Waking up in the middle of the night and trying to fall back asleep, how do you do it?

Hi all,

I was listening to this week’s podcast and the discussion about sleep piqued my interest. Like Nate and I’m sure a lot of you, I have trouble staying asleep at night. I’ll wake up once or twice a night to use the loo but when I get back to bed, I toss and turn until what feels like 5 minutes before my alarm goes off. It’s absolutely maddening and I wake up exhausted. Has anyone here been able to successfully correct this for themselves and how did you do it?

EDIT: I’m a 40 year old male with a young family.

Things I’ve tried so far:

  1. I use CPAP to correct sleep apnea, this has helped keep me alive (seriously).
  2. I wear an eyemask because the sunrise was waking me up at 4AM during the Summer (sun wasn’t even up yet, just the lightening of the sky through our blinds is enough to wake me up).
  3. I recently started wearing earplugs because it seems every sound wakes me up; I’ve been holding off because I think it’s ridiculous for a human to require all these things just to sleep, but it’s helped a bit to keep me in bed.
  4. I use a weighted blanket.
  5. I run warm, but I find that when I do wake up in the middle of the night I’m chilly despite the room being 66ºF.
  6. No napping during the daytime.
  7. No caffeine after Noon.
  8. 1/4 cup of tart cherry juice and a slice of sharp cheddar cheese about 2 hours before bed, otherwise no eating after 8PM.
  9. No water an hour before bed (despite this I’m still going to the loo at least once in the middle of the night).

My wife is the complete opposite. She knocks out in less than a minute and stays asleep through the night. Even with me making all the noise in the world when I get up I have to physically shake her awake.

Anyhow, hoping to hear back about what you all have tried. Thanks in advance!

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I’ve done earplugs in the past, but I much prefer white noise. Though I don’t use my central air/heat very much at all, I run the fan at night while I sleep, whatever power that uses doesn’t seem to show up on the power bill. I also have another small plastic fan near the bed that I run just for noise, I rarely even have it aimed anywhere useful. The partner is perpetually freezing so I can’t have a bunch of cold air on the bed all night but I can still get the noise.

I read on a tablet sometimes if I’m up and in bed, I like the tablet because I don’t have to turn on a light and I keep the screen black with off-white text so it’s not very bright. I’m currently rereading Moby Dick about 30 words a day if I’m lucky :slight_smile:

If I get short on sleep, I try to get to bed earlier in the very near future. And if I need a nap, I take one. Best to keep them short but if I’m tired, I’m tired.

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I also prefer white noise and run the fan almost all year, except for the winter :P. I have a relatively large family so at any given point in the night someone is awake and making noise, that’s why I started wearing ear plugs.

After using the tablet are you able to fall asleep relatively quickly? Also, do you sleep through the night without waking up?

Try a sleep mask - game changer for me. You don’t realize how much light you are picking up at night no matter how dark you think it is. I am really sensitive to green lights and this eliminates the issue for me. I use ear plugs too. Works well for me with a family of boys (9, 11, 13) and I hit the sack early for a 5AM TR workout.

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Kindle Paperwhite is a big help to me, it has a soft backlight which I find much better for reading at night than a phone or tablet.

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First, don’t focus on the fact you are awake. The more you stress on it, the more awake you will become.

Find something else to focus on that is relaxing. Try focusing only on your breath. Focus on the inhale. Then the exhale.

Somewhere I read that even if you are not sleeping, but are completely relaxed, you can get the majority of the benefits (helps when can’t sleep before a race). Read this in several spots and it makes sense.

I suspect you are focusing on being awake, which then stresses you because you are not asleep. Then you think about all the stuff you need to do but are now worried you will be too tired to do because you are not asleep.

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I’ve read before bed for most of my life, going back to being read to as a kid so it generally works pretty well for me.

It’s not uncommon for me to take a leak at some point in the early morning but it’s rare that it keeps me up for long.

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Thanks! Yes I wear a sleep mask too, any little light coming in through the blinds is enough to wake me up. I would also prefer a completely blacked out room but my wife wants to keep a nightlight on.

3 boys is insane :P.

