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8 reasons why you are waking up in the middle of the night

waking up in the middle of the night

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night? Or even at odd times, like at 4 am when you really want to wake up at 7 am?

It’s been happening to me a lot lately. The worst is the latter, when I wake up at 4 or 5 am and then find it hard to get back to sleep because I need to get up soon.

This never used to happen.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of sleep research out there that gives us a better idea of why this may be occurring, so we can take the necessary steps to end it once and for all.

So below, I’ve summarized all the research I’ve scoured through in dot point form.

Check it out:

First, It’s not totally abnormal

The first thing we need to realize is that to an extent it’s not unusual to wake up in the middle of the night

James Findley, Ph.D, clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, says that “as the night goes on, we’re moving toward lighter stages of sleep, so we’re more likely to have an awakening.”

This is why you might experience fragmented sleep in the morning.

If it’s one of those wake up, roll over and fall back asleep type of awakening, it’s fine.

In fact, according to Jose Colon, MD, founder of Paradise Sleep and author of the Sleep Diet, “nobody sleeps through the night…This goes back to our caveman days where one would wake up, scan the environment, make sure there are no tigers, and then go back to sleep.”

But when your middle-of-the-night awakenings end up being more than one hour per night for 3 or more days a week, it’s a sign there could be a problem.

This can include:

1) Too much water in your system

This is apparently a pretty common one.

If you find yourself waking up several times because you need to pee, you might want to try sipping some water before bed with a pinch of salt.

Why?

Because our body tries to keep an internal balance of electrolytes. Too much water without enough salt and you might need to pee.

When you put salt in your water, make sure it’s unprocessed salt.

2) You’re overheating

According to the National Sleep Foundation, feeling hot can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.

So try to keep the room temperature comfortable.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that a room temp between 60 and 65 Fahrenheit is generally the best.

3) You’re using your phone before bed

Have a habit of messaging friends or scrolling Facebook before you go to sleep?

According to Dr. Richard L. Hansler from John Caroll University, “Exposing eyes to light during the evening stops the body from making melatonin, the sleep hormone.”

Research suggests that you might want to dim your lights and aim to make your last hour before bed screen-less. It sounds tough, but the blue light emitted from smartphones is the most problematic.

4) You’re drinking too much alcohol before bed

Yep, alcohol might be able to help you go to sleep quickly, but staying asleep is another matter altogether.

Alcohol has been shown to disrupt sleep quality by reducing REM sleep. You’re also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night to go the toilet.

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Anything over 2 drinks can produce fragmented sleep.

5) You’re not getting enough exercise

Studies have shown that working out can help sleep disturbances. If you keep waking up in the middle of the night, going to the gym can be a good activity to try.

According to research from Appalachian State University, strength training can help you fall asleep faster and keep you asleep throughout the night.

In the study, scientists had 24 colleges students do half-hour, full-body strength workouts at different times on different days.

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They found that lifting weights in the morning helped the students fall asleep about 45 minutes faster than if they hadn’t worked out (working out later in the day also helped but only by 10 to 20 minutes).

According to the expert personal trainer at Men’s Fitness, Nick Ebner, completing your training about 4-6 hours prior to going to bed is ideal. However, if you’re unable to workout at that time, completing your gym session 2 hours before bed is better than no workout at all.

There’s still more research that needs to be done on why exercise helps promote better sleep, but a morning workout or afternoon workout does seem to help many people. 

6) You’re getting older

The older we get, the more likely we are to be awake throughout the night. Why? Because of aches and pains and needing to use the bathroom more often.

Also, in the 1990s, scientists identified a tiny section of the brain that acts as an on/off switch for sleep in mice.

Recently, scientists found the same sleep section of the brain in humans. Unfortunately, as we age, we lose the special type of brain cells that live there.

In a study of more than 1,000 people older than age 65, the scientists found that people who lost a larger number of these brain cells had more fragmented sleep patterns – they woke more and slept for shorter periods.

The relationship between the cells and sleep patterns were quite precise.

If you’re over 65 and experiencing constant fragmented sleep, having afternoon naps has been to shown to help.

7) Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can result in your airways being blocked partially while sleeping. Your body jolts you awake as a survival mechanism when your oxygen levels drop.

This usually happens a few hours after falling asleep. You might be experiencing this if you have a headache, sort throat, dry mouth or chest pain when you wake up.

If you are overweight, losing weight can be an answer and cutting alcohol consumption.

8) Anxiety or depression

Both of these are common causes of sleep disturbances. This can cause for unrestful sleep and can result in you waking up very early in the morning.

While everyone experiences day-to-day anxiety, a disorder is more severe. It’s recommended you see a professional if you think it may have gotten to this point. 

You also might want to try relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises, especially before sleeping or when you wake up. 

Here are 5 relaxation exercises for better sleep, from Psychology Today

9) Your diet

According to the expert personal trainer at Men’s Fitness, Nick Ebner, waking up in the middle of the night can attributed to many things, including non-regulated blood sugar, drinking too much liquid too close to bed, eating too close to bed, training too close to bed, not eating enough during the day, detoxification issues, hormonal imbalances.”

Because there are so many things it can be attributed to, the first tip Ebner has is to get your diet in check.

Ebner suggests “eating frequently throughout the day, eating enough calories each day, eating quality whole foods, and eating the right balance of protein to carbs to fat.”

NOW READ: Try this simple technique to fall asleep in 30 seconds or less

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Notable replies

  1. I usually wake up from an intense dream.

  2. Yes, dreams, they are usually why I wake up, but at start of the day. I dream every night and they are often very useful in generating ideas for my writing. I do not recall waking up in the middle of the night, sounds like it would be inconvenient.

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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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