A Guide to Qiyyam al-Lail (Night Vigil Prayer) - The Importance of Tahajjud

Naushin Abid
Qiyam ul Layl or commonly known as Tahajjud Salah are the voluntary or optional form of worship which means they are not obligatory on the Muslims. They are usually offered after Isha Salah in the late night hours until Fajar salah. However the optimal time to perform this salah would be in the last one third of the night as it is quoted in the hadith texts that Allah the Glorious descends from the seventh heaven and is more close and accessible than any other time period in the day or night.
Chapter 01

Definition of Qiyam ul Layl:

Meaning of the Term Tahajjud:

The term in arabic “ تَهَجَّدَ “ means to keep watch or night prayer, it essentially refers to the voluntary prayers that are performed late night, after a person has woken from sleep. So it means that a person initially sleeps in the early part of the night then wakes up in the middle of the last one third part of the night. It is neither necessary nor required that one should stay awake the entire night . However, what is essential is that a wakeful state should be attained after some period of deep sleep. This is the true spirit of this form of worship.

The significance of Qiyam-ul-Layl:

The importance of Qiyam al layl cannot be undermined even from a worldly perspective.
Whereas the rewards in Akhirah or after life are immense and unimaginable for a muslim who remained steadfast on his nigh vigil prayer. As is evident from the basic definition of the terminologies that this is not an easy task to accomplish. A lot of struggle and consistent effort is required to develop a habit of night prayer. However keeping in view its significance there should be enough basis for an incentive for a believer who is looking for means to adopt this form of worship on a regular basis. Some of these aspects are highlighted below.

Significance from a worldly perspective:

  • As Muslims our belief and an essential part of our Islamic Creed is that our life in this world is like a journey and our destination is the Akhirah. Whenever we want to acquire something in this world, be it a career path, establishing a new business, acquiring a new skill or a degree, we normally work very hard for it. It's not something that is attained by mere visualising and daydreaming. It requires a positive, affirmative plan, effort and course of action.
  • Similarly, when it comes to our religion,the same rules of the world are applicable here as well; procrastination, casual attitude,fantasizing , laziness,inconsistency does not work in any sphere of life if a person really wants to achieve something. Just as a struggling student would maintain a night vigil to acquire high grades in his exam, or someone who is building up his new business would stay up all night working on his plans, the same way if we want to acquire a high status in Akhirah and become close friends of Allah the Exalted, then Qiyam al Layl or night vigil prayer more commonly known as Tahajjud, is an essential part and parcel of that believer.

Striving to become Lovers of Allah the Glorious:

  • You and I cannot claim to be lovers and secret, close friends or best friends with Allah the Glorious, if qiyam al layl is missing or excluded from our daily routine. It simply cannot be, that on one side a person claims to love somebody and then not do what pleases his or her beloved ? We all at some point of our lives have gone through different stages in our worldly love for our spouses or children, and have done what it takes in order to sustain and prosper our relationships , even when we know that this love and relationship is temporary, it's worldly and will not last forever.
  • To be a lover of Allah the Exalted one must submit completely to His commandments and that there should be a reflection of the person who is not just a human but a slave of Allah the Glorious. THat slave who submits completely in every sphere of life and does not question the commands. Hence that is the sole purpose as Allah the Exalted informs in Quran that “He has created Human and Jinn so that they may worship Him.” This worship includes developing a connection with the creator which can be accomplished more effectively through qiyam al layl or night worship. As the real essence of worship is attained during the night .

Means of Subduing and training the Inner Self or “Ego”:

  • Similarly, in order to manifest our claim for love of Allah Almighty, to acquire a high abode in Akhirah, to become the residents of highest gardens of Paradise, we have to work hard, labour and fight against our Nafs or inner soul commonly known as “ego”.Since it is a means of training and subduing this ego and brings a state of inner calm, serenity and peace. Nothing is more displeasing to this inner soul then the state of wakefulness at night, rising from deep sleep, sacrificing the warmth of the bed and going to perform ablution then standing in prayer. However consistent effort can bring about positive results and a remarkable change in the person himself, Since Allah the Almighty takes control of his affairs and the world seems less important and more distant compared to Akhirah. It builds up a strong rapport and unbreakable connection with our Creator and Sustainer.

