The Mental Technique That Can Help You Fall Back Asleep In The Middle Of The Night

Understanding brainwave states can help you manage the momentum of your thoughts.

woman in bed, with no distractions just her paper book Sam Lion, Susannah Townsend | Canva

If you struggle with falling asleep or fall asleep easily most nights but then awaken at 2:00, 3:00, or 4:00 in the morning and can't get back to sleep, then you know how frustrating insomnia is, especially if you’ve got something important to do the next day.

Fortunately, there is a solution. But to reach it, you need to grasp the nature of the problem and learn how to sleep better.

Recall the last couple of times when you woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, and see if you can pinpoint what your mind was focused on.


Maybe you were so excited about the next day that you couldn’t stop thinking about everything to come.

You may have felt anxious about the following day’s events and ran through a mental checklist of all you need to do. It could be an argument with your spouse or a contentious situation at work that was occupying your mind. It’s entirely likely the fact you’re still awake was all you could think about! The common denominator in each of these scenarios is the momentum of thought.

Understanding your brainwave state 

Your mind is a focusing mechanism. This is excellent news because, in your waking state, focusing your mind allows you to concentrate solely on a task and see something through to completion. In its focused state, your mind filters out any noises, distractions, issues — even emotions — unrelated to the outcome you’re trying to achieve. When the focusing part of your mind is engaged, your brain is in what neuroscientists have termed the “beta” brainwave state.


In the beta brainwave state, your mind is actively processing information, both from your external surroundings and from your thoughts and emotions. Logic and critical thinking are the by-products of being in a beta brainwave state, and as a result of the intensity of your focus, you're in a heightened state of alertness.

Beta brainwave activity guides you in performing the day-to-day activities necessary to lead a high-functioning life. However, higher cycles of beta frequency in our brainwave activity also produce stress, irritability, and restlessness. In other words, the beta brainwave state is the mortal enemy of falling asleep!

In a less focused state, known as the "alpha state," your brain isn't fixated on one particular object or issue. Instead, your attention is more diffuse. In the alpha state, you operate on a type of auto-pilot. It’s a state of partial conscious awareness in which you lose track of what’s happening and can more easily drift into a deeper state of relaxation. Learning to allow yourself to fall into an alpha brainwave state is one component of falling back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.

Another state, the "theta state," is a phase of unfocused thought wherein the conscious mind is disengaged, and you enter a deep state of relaxation. You may be lightly aware of your surroundings, but only as an observer, not a participant. If you’ve ever experienced the floating sensation of being half-awake, you know exactly what it feels like to be in this brainwave state.


The delta state — the state you achieve when you’re having a good night’s sleep — is characterized by a complete disconnection from the activities of the conscious mind. In this state, you're replenished in mind and body.

The four distinct brainwave states & the momentum of your thoughts

Each of these progressively relaxed states of being — from the hyper-awareness of the beta state to the deep, dreamless unconsciousness of the delta state — is nothing more than a reflection of your momentum of thought.

In the beta state, because your focus is acute, your brainwaves move at a very high rate of speed. In the alpha state, this momentum slows down as you allow your attention to become more diffuse and less specific. In the theta state, brainwave momentum is slower still. In delta, the momentum moves at a slow rate of speed, and you have no awareness of it.

RELATED: Why So Many People Wake Up For An Hour In The Middle Of The Night... On Purpose


How to utilize your brainwave states to fall back asleep 

1. Slow your thoughts

The secret to falling back to sleep after you’ve woken up at night is to learn how to slow the momentum of your thoughts.

If you were to look at a frame-by-frame unfolding of a downward spiral of negative thinking, you'd discover that it didn’t come out of the blue. It’s rare to go from a moment of sustained satisfaction and ease to a moment of rage.

Momentum is at the root of everything you experience, whether you’re talking about an unpleasant downward spiral or the exhilaration you feel when you’re “on a roll.”

Both scenarios are set into motion with one single thought. The original thought triggers the next, and each one gathers speed. If you allow it to persist long enough, the momentum of your thoughts can begin to feel out of control.


