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4 Simple Steps to Get You Back to Sleep Fast

Good nighttime and daytime habits can keep you well-rested

We’ve all been there. You are wide awake at 3 a.m., your mind racing with a rising sense of panic about the difficult day ahead if you don’t fall back to sleep.

What you’re experiencing is a type of  insomnia, says sleep disorders specialist Harneet Walia, MD, DABSM, of Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center.

Many underlying health problems such as chronic pain, sleep apnea or acid reflex can cause insomnia. But if your difficulty in sleeping is not due to health problems, here are some tips that can help you get back to sleep.

  1. Stop watching the clock. Marking off the minutes only heightens your distress about being awake.
  2. Try relaxing your body to fall asleep. Working from your toes to your forehead, tightly tense each muscle group for five seconds, then relax. 
  3. If you can’t fall back to sleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed.  Use your “mind clock, ” Dr. Walia says, to estimate how long you’ve been awake. After 20 minutes of wakefulness, get up and leave your bedroom. “Don’t spend time in bed trying to fall asleep,” she says. “You probably  will start worrying about falling asleep and then learn to associate the bedroom with not sleeping well.”
  4. Find an uninteresting activity. Read something uninteresting. Listen to relaxing music. When you start to feel drowsy, go back to bed.

You also can adopt daytime habits that will help you sleep better at night, Dr. Walia says. 

  • Create a consistent sleeping and waking schedule — even on the weekends and days off work. “What works best is  going to bed at the same time and waking up at same time every day,” Dr. Walia says.
  • Avoid consuming drinks or food with caffeine before bedtime. Abstain from caffeine for at least five to six hours before you plan to retire, Dr. Walia says. “Caffeine can play a major role in getting a good night’s sleep,” she says.
  • Make your sleeping environment comfortable. The room should have a temperature that is not too warm or too cold. Find a mattress and pillow with a firmness level that you find restful.
  • One hour before bedtime, stop doing work or other mentally challenging tasks. Switch to something calming such as reading a book.
  • Use your bed only for sleep or intimacy. Do not watch television or play with electronic devices while lying in bed. “Otherwise, we come to associate the bedroom with not sleeping,” Dr. Walia says.

Chronic insomnia affects up to 20 percent of adults. Many adults don’t seek treatment for it.

It’s time to seek medical advice  if you experience symptoms that last longer than a month or so. Ditto if lack of sleep interferes with your daytime activities, Dr. Walia says.

More information

Tags: insomnia, sleep, sleep disorders
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  • GeorgeBMac

    I do three things when I wake up but cannot fall back to sleep:
    1) Take a couple melotonin
    2) Eat a piece of toast with honey or jam
    3) Read a book till my mind is onto other things and I’m getting sleepy

    … It works every time.

    • Lily

      My doctor said to only take melatonin occassionally if necessary, and to try to find other natural ways to sleep. Because melatonin is a hormone, and if you take it regularly your body stops producing it as much as it should.

      • GeorgeBMac

        If you need it, you need it.

        Better a little melatonin than lack of sleep. Lack of sleep causes far too many health problems.

      • Peggy Graham

        As you age your level of melatonin decreases.

      • Sue

        Your body stops producing melatonin as you age.

    • Caroline

      Have been taking melatonin. Just tried the organic raw honey in tea tonight. Was up,two hours in the middle of last night unable to go back to sleep!

  • Dakshesh

    Before bed wash your face and legs if possible deep you leg in cold or lukewarm water for ten minutes before going to bed. Drink some milk and take deep breath you will get sleep soon and well.

    • Gary

      Thanks, that is rediculous!

      • Cathy

        milk has tryptophan; cooling your body promotes sleep

  • Denise Bergeron White

    When I get past the 20 min mark – I go to my bookcase and choose one of my old Physics Texts – asleep even before I hit chapter 2!

  • Francis Vetter

    nothing works for me, just cant sleep, almost never!

  • antonio

    I cant sleep worth nothin i have tried many different techniwues yet none work even meds dont work its like i am not allowed to sleep or somen

  • Marie

    PRAYER HELPS ME

  • Gretchen

    Nighttime face cream can contain caffeine, which interferes with sleep. Yes, caffeine in face cream. It’s supposed to discourage wrinkles.

  • EricCKC

    I listen to classical music to get myself more relax and doze off to sleep. First, lie on a recliner chair(bed) in a darken room or with low lighting with amplifier remote control within hand’s reach in a quiet and cool room. Two, set the volume of music to the lowest audible level, calm you mind and listen but not focus on the musical notes. You will notice the music volume becomes louder within minutes. Now lower the volume to the next lowest audible level. Repeat step two and you will doze off before you know it.

  • Bobeejay

    After praising God and thanking Him, I sing ” in my mind” dear old hymns from my childhood

    • Sandy

      This worked for me after my husband died. To push out bad thoughts I would hum myself fast asleep. Doing this also reminded me of all of God’s promises and that he kept all of his promises. And he would take care of me and he did.

  • Marianne

    Get in the most comfortable position you can. Begin with your toes and concentrate on relaxing them until they feel like a heavy weight on the mattress. Work on feet, ankles, shins, knees, thighs, buttocks/hips, waist, back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, head. I seldom make it past my thighs before I’m asleep. If you find your mind wandering, pull yourself back to focusing on relaxing. Also, you can try just focusing on your breathing, in and out, and as you exhale, exhale some of your stress also. Again, sometimes you have to bring yourself back to concentrating on your breathing. Both these methods work for me but it took me a little while to keep reminding myself to focus on relaxing or breathing.

  • jeanne

    I found it helps to count backwards from 100 when unable to fall back asleep. Sounds crazy, but it works!