How to get back to sleep quickly

Our sleep expert, Olivia Arezzolo shares her fool-proof plan for drifting off.

Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our new editorial series Sleep Well Wednesdays. Check back each week and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.

Another night laying in bed, 3am, tossing, turning, thoughts on an endless loop. Sound familiar?

If you had a boozy night, it’s likely: Evidence indicates 75% of alcohol drinkers wake too early.

If you fell asleep watching MAFS, it’s also probable: a recent study found out of all tech forms, those watching were the most likely to report such nighttime disturbances.

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But even if you did my signature bedtime routine, omitted screens and alcohol, another thing may have impaired your sleep: anxiety.

In fact, COVID19 data indicates anxiety has risen by 50%; and further research also shows that more than 70% of those with anxiety report difficulties in maintaining sleep.

Again, sound familiar? If it does, this article is for you.

Today, I’m sharing my 4 step plan for returning to sleep with ease – so you wake up feeling fresh and firing, ready to take on the world – exactly as you should.

Step 1: No lights, no phone

Tempted to reach out for your phone as soon as you wake? Don’t.

Light is our primary zeitgeber – factor to control our circadian rhythm. Above all other elements – alcohol, anxiety, stress – light has the most significant impact upon your circadian rhythm, and ultimately, sleep quality.

Light, especially blue light, is a major sleep saboteur: research shows it suppresses sleepiness hormone melatonin levels by 23% after a short exposure. Even using night mode on your phone – melatonin is still suppressed by 19%, meaning that the switch only makes a marginal difference.

If you’re new to Sleep Well Wednesdays (welcome!), it’s imperative you know: melatonin is our sleepiness hormone, facilitating deep, restful sleep.Conversely, melatonin suppression creates a physiological resistance to sleep: we aren’t receiving the neurochemical signals to do so.

With that in mind, keeping ceiling lights off is also key.

Step 2: Apply lavender

Lavender – my go-to sleep oil.

Physiologically, it calms the body – so much so that A clinical trial found lavender reduced anxiety by 59%. As a result, the researchers also noted sleep quality improved by 45%.

And although you may not feel anxious upon waking, appreciating that mental rumination, feeling wired and your thoughts on an endless loop all signify anxiety is important.

And because of this, if these are your symptoms when you abruptly wake in the evening, applying lavender is key. Side note – if you’re pregnant or breast feeding, omit lavender and opt for sweet orange oil – it produces a similar effect.

Step 3: Practice mediation

Especially for those waking around 3am, meditation is ideal: evidence shows post meditation, cortisol declines – the stress hormone which usually is the root cause of such nighttime wakings.

Another reason meditation is king for nighttime wakings is because it lowers stress reactivity – another possible driver behind nocturnal arousals.

Specifically, clinical research indicates meditation induces neuroplasticity – changes of the brain – in the amygdala – the cortical region to control stress.

As a result of meditation, when triggered by stress (be it psychological, like a problem at work) or physiological (like a loud noise), you’re less likely to react (read: wake up).

Further to that, research also indicates 60% of meditators will experience less anxiety – which as mentioned, is another key reason you’re rousing in the first place.

Step 4: Tire yourself out

If you’re still awake after 20 minutes, get up and sit in the lounge, repeat the above and only return to bed when you’re tired enough to sleep.

This works for two reasons: first, it ensures your bed remains for sleep and sleep only; and second, the energy required to get up can sometimes be just the amount you needed to drain to fall asleep.

Win for you returning to sleep, win for your mornings and a win for your daytime performance.

Olivia Arezzolo is a sleep expert who holds a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology); Certificate of Sleep Psychology and a Diploma of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine); and Certificate of Fitness III + IV. Olivia is passionate about delivering straightforward, science-based strategies to improve sleep.