Incorporating and Internalizing that element of attaining “extra ” or more:

  • How many times in our lives, each and everyone one of us has burned midnight oil in order to meet a project deadline, to attain that extra “ bonus” promised by the client or conjure up different schemes to promote our business and earn that “extra” profit? We all want more and more. Be it a higher worldly status, fame, power, money, extra praise, extra grade it just does not satisfy the soul , we do not settle for mediocre or less, to satiate our thirst and longing for more. If we have a new car or a new house or a new model of a smartphone, pretty soon we just get bored and tired with it, hence we want the new and latest version. We redecorate our present homes hundreds of times as we get bored with the old setting. So all of this just leads to a simple conclusion that we will never be satisfied with materialistic entities. The only way the soul can be satisfied eternally is once it's tied to the leash to obey the commandments of Allah the Almighty and submit and surrender the ego. Nothing in this world can satisfy or please it except the love and pleasure of the One who created it.
  •  It is as if Allah the Magnificent is addressing His believer in all His Might and Praise that He deserves, that : “ I want more from you my beloved worshipper”, not just the five times obligatory prayers, not just the occasional voluntary prayer during the day, but, you have to come to me at night as well, dwell into the unseen, darkness of the night, leave the comfort zone, venture into the one on one personal time with me”. Not only is it an open invitation to everyone who wants to climb that ladder of success and reach the pinnacle, whether it is in a worldly nature or the Hereafter, but it is available for free for everyone regardless of their time, place and worldly position. It is the “bonus” from Allah the Almighty for his believing worshipper.

Beloved form of worship of Prophet Muhammad peace be Upon him:

  •  The highest form of worship that was beloved to our Prophet peace be upon him was the tahajjud prayer or qiyam al layl. As it is evident from numerous narrations of the close companions and wives of Prophet peace be upon him, that nothing was more desirable and pleasure seeking to him than this qiyam al layl or nightly vigil prayer. He always maintained a habit of it and remained consistent in performing it. Nothing in the world prevented him from this form of worship. He never left it even under extreme duress,severe hardships, travel, wars, and if he had to forgo in a few instances he would make up for it during the day.
  • This particular point of significance will be elaborated further in the coming section under “ Qiyam al Layl in the Quran and Sunnah”.
  • So if nothing else can tempt the reader then just adopting a most beloved sunnah of our prophet peace be upon him with the goal of meeting him in akhirah and attaining his permanent companionship should be a temptation and incentive for any common believer to initiate this nightly form of worship.
  • On a more personal note, I remember a quote from one of my favourite teachers of Ilm, who said that “ If anyone of you wants something very desperately in life , that is something you just cannot live without, to the extent that it becomes the sole purpose and means of your worldly life’s existence, then Tahajjud prayer is the path to achieving it. There is no way that a pleading believer’s tahajjud dua is rejected by Allah the Exalted if it is for a rightful cause and with true intention and something that is not sinful, displeasing and/or it should be residing within the realm of Shariah.
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Feeling lazy over Qiyam? You won't find it difficult to get up in the middle of the night to perform Qiyam al-Lail anymore!
Chapter 02

Qiyam al layl in the Quran and Sunnah:

There are quite a few instances in which there is evidence of Qiyam Al Layl in Quran, in fact it is stated by the religious scholars that no other voluntary form of worship is so often mentioned with special emphasis than the tahajjud prayer or qiyam al layl. We will look into these verses one by one. However, it would be appropriate to mention here that the term “ Tahajjud” comes only once in the Quran in Surah Isra.