This explains why, on the day you’re stewing about an argument you had with your boss, you’re more likely to stub your toe on the way out the door or encounter inconsiderate drivers on your drive to work. It all starts with the momentum of your thoughts.

Because of momentum, the more often you think a particular thought — such as, “Why can’t I fall asleep?” — the more likely you are to continue thinking those thoughts.

Not only will you continue to think about them, but because each of those thoughts gathers momentum, they'll escalate over time.

So, “I can’t get back to sleep” may escalate into, “Why does this always happen to me?” Or, “Maybe there’s something wrong with me.” Or “How am I ever going to get through tomorrow?”


One thought leads to the next, like a train gathering speed. Now, instead of the deep, restful delta state you’re longing for, you’re "stuck" in the rapid-fire activity of the beta state.

Slow down the train of unwanted thoughts so you can get the delicious night’s sleep you desire and deserve:

RELATED: What It Means If You Keep Waking Up At 3 A.M.

2.. Shut out distractions to your focus before bed.

In the hour or two before you go to bed, disengage from activities that require a lot of thought or mental focus. Instead, choose relaxing activities to allow your mind to unwind and drift into more of an alpha state.

If you read or watch TV in bed, make sure it’s something that puts you at ease. Ambient noises, such as the hum of a fan or the trickle of water might make it easier to drift into an alpha state.


There are apps you can download that provide ambient sounds, too. Experiment with a couple of forms of white noise, knowing that eventually, you’ll find one that makes it easier to drift off to sleep.

3. Don't distract yourself with thoughts when you wake up.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, do your best to keep your mind unfocused and in the neutrality of the alpha state.

Rather than placing your focus on thoughts (such as “How many hours do I have before my alarm goes off?”) focus instead on anything that feels good to you: The comfort of your bed, the softness of your pillow, the feel of the sheets against your skin.

If you find your mind becoming engaged, redirect any negative momentum before it starts by thinking about people, places, memories, or upcoming events to bring you comfort.


Your mind cannot move in two directions at the same time. So, if you find the wheels of your mental train starting to turn, know that you do at least have some control over its direction.

If and when you start thinking about that challenging project you have tomorrow or the relationship troubles you’ve been having lately, gently say to yourself things like, "I can think about this later. Now is not the time. There is nothing that can be done about that right now. By allowing myself to rest and relax, I’ll be better equipped to handle whatever comes my way when the time comes."

If the thought that comes to you is important, keep a pad of paper and pen by your bedside so you can write it down before you send it packing.


RELATED: If Your Depression Creeps In At Night, Here’s What To Do

4. Increase your positive self-talk and shut out negativity.

After trying all of the above, if you become frustrated because you've not yet fallen back to sleep, use that time to nourish yourself through positive self-talk and a generous application of self-love.

Say things to yourself such as, "I’m doing the best I can. I’ve had issues in the past that have worked themselves out. For every problem, there is a solution. There are so many things in my life that are working well, and for which I am truly grateful."

The mindset of gratitude and appreciation creates an internal atmosphere that is remarkably conducive to sleep. The truth is, in every moment — and precisely because you can focus and defocus your mind — you can put attention on all that isn’t working, or you can use that same power of focus to take a mental inventory of all that is.


There is no one precise formula for generating a mindset of appreciation. Some can find it just by thinking of a beloved pet. Others recall experiences in nature that were uplifting.

To create the intention of gratitude in your heart, see where your mind takes you, and notice how you feel. What you're going for is a feeling of relief. Relief slows the gears of your mental machine, and you gradually slip into more relaxed states of consciousness.

Learning to defocus your mind is a gradual process. But knowing that you can do so gives you a definite head start. Like everything, it will get easier with practice. Be patient with yourself.

RELATED: 7 Habits To Help You Drift Back To Dreamland When You Just Can't Sleep


Christy Whitman is an energy healer, transformational leader, celebrity coach, and New York Times bestselling author of 'The Art of Having It All: A Woman’s Guide to Unlimited Abundance.'