Thanks for the suggestion!

That’s a good point, in fact wearing earplugs makes focusing on my breathing easier and I believe that’s helped me fall asleep faster. When I come back from the loo though, I’m not focusing on being awake as much as I’m just fully awake, like I should just get dressed and go do some work or even jump on the bike. Bear in mind I’ve only gotten about 4-5 hours of sleep at this point/.

I have the same thing, I’ll typically wake up at around 3am feeling extremely awake. I have a selection of only-slightly-interesting podcasts (not the TR one) which I use to get me back to sleep. I even have my podcast app slow the voices down by a small percentage. Works a treat!

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A couple other things to consider is tracking your nutrition for day and time of meals to see if high fat or high carb or timing is causing issues waking in the first place. Take a double dose of magnesium before you go to bed and be sure to take at least a normal dose when you get up. Almost everyone is magnesium low and it help relax your muscles and mind while helping recovery. Also, what time are you workouts? If I workout past a certain hour in evening I know for sure I will not sleep well. Consider also the intensity of the workout day as well. I find on my toughest workout days I don’t sleep as well. If you really want to geek out like me you can look into sleep monitors to track you HRV/HR/Breathing at night so you can better determine what is throwing you off. I use a combination of a Polar Vantage M watch and QS Emfit under the bed. This combo has been killer in attacking rest and recovery for me and keeping me from overtraining. Sounds expensive, but the way I see it - we spend thousands of dollars on training devices and bikes; Why not spend a few hundred on the recovery side to make sure the training counts and you don’t overdue it? YMMV

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Invest in a really really good pillow. It might not be the be all and end all but it will contribute.

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I have the same issues. Up twice a night and to make it even worse I somehow managed to train my body to wake up between 4:15-4:45am every single day with no alarm needed. Doesn’t matter if I go to bed at midnight or 9pm. I’m still up. In the summer I use a eye mask and ear plugs if needed. The best purchase I have made is a white noise sound maker. It really helps me fall asleep.

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My question for those that wear ear plugs: what do you do about listening for sounds of your home? Kids getting up? Being alert for those “I wish I had not heard that” sound.

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I use sleeping headphones and listen to podcasts when I go to bed and then again if (really "when) I get up use the bathroom. For me, the background noise seems to 1) distract me when I fall asleep and 2) keeps me asleep. I am rarely up for more than 5-10 min when I get up.

Interestingly, my Whoop reports that I sleep 7-10% better when I read an actual book at night vs. reading on my tablet. So now I try and do that once I get into bed.

If I know I really need to get to sleep, or if when I wake up I sense that I am not getting back to sleep quickly, I am not above taking 1/2 of a “Vitamin A” to push myself back to sleep. (i.e. Ambien).

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For me I can still hear the sounds that count. They don’t block out the noise totally. More of a muffling to keep the lighter sounds at bay.

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Old radio dramas that I’m not really interested in, streaming through phone into a Bluetooth earbud.

Listening stops me from thinking, which would keep me awake.

It helps but is no cure. Often I’ll get up walk downstairs, have a drink or something, then go back when Inthink I’m tired.

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Thanks for the detailed response!

A couple other things to consider is tracking your nutrition for day and time of meals to see if high fat or high carb or timing is causing issues waking in the first place.

That’s a good point. I thought about it and I think I’m drinking significantly more coffee in the morning than before, but this is around 8AM, would this still affect my sleep and cause midnight wakefulness?

Matthew Walker in “Why We Sleep” would say yes, even coffee in the morning affects your ability to sleep. In an effort to improve sleep, I eliminated all caffeine. I do miss my morning cup of coffee, so I’m in a middle of a self controlled experiment. I’m using a Whoop for the first 3 months, the first 12 weeks without caffeine and the second with coffee. I don’t intend to keep the Whoop, I just got it for the sleep tracking. I’m not a fan of wearable electronics.

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Have you ever wondered why you wake up twice a night? I wake up at 6:45AM every day and it’s been like that for the last 3 years, but recently I’ve been waking up late or my wife’s been having to wake me up because I can’t hear the alarm…so tired!