1. Beloved form of worship of Prophet Muhammad peace be Upon him:

وَمِنَ الَّيۡلِ فَتَهَجَّدۡ بِهٖ نَافِلَةً لَّكَ‌ۖ عَسٰىۤ اَنۡ يَّبۡعَـثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَامًا مَّحۡمُوۡدًا‏ ﴿۷۹﴾
So perform the regular prayers in the period from the time the
sun is past its zenith till the darkness of the night, and [recite] the
Quran at dawn– dawn recitation is always witnessed ––79 and during
the night wake up and pray, as an extra offering of your own, so
that your Lord may raise you to a [highly] praised status
This verse is actually connected to the preceding verse 78, in which there is coherent commandement of establishing five times prayer, after which this verse is there in which Allah the Almighty is giving this commandment to prophet Muhammad peace be upon him regarding the nightly prayers, and also there is an indication that it is not an obligatory prayer, rather it is a voluntary or optional form of worship. This is derived from the arabic term “نَافِلَةً, which means extra . As the term “ Nafl” means “ bonus” or “ extra”. So one might perform this particular act of worship as a means of obtaining extra reward keeping in line with the worldly correlation of this term in which a worker clocks in extra working hours to earn a bonus or make extra money.
One more point to mention here is that although the verse says extra offering, however the Prophet peace be upon him never took it as extra or a voluntary form of worship. Rather it was his constant habit to wake up in the night and offer qiyam al layl . Some scholars are of the opinion that it was a mandatory form of worship for the prophet peace be upon him himself in order to attain a high stature on the day of judgement, but he never wanted the same binding on his followers or companions. Since he knew the shortcomings of the people who would come after him and how difficult it would be for them, so that is why, the status of this qiyamul lail prayer was kept as a voluntary or optional form of worship.
(Anyone who wants to read up more on the commentary of this verse can look up the detail in Reference number 2).

2. Second instance in the Quran is a set of verses in Surah Muzamil, Chapter 73: Verses 1-8.

يٰۤاَيُّهَا الۡمُزَّمِّلُۙ‏ ﴿۱﴾قُمِ الَّيۡلَ اِلَّا قَلِيۡلاًۙ‏ ﴿۲﴾نِّصۡفَهٗۤ اَوِ انْقُصۡ مِنۡهُ قَلِيۡلاًۙ‏ ﴿۳﴾اَوۡ زِدۡ عَلَيۡهِ وَرَتِّلِ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ تَرۡتِيۡلاًؕ‏ ﴿۴﴾اِنَّا سَنُلۡقِىۡ عَلَيۡكَ قَوۡلاً ثَقِيۡلاً‏ ﴿۵﴾اِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ الَّيۡلِ هِىَ اَشَدُّ وَطۡـأً وَّاَقۡوَمُ قِيۡلاًؕ‏ ﴿۶﴾اِنَّ لَـكَ فِىۡ النَّهَارِ سَبۡحًا طَوِيۡلاًؕ‏ ﴿۷﴾وَاذۡكُرِ اسۡمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلۡ اِلَيۡهِ تَبۡتِيۡلاًؕ‏ ﴿۸﴾
You [Prophet], enfolded in your cloak! 2 Stay up throughout the
night, all but a small part of it, 3 half, or a little less, 4 or a little more;
recite the Quran slowly and distinctly: 5We shall send a momentous
message down to you. 6 Night prayer makes a deeper impression and
sharpens words––7 you are kept busy for long periods of the day––
8 so celebrate the name of your Lord and devote yourself wholeheartedly
to Him.
In this set of verses, Allah the Almighty initially commanded the prophet peace be upon him and the believers to stand up in qiyamul lail prayers, but then it was relaxed in the later part of the verses to less than one third or one third of the night.

3. In Surah Sajdah Chapter 32: Verse 16., Allah the Exalted especially mentions those believers whose night vigil prayer keeps them away from their resting states at night.

  تَتَجَافٰى جُنُوۡبُهُمۡ عَنِ الۡمَضَاجِعِ يَدۡعُوۡنَ رَبَّهُمۡ خَوۡفًا وَّطَمَعًا وَّمِمَّا رَزَقۡنٰهُمۡ يُنۡفِقُوۡنَ‏ ﴿۱۶
16 Their sides shun their beds in order to pray to their Lord in fear and hope; they give to others some of what We have given them.

4. Surah Dhariyat, Chapter 51: Verse17, Allah the Exalted mentions the pious, upright worshippers who will reside in beautiful gardens of paradise and one of their qualities is the qiyam al layl.

كَانُوۡا قَلِيۡلاً مِّنَ الَّيۡلِ مَا يَهۡجَعُوۡنَ‏ ﴿۱۷
The righteous will be in Gardens with [flowing] springs.16 They will receive their Lord’s gifts because of the good they did before: 17 sleeping only little at night, 18 praying at dawn for God’s forgiveness,

5. In Surah Furqan, Chapter 25: Verse 64, there are some qualities and characteristics mentioned of chosen servants of Allah the Almighty, amongst which is that they spend the night in form of worship in qiyam al layl.

