Lots of people dread waking up to their blaring alarm clock every morning, while others wish they weren’t already lying there awake when the sound starts. Waking up before your alarm goes off is a common problem for many adults and it can be frustrating and stressful.
According to the National Institute of Health, anywhere from 10% to 30% of the world’s population struggles with insomnia, which can include waking in the night as well as the early morning and not being able to get back to sleep. And it turns out, some of the things we do to try to help are only making it harder. “You start ruminating about it, and then you start doing things that make insomnia worse," explains Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. “Don't start telling yourself ... ‘I'm going to make myself stay in bed until I fall asleep.’”
So what can we do to get back to sleep? Here’s what sleep experts recommend:
- Don’t watch the clock - When you wake up before you alarm, it’s natural to be curious what time it is and how much more sleep you COULD be getting. But doing that sleep math can actually add to the anxiety and stress about the sleep you’re missing, according to sleep specialist Wendy Troxel. Stress increases cortisol levels, which makes the body alert and the brain gets hyper-engaged, which is counterproductive for drowsiness.
- Get out of bed - Even if it’s 3am, experts advise getting up and out of bed. “Abandon the idea of getting back to sleep," Troxel says. “When you do that, when you let the pressure go that sleep isn't so effortful, sleep is more likely to come back.” Rebecca Robbins, a sleep specialist and instructor in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says changing your environment and distracting your brain with a mundane task, like reading or knitting, can help you get sleepy again faster than staying frustrated in bed.
- Log what works and what doesn’t - Keep track of when you went to bed and woke up, as well as the calming techniques, environmental factors and exercise and nutrition routines that help you sleep. The same things won’t work for everyone, but trying different things until you find what’s right for you is key.