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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have no problem getting to sleep. But my problem is staying asleep through the night. Any suggestions?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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September 15, 2011
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A:

There are many possible reasons for waking up and not being able to fall back to sleep. Here are some tips that should help.

First, consider your “sleep environment.”

  • Your bedroom should be cool. You may need lighter bed clothing and blankets so you don’t get too warm.
  • Your bedroom should be dark and quiet. Even minimal light or noise can stop you from falling back to sleep. Try ear plugs and eye covering.
  • Your mattress should be comfortable. Replace it if it’s worn out or uncomfortable.

Next, review the things you do during the later part of your day that might be causing you to wake up:

  • Avoid drinking caffeine drinks (coffee, many teas, chocolate and cola ) after 2 p.m., or noon if you’re sensitive to caffeine.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal before bed, especially if you have heartburn (acid reflux).
  • Don’t drink alcohol for at least two hours before bedtime. A nightcap can help some people fall asleep. But the quality of this sleep is abnormal. Drowsiness from alcohol wears off after a few hours, often followed by frequent awakenings.
  • Stop smoking, or at least do not smoke for one to two hours before turning in for the night.

When you do wake up, try relaxation breathing right away. This will help your mind not get stimulated. Don’t spend more than 15 minutes in bed trying to fall back asleep. Instead, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again.

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