وَالَّذِيۡنَ يَبِيۡتُوۡنَ لِرَبِّهِمۡ سُجَّدًا وَّقِيَامًا‏ ﴿۶۴
The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth, and who, when the foolish address them, reply, ‘Peace’;64 those who spend the night bowed down or standing, worshipping their Lord,

6. Surah Zumar, Chapter 39: Verse 9, there is a simple comparison made between the one who stays up in qiyam ul layl worshipping Allah the Almighty seeking forgiveness and hopeful of His mercy and the one who is forgetful and disobeys the commands of Allah the Exalted. Indeed they can never be considered equal in stature and in these verses is enough sign for people of understanding.

اَمَّنۡ هُوَ قَانِتٌ اٰنَآءَ الَّيۡلِ سَاجِدًا وَّقَآٮِٕمًا يَّحۡذَرُ الۡاٰخِرَةَ وَيَرۡجُوۡا رَحۡمَةَ رَبِّهٖ‌ؕ قُلۡ هَلۡ يَسۡتَوِىۡ الَّذِيۡنَ يَعۡلَمُوۡنَ وَالَّذِيۡنَ لَا يَعۡلَمُوۡنَ‌ؕ اِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ اُولُوا الۡاَلۡبَابِ‏ ﴿۹
What about someone who worships devoutly during the night, bowing down,
standing in prayer, ever mindful of the life to come, hoping for his Lord’s mercy? Say, ‘How can those who know be equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who have understanding will take heed.

7. Surah Tur, Chapter 52: Verse 49.

وَمِنَ الَّيۡلِ فَسَبِّحۡهُ وَاِدۡبَارَ النُّجُوۡمِ‏ ﴿۴۹
Wait patiently [Prophet] for your Lord’s judgement:you are under Our watchful eye. Celebrate the praise of your Lord when you rise. 49 Glorify Him at night and at the fading of the stars.

Qiyam al layl in the Sunnah:

As mentioned earlier, the Prophet peace be upon him was an ardent night worshipper. No other form of worship was more beloved to him than this night vigil prayer, as will be evident from the hadith quoted below from various texts. ( There are numerous ahadith in fact more than hundred, in various authentic hadith texts, but here only a few are being mentioned, if the reader wants to read more they can access them from the links given in the reference number 3& 4 at the end of the article).

1. `A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife (may Allah be pleased with her) reported:

When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) prayed (the optional night prayers: Qiyam-ul-layl), he would stand until (the skin of) his feet swelled. So, I said:
“O Prophet of Allah, do you do as such while Allah has forgiven you all mistakes?”
He responded: “Should not I be a grateful servant of Allah?” (Muslim)

2. `Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

I prayed one night with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he kept standing until I thought of doing something bad.”
`Abdullah was asked, “What was that?”
He said: “I thought of sitting down and leaving him.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

3. Ali (May Allah be pleased with him)

`Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) visited him and [his wife] Fatimah (May Allah be pleased with her) one night and said, “Why do not you observe prayer (at night)?” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

4. Salim ibn `Abdullah ibn `Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) reported,

Salim ibn `Abdullah ibn `Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) reported, on the authority of his father, that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said,“What an excellent man `Abdullah is! If only he could perform [optional] prayers at night.”Salim said that after this, (his father) `Abdullah used to sleep very little at night. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

5. Abu Hurayrah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported

Abu Hurayrah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,“The best month for observing fasting after Ramadan is Allah’s month of Muharram, and the best Salah after the prescribed Salah is Salah at night.” (Muslim)

6.Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“Whosoever performs Qiyam (optional night prayer) during Ramadan out of faith and being hopeful of Allah’s reward, will have his past sins forgiven.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

7.`Abdullah ibn Salam (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated,

7.`Abdullah ibn Salam (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated,
When the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him arrived for the first time in Madinah, I went with everyone to see him. When I saw him, I knew his face was not that of a liar. The first words he said were,
“O people, spread Salam (greeting of peace), give food, maintain kin relationships, and pray at night while people are asleep. With this, you shall enter Heaven in peace.” (Ibn Majah)

Examples of our pious predecessors:

