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How to Fall Back Asleep Fast: 11 Sleep MD-Approved Tips

Fall back asleep fast by staying relaxed, doing breathing exercises, avoiding clocks and screens, and getting out of bed to do a sleep reset, if needed.
Published
2021-10-19
Updated
2023-12-22
19 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Person lying awake at night trying to fall back asleep

How to Fall Back Asleep Easily 

  • To fall back asleep after waking up, try to keep calm and relaxed. Do some breathing exercises, avoid looking at the time, and keep the lights low if you need to get out of bed. 
  • If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. This involves doing a relaxing and distracting activity until you feel sleepy again. 
  • The RISE app can help you fall asleep in the moment with guided relaxation exercises and breathing exercises. And the app can help you wake up less often in the first place by guiding you to better sleep hygiene habits.

It can be normal to wake up once or twice throughout the night. And it can even be nice to wake up, roll over, and snuggle back into the covers. But what’s not so nice is when you wake up in the night and then struggle to get back to sleep. 

To help, we’ve shared the science-backed steps you can take to fall back asleep fast. We’ve covered what you can do in the moment, what you can do to wake up less often to begin with, and how the RISE app can help.

A Sleep Doctor's Best Advice

“Try to stay calm if you wake up in the middle of the night. Getting annoyed or anxious will only make it harder to fall back asleep. Stay relaxed by doing a breathing exercise, meditating, or getting out of bed to read until you feel sleepy again.”

Rise Science Sleep Advisor and Medical Reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu

How to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up?

To fall back asleep after waking up, try doing a breathing exercise, avoiding clocks and screens, and doing a sleep reset, if needed. 

Here are more key steps to follow when you find yourself awake in the middle of the night.

1. Don’t Panic 

The first thing to do when you wake up in the middle of the night is to keep calm. That, of course, is easier said than done. But panicking about not being able to fall back asleep will only spike your cortisol levels (the dreaded stress hormone) and make it harder to fall back asleep. 

Know that it can be normal to wake up once or twice during the night. And remind yourself you’ve fallen back asleep thousands of times, you can do it again. 

2. Don’t Ignore the Cause 

If something obvious has woken you up, don’t ignore the cause. 

If you need the bathroom, get up and pee. If your back hurts, change your sleeping position or adjust your pillows. And if a noisy neighbor has woken you up, grab some earplugs or turn on some white noise

Expert tip: RISE has white noise, and other sleep sounds, within the app, so you don’t have to go searching for relaxing sounds when you need them. 

3. Keep the Lights Low 

Light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin — not what you want in the middle of the night. 

Keep the lights off or, if you need them to go to the bathroom or move around, as low as possible. 

If you’re regularly up in the night, invest in a red light night light. Research shows red light may disrupt your melatonin production less than other wavelengths of light. 

4. Avoid Looking at the Time 

It’s tempting to check the time and see how long you’ve got until your alarm clock rings. But resist the urge. Knowing the time or clock-watching can stress you out, which will make it harder to fall asleep again. 

5. Avoid Screens 

Looking at your cell phone involves the double whammy of light exposure and seeing the time. Plus, you might get sucked into scrolling on social media or checking work emails and be up much longer (and be more excited) than you would be otherwise. 

Avoid screens of all kinds — that includes your phone, tablet, and TV.  

6. Do a Breathing Exercise 

Breathing exercises can be one of the best ways to fall back asleep as they can help you keep calm and offer a distraction. 

Try deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, or psychological sighing. 

Breathing exercises can help in the moment, especially useful if you’re feeling stressed and anxious, but they can also help your sleep long term: 

  • A 2023 study (by one of our sleep advisors Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, co-director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University) found psychological sighing can reduce stress and anxiety. 
  • A 2022 study found 4-7-8 breathing can lower stress in those who have just had surgery.
  • And a 2021 study found diaphragmatic breathing can help reduce anxiety, sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), and sleep disturbances.  

We’ve covered how to do these breathing exercises here. And RISE has in-app audio guides to walk you through exercises like diaphragmatic breathing. 

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7. Use Relaxation Techniques 

Relaxation techniques can help you stay calm and relaxed enough to drift back off quickly. This can help if you’ve woken up with anxiety, got stressed knowing the time, or you’ve woken up in a panic after a nightmare. 

