How to fall back asleep in 2 minutes if you wake up in the night

woman lying in bed with her hands over her face
(Image credit: Getty)

If you fall asleep quickly but find yourself waking up in the middle of the night you may be wondering how to fall back asleep quickly.

Waking up in the middle of the night can be frustrating, especially if you have a busy day or early start and want to feel focused for the next day. There are a number of reasons why you might be waking up in the night, from alcohol before bed to not enough exercise during the day. If you're trying to sleep in an unfamiliar environment, there's something called the first night effect that can prevent you from properly switching off. Whatever the cause, it's helpful to have some tricks up your sleeve to help you fall back asleep quickly – so you don't miss out on all the health benefits of a good night's sleep.

We speak to Dr Guy Meadows, co-founder and clinical lead at Sleep School about why we wake up in the middle of the night and the different methods and techniques you can try to help you fall back asleep in two minutes.

Why do we wake up in the middle of the night?

If you wake up in the middle of the night don't worry – as Dr Meadows explains that it's normal for us to wake up multiple times: "Sleep is made up of three stages – light, deep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Each stage has a different job including growth and repair, mood regulation and memory processing."

While he also goes on to say that the average eight-hour sleeper has around four awakenings per night. "Various hypotheses exist as to why we wake intermittently including allowing us to check for danger (survival theory), aiding the onboarding of large memories (memory theory) and allowing us to feed our young or stoke the fire (basic theory).

However, many other factors can also increase the frequency and duration of night-time waking especially those that promote greater levels of hyperarousal or alertness. "These include mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. 

"Sleep disorders such as insomnia or poor diets containing high amounts of stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol or cigarettes are common reasons. Other sources of sleep disturbance include sleep-disordered breathing issues such as snoring and sleep apnoea (intermittent pauses in breathing), restless legs syndrome or periodic legs movements (irresistible urge to move legs or all limbs)."

Another reason for waking up in the night is feeling uncomfortable on your mattress or pillow. If yours has seen better days, you may not have the best mattress which works with your body type and sleep position. 

How to fall back asleep in 2 minutes

Meditating and breath work

Using an app to practice meditation and deep breathing can help you be present, says Dr Meadows: "Worrying about the past or catastrophising about the future promotes night-time wakefulness. Focussing your attention on something in the moment such as the movement of your breath can be helpful. Aim to notice the rise and fall of each breath moment by moment. 

"Each time your mind wanders onto worry, practise gently returning back to focus on the breath and the present moment. Remember, the intention is not to have an empty mind or force sleep, but rather to train your skills at noticing and letting go of difficult thoughts and resting in bed. In doing so you create the ideal internal environment for sleep to emerge naturally."

The military sleep method

Created for those in the military who find it hard to get to sleep, or fall back to sleep, and for them to feel refreshed in the morning this method could help you fall back asleep in two minutes. The method involves you relaxing your whole body – starting from the top of your body, concentrating on relaxing one body part at a time and breathing deeply as you do it. The last part involves visualization – imagining yourself in a canoe on a calm lake, or in a forest with nature around you. 

Body Tapping 

Commonly used for those with anxiety, body tapping can also be used to help you fall back asleep too. Body tapping, where you use your fingertips to repeatedly tap certain points on your face and collarbone, while you breathe deeply, allows you to focus on the present rather than your mind wandering. Use two fingers, on both hands, to tap your forehead, under your eyes and your jawline, then move down to your collarbone. Do this slowly, concentrating on your movements and breath, then repeat as many times as you need to until your heart rate slows down and you feel more relaxed.

Body scan

Like the military sleep method, body scanning makes you more aware of your body, and which parts are stressed – giving you a chance to actively relax them. Starting at the top of the body, scan each body part, becoming aware of how they feel, breathing into them in a bid to relax them. Most of us find our shoulders are tense, especially if we sit at a desk all day, so spending time on every part of your body will give you a sense of relaxation. Continue until you've scanned your whole body, or you fall back into a deep sleep.

Staying in bed 

If you're tossing and turning and can't fall back to sleep you may feel as though you want to get out of bed, but Meadows advises against it: "Unsurprisingly, engaging in daytime activities such as checking your emails or social media on your phone, switching on the light to read or getting up to make a drink, all wake you up further. 

"In contrast, choosing to stay in bed and rest in a state of quiet wakefulness offers many benefits like sleep including energy conservation, repair and memory consolidation. It also saves your valuable energy for the day ahead, helping you to get on with living your life."

When to see a doctor about frequent waking at night

In some cases, your sleep disturbances may not be cured by techniques and methods, and you may need to see a doctor, but at what point would that be?

"If your sleep disturbance leads to excessive daytime tiredness and begins to affect your ability to cope mentally, emotionally or physically during the day, then it is recommended that you visit your doctor," says Meadows.

A doctor could help you find out the cause of the issue or whether you need to be referred to a sleep specialist. "They'll know if a sleep specialist is required – and getting the right treatment will help to fast-track you to more restful sleep once again," adds Meadows.

Sarah Finley

Sarah is a freelance writer who has been published across titles including Woman & Home, The Independent, and the BBC. Sarah covers a variety of subjects, including health and wellness. For Tom's Guide Sarah often writes about sleep health and hygiene, and interviews leading sleep experts about common issues such as insomnia and sleep deprivation.