In the era of the companions and then later those who came after them such as the Tabi'un and the Tabatabaian there are considerable number of instances where these lovers of Allah the Glorious remained awake in the night to worship and also to work towards spreading the deen of Islam through their texts and their written work. Such people are long since remembered till now for their innumerable and undeniable accomplishments and contributions that they made for Islam.
  • A few of these noble predecessors are Imam Abu Hanifa, the most accomplished and well known jurist, in the history of Hanafi Fiqh, It is commonly known that he never rested during the night and for almost forty years of his life he would pray Isha salah, tahajjud prayer and Fajar salah whilst remaining in a constant state of ablution. He would finish recitation of the entire Quran in one week or sometimes even three days.
  • Then there is the famous example of Imam Bukhari who used to pray voluntary salah before writing any of the hadith in his famous hadith text Sahih Bukhari which has remained till now the most authentic book after the Quranic scripture to be reverted to by muslims all over the world unanimously.
  • Similarly another authority in the field of hadith the famous Imam Muslim may Allah have mercy on him it is known that he would stay up all night looking up one jurisprudence matter that someone has asked him and he kept searching for the answers in all the hadith scripture so much that his death came in this state due to exhaustion and overdose of dates .
  • Then there is another famous imam of fiqh, Imam Ahmed BIn Hanbal who established his own madhab known as the hanbali fiqh, it is known that he would pray around 150 voluntary nawafil in qiyam ul layl, till he was around eighty years old.
  • They had divided the night in three portions, one for the work of textualization of hadith or fiqh , the second for qiyam al layl and the third one for some rest.
  • Similarly a famous companion and the daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakar may Allah be pleased with them. Hazrat Asma Bint e Abu Bakar, was around hundred years old and would still pray around a 100 nawafil during the night prayer.
There are innumerable such examples spread out in our glorious history of such devoted forms of worship but for the sake of brevity only a few are mentioned.
Chapter 03

Tips for waking up to perform Qiyam al layl:

If you are struggling to wake up for tahajjud then the following tips which have been quoted by various sources ( please see reference list 5 & 6) will be beneficial.
1. Performing Ablution before sleeping at night .
2.  Reciting the night Zikr while in bed before sleeping.
3.  Making earnest dua to Allah SWT.
4.  Apology to Allah: Sincere and genuine atonement is one of the fundamental decorums of Istikhara.
5. Sleep early. If you are in the habit of staying up late at night then you need to retune your body clock so that you can go to bed early. Otherwise you will not be able to wake up for tahajjud prayer.
6. Set up the Alarm clock and place it at a distance from the bed, so that you need to get up and walk from your bed to turn it off. 
7. Make it a family affair. As we see from the sunnah of Prophet peace be upon him that he used to wake up his family for tahajjud especially during Ramadan nights.
8. Make it a family affair. As we see from the sunnah of Prophet peace be upon him that he used to wake up his family for tahajjud especially during Ramadan nights.
9. It's all about the mind and will power one has to train the nafs or ego. After initial setbacks don't get alarmed or disappointed but keep going at it till it becomes a habit. That will take at least forty days.
10. Start small, and then increase the portions of worship gradually. In other words, it's a step by step process. Initially if you are struggling then maybe you can start with just waking up, making dua or reciting some azkar etc. Then gradually build on the momentum to take it up further to performing ablution and praying two rakats of prayers. When the body is attuned to that then it can be increased further. However, it is important to remember that small acts of worship which are consistent and performed daily are more benevolent to Allah the Almighty than bigger acts which are irregular and inconsistent. 

How to perform Qiyam Al Layl:

