A woman awake in bed in the middle of the night
Sleep

8 women on the rituals they turn to when they wake up in the middle of the night

Welcome to Sleepless Nights, Stylist’s weekly series designed to help you put your Sunday night anxiety and worries to bed. This week, we’re taking a closer look at the trusty mid-night rituals that help us switch off when we wake up in the middle of the night.

Waking up in the middle of the night can be incredibly frustrating, especially if it happens a lot. Indeed, while it isn’t uncommon to wake up at two or three in the morning every once in a while, when it happens almost every night, it can become more troublesome to deal with.

With that being said, however, there are things you can do to make the experience of waking up in the middle of the night a little easier – and help yourself to switch off and fall asleep again when the time is right.

We’re not talking about medical interventions here (although you should seek help from your GP if your sleep problems are impacting your life) but the small, everyday things you can do to manage a period of mid-night wakefulness.  

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Of course, different methods work for different people, so finding out what works best for you is a matter of experimentation.

But to give you an idea of where to start, we asked women about the mid-night activities that help them when they wake up in the middle of the night.  Here’s what they had to say.

1. White noise

“When I wake up in the middle of the night, I use my Alexa to play white noise, which helps me to relax and fall back asleep. I would say that it usually takes anywhere up to 20 minutes for me to fall asleep with it on, but it takes twice that without. I imagine it’s the noise being there without me realising – the pattern of it is soothing I suppose. It also drowns out any other noise that might be around.”

Harriet, 35 

2. A midnight snack

“I regularly wake up at 3am because I have pregnancy insomnia. I usually eat cereal, have a mint tea and listen to a meditation app, which helps me get back to sleep again (although it usually takes a couple of hours!)”

Sally, 39 

A woman with a cup of tea in bed
“I usually eat cereal, have a mint tea and listen to a meditation app.”

3. Bedtime stories

“When I wake up in the middle of the night, I listen to bedtime stories on the YoursApp. Bedtime stories help me switch off as my mind focuses on the narrative rather than my worries or next day to-dos, and I think there’s a soothing component too that reminds me of the care and comfort from when I was young and my parents read to me at night.”

Meg, 42 

4. Getting some fresh air

“When I went through a stage of waking up in the middle of the night almost every night due to anxiety, I used to open my window and sit still in front of it for a couple of minutes. Not only did the cool night air help me to feel refreshed and grounded, but looking out at the deserted street (I’m lucky enough to live away from a main road) and the sky above brought me a definitive a sense of peace – just what you need when your body wakes you up in a state of panic.”

Lauren, 24 

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5. ASMR

ASMR on YouTube got me through so many nights of anxiety-induced insomnia. I’ll have the lights off, so I can drift off easily after and tend to have my go-to artist. She has a really soothing voice and it’s usually really mundane but relaxing scenarios with soothing sounds like bubbling steam in a spa or having your hair brushed at a salon. Just gentle pottering about. It creates a calm environment and helps me drift off.”

Xena, 38

6. Watching reality TV

“When I wake up, I watch American reality TV. It totally relaxes my mind. I just find the banality of reality TV really soothing as it totally stops me from having to think – I work in PR so naturally my job is quite frantic and can be high pressured, plus I’m studying for a full-time degree, so during the day I have to use my brain a fair bit.”

Madalaine, 32 

A woman watching TV in bed
“When I wake up, I watch American reality TV. It totally relaxes my mind.”

7. Stretching

“Very occasionally I’ll wake up in the night with restless legs – just this uncontrollable urge to move my legs. So, for me, what resets that is physically getting up, stretching, walk around, and, when I go back into bed, trying to visualise the tension leaving my legs.”

Ally, 31 

8. Doing chores

“When I wake up at silly times in the night I don’t panic or waste time trying to get back to sleep. I know it’s not going to happen for a while so I listen to my body – if I’m thirsty I make a pot of tea and drink it sitting up in bed with pillows stacked behind me, not doing anything but looking out the window. It’s not sleep but it is rest, which counts.

“If I have heaps of energy, I do a quiet task (I’d love to hoover but the neighbours would hate me) like folding or steaming my clothes, sorting out a very messy drawer, or making a detailed list for the next day. I know most people reach for a book or maybe the TV but I tend to use the time to do odds and ends, life organisation or little tasks I didn’t get round to in the day. It stops the whirring in my head and after an hour or two, I am truly flaked. When I get back into bed I go out like a light.”

Rebecca, 40 

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