Try progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing one muscle group at a time, slowly working your way around your entire body. There’s also autogenic training, which involves visualization and prompts to help your body relax. 

RISE can guide you through both of these relaxation techniques in the app. 

RISE app screenshot showing relaxation session
The RISE app can guide you through relaxation exercises.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started here. 

8. Do a Brain Dump 

If your mind is whirring with thoughts, try doing a brain dump. Write down everything you’re worried about, journal about your day, or create tomorrow’s to-do list. 

You can write about anything, but research shows writing out the tasks you need to do can help you fall asleep faster than writing about what you’ve already done. 

With RISE’s brain dump feature, you’ll get a reminder of everything you’ve written down the next day. 

9. Avoid Sleep Aids 

If you’re struggling to fall back to sleep, it can be tempting to take an over-the-counter sleep aid to knock you out. But sleep aids aren’t a healthy solution. 

They come with side effects, can cause morning drowsiness (especially if taken during the night), and if you rely on them regularly, they can cause more sleep problems when you stop taking them. 

Heads-up: Melatonin supplements won’t help either. Melatonin works best when you take it hours before bedtime, not the moment when you want to fall asleep. 

10. Do a Sleep Reset 

If you can’t fall back asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. 

Try reading, meditating, practicing yoga nidra, or doing some easy household chores like organizing your bookshelf or folding laundry. Remember to keep the lights as low as possible while doing this and to pick an activity that’s distracting, yet relaxing or boring enough to make yourself tired.  

Doing a sleep reset is part of a technique called stimulus control, and it’ll help your brain associate your bed with sleep and sleep alone. 

It can be stressful thinking about all the sleep you’re missing out on, but think of this time as bonus me-time. Try to enjoy it and trust you’ll be able to fall asleep again soon. 

When you do feel sleepy, you can crawl back into bed to — hopefully — fall back asleep fast. 

RISE can send you a silent reminder when you’re awake during the night and reach for your phone. The app can then guide you through a sleep reset to get you feeling sleepy again.

Learn more about why you should stay up if you can't sleep here.

11. Use the RISE App 

We know we said not to reach for your phone, but there’s one instance this can help: if you’re opening up the RISE app. 

RISE has a variety of tools to help you fall back asleep, including: 

  • Guided breathing exercises
  • Guided relaxation exercises
  • Sleep sounds like white noise, nature sounds, and ambient music 
  • A place to brain dump and get a helpful morning reminder of what you’ve written
  • A reminder to do a sleep reset with step-by-step instructions to walk you through it 

A sleep app like RISE can also help you wake up less often in the night in the first place. We’ll cover that next. 

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How to Stop Waking Up in the Night?

You can stop waking up in the night by improving your sleep hygiene. This involves avoiding coffee, meals, and alcohol too close to bedtime, and making sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. 

Here’s what else you can do to reduce how often you wake up during the night: 

  • Get bright light in the morning: Light exposure in the morning resets your circadian rhythm, which will help to keep your sleep cycle on track. Try to get at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up, and 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window.
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: About 90 minutes before bed, dim your lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses (we recommend these).
  • Keep a consistent sleep pattern: A regular sleep schedule will help you feel sleepy at night, and it can help you get enough sleep. RISE users with more consistent sleep times have lower sleep debt than those with inconsistent sleep times. (Heads-up: sleep debt is how much sleep you’ve missed out on recently. It’s the best predictor of how you’ll feel and function the next day). 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, and alcohol too late in the day: They can cause you to wake up in the night, but getting the timing right can help. Check RISE for when to avoid each one daily.
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: This will be especially useful if you’re worrying about waking up in the night (which ironically could make waking up more likely). About an hour before bed, do a calming routine that involves reading, journaling, listening to music, or taking a warm bath or shower. 
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Reduce the chances of something in your sleep environment waking you up by checking everything before you crawl under the covers. Set your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains and an eye mask, and wear earplugs or use a white noise machine or RISE’s sleep sounds to block out noise. 

Sleep hygiene is important for everyone, but especially those who are having trouble sleeping through the night. These behaviors can help you wake up less often. And if you do wake up, they should also make it easier to back drift off quickly. 

