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The 1 thing to do when you can't fall back asleep

What should you do when you wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back asleep?
/ Source: TODAY

Getting a good night’s rest is essential for your health: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep is associated with chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even depression.

“You can do just as much harm, if not more, by sleeping poorly than eating poorly or not exercising,” Dr. Paul Doghramji, a family practice physician in Pennsylvania, told TODAY.

But what can you do if you wake up during the night, and can’t seem to go back to sleep?

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First off, know that you’re not alone: About 10 percent of the population have chronic insomnia, meaning they’ve been experiencing sleep problems for over three months, according to Dr. Shelley Hershner, an assistant professor of neurology at Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Center. And 30 percent of the population, she said, have some form of acute (shorter-term) insomnia.

The one major trick she recommends for falling back asleep? Something called the “sleep stimulus.”

If you can’t fall back asleep after about 20 minutes, Dr. Hershner explained, you may want to try actually getting up, going to another part of the house that is dark and quiet, and then returning to bed when you’re sleepy again.

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The reason why? If you remain in bed, you may start to feel a sort of “sleep pressure,” where you grow frustrated about your inability to fall back asleep, Dr. Hershner explained. That sleep pressure then leads to the production of stress hormones, increased heart rate and general anxiety — all of which just make it harder to fall back asleep, she said. Changing up your environment can calm this sleep pressure and actually make it easier for you to fall back asleep.

For example, try relocating to a couch with a blanket and pillow. You may want to turn on some white noise, like a fan or noise machine, or meditate to help you relax.

Another benefit? “These behavioral techniques can be very effective, and often, they’re better than trying medications,” Dr. Hershner said, noting that medications can often be habit-forming.

If you still are having trouble, though, don’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor, who can help you figure out if you have a sleep disorder, Dr. Hershner said.