  • Make the right and proper intention for qiyam Al layl. As mentioned earlier, that it should be purely for the sake of pleasing Allah the Glorious. Scholars rightly say that Qiyam Al layl or Tahjjud is a love affair between the believing worshipper or slave and his master.
  • Prophet peace be upon him used to wake up for tahajjud after getting some rest, then after getting up, he would rub his eyes to remove the sleep signs, and recite the last ruku of Surah Aal e Imran, Chapter 3: Verses 190-200, thus offering glory and praise to Allah the Exalted.
  • Then Prophet peace be upon him would perform ablution and make intention of performing two rakat prayers with initially small portions of recitation and then gradually building up on it to take them to sometimes six or eight or ten rakats salah.
  • The following hadith also mentions the same procedure.
  1. `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Night prayers are to be offered two by two, then if you fear that dawn will come, make [the total of the rak`ahs you performed] an odd number by praying one [additional] rak`ah.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
2. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“When one of you gets up at night to perform [optional night] prayer, let him start Salah with two short Rak`ahs.” (Muslim).
  • The optimal time for performing tahajjud prayer is normally the last one-third of the night, when a person has had a few hours of sleep. It would not be advisable to stay up all night , since it would become very exhausting and then the person has this chance of missing fajr salah altogether in the process of staying up for tahajjud. Normally the prophet peace be upon him would also turn in early, then wake up after a few hours.
  • It would not be advisable to try and sleep after performing tahajjud prayer since there is a chance of missing the fajr prayer which is an obligatory or fard rather than tahajjud which is a voluntary form of worship
  • The best thing would be to wake up in such a time span that is close to the fajr prayer so it can be performed right after the tahajjud prayer.
  • Normally the prophet peace be upon him would just lie down a bit before the fajr prayer but that was only to rest for a short while since he had no danger of falling in deep sleep.
  • Following are some recommended duas :
When the Prophet woke up to perform tahajjud prayer at night, he said the following dua:
للَّهُمَّ لَكَ الْحَمْدُ أَنْتَ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَمَنْ فِيهِنَّ، وَلَكَ الْحَمْدُ أَنْتَ قَيِّمُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَمَنْ فِيهِنَّ، وَلَكَ الْحَمْدُ أَنْتَ الْحَقُّ، وَوَعْدُكَ الْحَقُّ، وَقَوْلُكَ الْحَقُّ، وَلِقَاؤُكَ حَقٌّ، وَالْجَنَّةُ حَقٌّ، وَالنَّارُ حَقٌّ، وَالسَّاعَةُ حَقٌّ، وَالنَّبِيُّونَ حَقٌّ، وَمُحَمَّدٌ حَقٌّ، اللَّهُمَّ لَكَ أَسْلَمْتُ، وَعَلَيْكَ تَوَكَّلْتُ، وَبِكَ آمَنْتُ، وَإِلَيْكَ أَنَبْتُ، وَبِكَ خَاصَمْتُ، وَإِلَيْكَ حَاكَمْتُ، فَاغْفِرْ لِي مَا قَدَّمْتُ وَمَا أَخَّرْتُ، وَمَا أَسْرَرْتُ وَمَا أَعْلَنْتُ أَنْتَ الْمُقَدِّمُ وَأَنْتَ الْمُؤَخِّرُ لا إِلَهَ إِلا أَنْتَ وَلا إِلَهَ غَيْرُكَ
"O Allah, to You be praise, You are the light of the heavens and the earth, and everyone therein. To You be praise; You are the holder of the heavens and the earth, and everyone therein. To You be praise; You are True; Your promise is true; Paradise is true; Hell is true; the Hour is true; the Prophets are true and Muhammad is true. To You have I submitted; in You I put my trust and in You I have believed. To You I turn in repentance; by Your help I argue; to You I refer my case; so, forgive me for my past and future sins, what I have done in secret and what I have done openly. You are the One Who brings forward and puts back. None has the right to be worshipped but You, and there is none who has the right to be worshipped other than You." (Tirmidhi, Daawat 29; see Bukhari, Tahajjud, 1)
According to what is narrated from Ubade b. Samit, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,
"If a person wakes up at night and prays as follows, his sins will be forgiven: 
 'La ilaha illallahu wahdahu la sharika lah, lahul mulku wa lahul hamdu wa huwa ala kulli shayin qadir. Subhanallahi wal hamdu lillahi wa la ilaha illallahu wallahu akbar, wa la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah."
"There is no god but Allah, having no partner with Him; to Him belongs sovereignty and to Him is praise due; and He is Potent over everything. Glorified is Allah; all the praises and thanks are to Allah; there is no god but Allah, and Allah is the Greatest. There is no omnipotence and power except by Allah.” Then, "Rabbighfirli (O Lord! Forgive me!" (Abu Dawud, Adab, 98-99 no: 5060)
Shariq al-Hawzani narrates: I asked Hz. Aisha: 
 "What supplication did the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say when he woke up at night?" She said,
"You have asked something that nobody has asked me before.
When he woke up at night, he would say, "Allahu akbar (Allah is the Greatest)" ten times, "alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah)" ten times, "Subhanallahi wa bihamdihi (Allah is free from imperfection and praise be to Him)" ten times and "Subhanal malikil quddus (Glory be to the Sovereign, the Most Holy)" ten times. He would ask forgiveness from Allah ten times and say, "Lailaha illallah (There is no god but Allah)" ten times. Then, he would pray as follows: "Allahumma inni audhu bika min diqid-dunya wa diqi yawmil qiyama (O Allah! I seek refuge in Thee from the strait of the world and the Day of Resurrection). After that, he would start tahajjud prayer.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 99-100 no: 5085)