To remember them all, RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day based on when they’ll be most effective for you. 

RISE app screenshot reminding you of sleep hygiene habits
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here.  

Why Do I Wake Up in the Middle of the Night?

You might wake up in the middle of the night due to natural changes in your sleep architecture, your bedroom being too warm, alcohol, caffeine, or a sleep disorder.  

Here’s a closer look at some of the common culprits.

Natural Changes in Your Sleep  

Sleep architecture is the scientific name for how your sleep is structured. And natural changes to this structure could be to blame for your nighttime awakenings. 

Why is this exactly? One reason is that we spend more time in deep sleep in the first half of the night and more time in REM sleep in the second half. It’s easier to be woken up from REM, so you might find yourself waking up more often later on in the night. 

We also move through light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep stages throughout the night in sleep cycles that last 70 to 120 minutes. You might find yourself waking up briefly at the end of each cycle. And we may not even remember these brief awakenings.

One more reason you may wake up more often as the night goes on is adenosine. Adenosine is a natural compound that builds up all the time you’re awake, making you feel sleepy. As you sleep, adenosine is cleared from your system. So as the night goes on, you’ll have lower levels of adenosine and may find it harder to stay asleep.

Caffeine

You probably know caffeine can make it hard to initially drift off, but research shows it can also wake you up in the night.

Cut yourself off from caffeine about 12 hours before bed to increase the chances of you sleeping through the night. This should also help you fall asleep faster, too. A win-win. 

RISE can tell you when exactly to have your final coffee each day. You’re not alone if you need the gentle nudge — this is one of the app’s most popular features. 

RISE app screenshot reminding you when to limit caffeine intake
The RISE app can tell you when to stop drinking coffee each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their limit caffeine reminder here.

Alcohol 

Coffee isn’t the only drink that could be to blame for your awakenings. Alcohol fragments your sleep, making it more likely you’ll wake up in the night. 

It can also cause night sweats, sleep apnea episodes, and increase how often you need the bathroom — three more reasons you might be waking up in the night. 

Avoid alcohol three to four hours before bed to help you sleep more soundly. We’ve covered more on how long before bed to stop drinking alcohol here. 

Light Exposure

Sure, your partner flipping on the light when they wake up to use the bathroom can wake you up. But the light exposure (or lack thereof) you’ve gotten much earlier in the day can mess with your sleep, too. 

Here’s our key advice: 

  • Get light in the morning: One study found those who get later first exposure to more than 10 lux of light wake up more the next night. To get 10 lux, you just need to get outside. An overcast day will give you about 1,000 lux of light.
  • Avoid light in the evening: Research shows evening exposure to short-wavelength light — like blue light from screens — can disrupt sleep continuity. 
Comparing environmental light intensity
A comparison of light intensities for different weather and places.

To nail the timing of your light exposure, RISE can tell you when exactly to get and avoid light each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their get bright light reminder here. 

Late-Night Meals 

Eating too close to bedtime can keep you awake, but — just like with caffeine — it can also cause you to wake up more often during the night. 

A 2021 study found eating or drinking an hour or less before bed makes it more likely you’ll wake up during the night.

Eating can lower your arousal threshold, which is how easily you can be woken up from sleep. With a low arousal threshold, other disruptions — like a noise or alcohol in your system — are more likely to wake you up.

Try finishing dinner two to three hours before bed. We’ve covered more on what time to stop eating before bed here. 

Stress 

Stress and sleep do not mix. Stress can both make it hard to fall asleep in the first place and wake you up when you’ve finally managed to drift off. 

You might suffer from conditioned arousal, when your brain has made the link between being awake and being in bed. And worrying about waking up in the night could cause it to happen. 

To make matters worse, if you wake up to use the bathroom, for example, you might find you can’t sleep when you notice the time and suddenly become stressed. 

It’s a common problem, but some of us are more prone to stress-related sleep disruption than others. This all depends on your sleep reactivity. The higher your sleep reactivity, the more likely stress can disrupt your sleep and cause insomnia. 

Try doing a relaxing bedtime routine to lower your stress levels and drift off in a calm state. And look after your mental health overall by making time for friends and family, exercising, and spending time in nature. 

A Sleep Disorder 

There are many sleep disorders that could be behind your poor sleep.

