedtime can make sleeping difficult. Instead, have a lighter dinner and eat earlier so you're not eating within 3 hours of bedtime.

  • Getting older: As part of natural aging, our circadian rhythms move earlier. As a result, we start waking up earlier in the morning and, therefore, need to go to sleep earlier to maintain the proper amount of total sleep. This can be tricky if we are used to staying up later. So, make sure to listen to your body and identify if you're naturally waking up earlier these days and thus need to go to sleep earlier. Contrary to what you may think, it may not be that you are waking up at 5 a.m. and "can't get back to sleep." It may simply be that 5 a.m. is now your most natural and optimal wake time, and thus, you should hit the sack by 9 p.m. to get a full 8 hours. Additionally, as we get older, we have to wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom more. To help with these interruptions, try limiting fluids one hour before bedtime. Instead, drink lots of water to stay hydrated during the day and early evening. Lastly, medication may be impacting your sleep, so be sure to discuss this with your doctor, as quality sleep is just as important as we get older, and your doctor owes it to you to help you be at your best.

For more on how these factors impact your sleep, check out the Chorus Sleep Essentials in the app.

Read on for a couple of tips to get back to sleep fast if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Tips to get back to sleep fast:

  • Minimize light: If you find yourself awake, do your best to avoid scrolling or using your phone, and keep your lights as dim as possible. The reason to avoid the phone is two-fold: 1) the light is bright, which signals your brain to become more awake, and 2) the content you are most likely consuming on your phone has an arousing impact, adding to the brain's interpretation that you should be awake -- all together making it harder to fall back asleep. Note: Looking at your phone briefly to turn on relaxing content like breathwork or meditation is fine. Just be sure you are using audio-only content and don't need to be looking at your phone during the relaxation session itself.

  • Avoid looking at the clock: Looking at the time can cause stress about not sleeping, furthering the challenge to get back to sleep. Additionally, many of us have clocks on our phones, so checking the time may easily lead to scrolling on social media. Next thing you know, it’s been way longer than you intended.

  • Do your best to relax: One of the most common challenges that keeps people from sleeping is stress about not sleeping. One counterintuitive tip is to “try not to force sleep.” Instead of lying there thinking: “I must go back to sleep right now,” - try some relaxation techniques like deep breathing and body scans, and think to yourself, “It’s okay if I fall asleep, and it’s okay if I don’t.” Ironically, removing the pressure to fall asleep makes you more likely to relax and drift off. For relaxation techniques, check out the Chorus Sleep Sessions in the app. These Sleep Sessions are designed with a specific form of breathwork that shifts your nervous system to rest and helps you fall asleep quickly.

  • Use the 30 Up 30 Down Rule (and get out of bed):

  1. If you've been awake for 20-30 minutes (approximate timing is fine because you won't be checking the clock), get out of bed and do a relaxing activity like reading or listening to soft music.

Read an actual book or Kindle, and don't read on a phone or iPad.

  1. Do that relaxing activity for 20-30 minutes, then try to go back to sleep.

  2. Repeat multiple times if needed.

Pro tip: It can feel daunting to get out of a cozy bed, and it may even feel counterintuitive to do this because you'll think: "This will make me more awake ...if I just lie here a little longer, I'll fall asleep." To counteract this, put slippers and a cozy robe near your bed so getting out of your warm comforter is less daunting, and resist the thought that this will make you more awake and trust in the process -- just get out of bed.

Let us know if this was helpful by sharing your feedback here.

For more healthy habits to improve your sleep, try the full Chorus Sleep experience in the app.