Seven Levels of Qiyam al Layl:

1. Maintaining a night vigil the whole night till dawn.
2.  Fixing half night for worship.
3.  Maintaining night vigil prayer for one-third of the night.
4.  Divide the night into three portions, in the last one-third rest for the one-third of that last portion and pray for the remaining, so it would be ⅚ portion worship and ⅙ portion rest. This was the preferred form of qiyam al layl of the prophet of Allah Hazrat Daud may Allah the glorious have mercy on him. Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him also used to speak in favour of this form Qiyam ul Layl and it is well known through history to be adopted by majority of companions and the later predecessors. 
5. Regarding the amount of Nawafil or optional rakats one should not fix a certain amount, it can be any depending on the level of wakefulness and capability that one possesses at that time. It can vary from person to person and even for one person there can be a variation in the amount of rakats. Sometimes it can be less and sometimes they can be increased , depending on how well rested and alert a person is at that time. 
6. If a person has fixed some amount and performs it regularly, but due to some genuine reason like extreme cold weather or illness the qiyam should not be abandoned altogether, however it can be reduced to two or four rakats depending on the stamina of the worshipper. Since shaytan is always on the lookout and lurking to remove the good habits and deeds from a believer and make him lazy or careless. 
7. If someone cannot get up at all for qiyam al layl then a starting point for them is to perform some voluntary rakats with maghrib or Isha Salah with the intention of qiyam al layl, however this is the lowest form and is not recommended on a long term basis. It is only to be continued till one gradually falls into the habit of waking up at night separately to form tahajjud prayer.
8. There is a story about a pious predecessor, who was in the regular habit of performing qiyam al layl, however one night he could not get up at all, since he was severely unwell, and it was a very cold night, so he remained in bed , somehow he mustered up the courage to sit up, and he thought that if I have come this far, surely I can walk to the ablution area near by to perform ablution and then come back and sit on my bed and make dua, when he did that he thought that now that I have made so much effort for ablution I will instead walk to my prayer mat instead of my bed and sit there for a while, then he thought now that I have reached my prayer mat I can ask Allah the Almighty to give me enough strength to perform two rakats of voluntary salah. So in this way our Mashaykh used to work on their nafs or ego and defeat the shaytan tactics to overcome their shortcomings at any cost. Since they knew that eleven if they gave up just an inch to these enemies, the nafs or ego and the devil iblis would make them fall behind a long way. 
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Important do’s and don'ts:

Do’s Don’ts
Making the right intention Not making any intention or worldly intention
Sleeping early Staying up late at night.
Setting up an alarm for waking up. Leaving it to chance that If I manage to wake up I will pray otherwise I won't.
Start with less and increase gradually. Starting with long list of acts of worship
Eat light Eating heavy meals
Making sunnah duas. Not including any dua or sunnah acts of worship.
Performing ablution and reciting azkar before sleeping. Avoid using your smart phones at bedtime.
Stay away from sins and all such activities that make a person heedless from the remembrance of Allah the Almighty during the day time. Do not indulge in casual activities, pleasure reading of meaningless novels or books other than those of scripture or Ilm etc or useless talk after Isha . If there is lack of anything to do then sleeping early would be best.

Some additional tips and Etiquettes of Qiyam ul Layl

1. Instigating a fear of Akhirah and remembrance of death and the day of judgement when one would face Allah the Exalted for accountability
2.  Keep reminding oneself of the numerous incentives in Quranic scripture and in hadith regarding Qiyam al Layl. 
3.  Have a strenuous belief that in Qiyam al Layl a believer or lover is in an intimate dialogue whispering to his beloved Allah the Glorious and no third person is privy to that conversation.

Some Useful Etiquettes:

  • Adorning one's best clothes at that time.
  • Putting on perfume/ Itar.
  • Performing miswak.
  • Making heartfelt dua prior to standing up for the salah.
  • Recitation of some portion of the Quran.
  • Making an intention before sleeping at night that one would get up for tahajjud prayer.
  • After every two rakats, recite tasbeeh of Subhan Allah hundred times.
  • Recite istighfar ten times, Allahu Akbar ten times, then Subhan Allah ten times and Alhamdulillah ten times.