These include: 

  • Sleep maintenance insomnia (when you can’t stay asleep)
  • Early morning awakening insomnia (when you wake up too early)  
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • Periodic limb movement disorder 
  • Narcolepsy 

Speak to your healthcare provider or a sleep expert if you think you have a sleep disorder. They’ll be able to run tests to confirm and recommend the best course of action. 

For example, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is often a first-line treatment for chronic insomnia. 

Sleep restriction can also help. This technique involves temporarily restricting your sleep time and then slowly increasing it when you stop waking up so much during the night. You should only try sleep restriction with guidance from a professional, though.  

Hormones 

Hormones can wreak havoc with your sleep. They can mess with your mood, breathing, and body temperature. That means you might be waking up when: 

Pay extra attention to your sleep hygiene, especially keeping your room cool and stress levels low. 

Medications 

If you’re taking medication for a health issue, this could be causing you to wake up during the night. 

These include: 

  • Antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers 
  • ADHD drugs 
  • Decongestants 
  • Diuretics 

Speak to your doctor about switching up your dose or trying a new medication. 

We’ve covered more reasons you could be waking up at 3 A.M. each night here.

When Should I See a Doctor if I Keep Waking Up in the Night?

Waking up during the night can be normal. But if you find you’re waking up very often, or waking up and struggling to fall back to sleep, speak to your healthcare provider. You can get tested for underlying medical conditions or sleep disorders that could be to blame and get recommended treatments to help. 

Expert tip: Check your sleep debt, the amount of sleep you owe your body. We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours for the best energy and health outcomes. If your sleep debt is creeping up night after night (and improving your sleep hygiene hasn’t helped) it’s worth seeking help to avoid further sleep deprivation. 

RISE works out how much sleep you need, which is known as your sleep need, and how much sleep debt you have each day. 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

Everyone needs a different amount of sleep each night. And this number can vary wildly. We compared the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users and found they ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. The median sleep need was eight hours, but almost half of our users need eight hours of sleep or more a night.

We compared the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users and found they ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. The median sleep need was eight hours, but almost half of our users need eight hours of sleep or more a night. 
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need each night.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

Fall Back Asleep Easily 

Sleep is better when it’s unbroken and it’s the healthy natural sleep you get through good sleep hygiene. But waking up once or twice during the night can be normal and nothing to worry about. 

Sometimes, just knowing it’s normal is enough to help you drift back off. Other times, you might need a helping hand. 

When you can’t fall back asleep, the RISE app can guide you through breathing and relaxation exercises to keep you calm, offer a place to brain dump, and give you quick access to soothing sleep sounds. 

During the day, use RISE’s personalized reminders for 20+ sleep hygiene habits. These will help you wake up less often to begin with and have an easier time falling back to sleep when something you can’t control (like a noise) wakes you up. 

A good night’s sleep could be around the corner — 80% of RISE users get better sleep within five nights. 

FAQs

How to fall back asleep?

Fall back asleep by doing breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, avoiding clocks, and keeping the lights off or low. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. Do a relaxing and distracting activity until you feel sleepy again.

How to fall back asleep fast?

Fall back asleep fast by doing breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, avoiding clocks, and keeping the lights off or low. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. Do a relaxing and distracting activity until you feel sleepy again.

How to fall back asleep in the middle of the night?

Fall back asleep in the middle of the night by doing breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, avoiding clocks, and keeping the lights off or low. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. Do a relaxing and distracting activity until you feel sleepy again.

How to fall back asleep after waking up with anxiety?

Fall back asleep after waking up with anxiety by doing breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, avoiding clocks, and keeping the lights off or low. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. Do a relaxing and distracting activity until you feel sleepy again.

How to fall back asleep after waking up too early?

Fall back asleep after waking up too early by doing breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, avoiding clocks, and keeping the lights off or low. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. Do a relaxing and distracting activity until you feel sleepy again. If waking up too early is a regular occurrence, speak to your doctor or a sleep specialist about early morning awakening insomnia.

How to fall back asleep after waking up to pee?

Fall back asleep after waking up to pee by doing breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, avoiding clocks, and keeping the lights off or low when you get up. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a sleep reset. Do a relaxing and distracting activity until you feel sleepy again.

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