Waking during the night and not being able to fall back asleep is one of the most frustrating sleep disorders. It’s also one of the most common: A National Sleep Foundation poll discovered that over 40% of Americans wake up during the night during the night more than once a week.
A lot of different problems can cause Middle of the Night insomnia, also known as sleep maintenance insomnia. To find out why you are waking up in the night, answer these basic sleep questions.
Did You Drink Before Bed?
Mom might have recommended a glass of warm milk, but much more than a mugful and you may be running to the bathroom at the middle of the night. Be sure you’re not filling up on liquids too late at night.
Some drinks have more effects than a full bladder. If you drink pop, coffee, tea, iced tea, or most other sweet or caffeinated drinks, then you may be able to fall asleep, but eventually the stimulants will work through your system and wake you up. Avoid sugar or caffeine drinks after 5 or 6pm.
Alcohol too will leave you wide-awake in the night. Booze is often thought of as a sedative, and it can help you fall asleep. But only in the short term – once your body processes the drink, it will leave you restless.
Did You Eat Before Bed?
Some kinds of food will help you sleep, usually a light snack of carbs and protein. But a big meal will kick your digestion into overdrive and wake you up. Even a small meal will keep you up if it includes these anti-sleep foods:
- greasy foods (leave the leftover pizza for tomorrow)
- acidic foods
- hard cheeses
- processed and smoked meat
- raw veggies, especially broccoli
Are You Sick or Hurt?
As if things weren’t bad enough when you’re feeling down, illness and injury will also throw a wrench in your sleep. Plus, any medication you are taking could affect the way you sleep.
Are You Pregnant or in Menopause?
The ladies don’t get off easy. During pregnancy and menopause a woman’s hormones can fluctuate wildly. Hormones are also a key part of a solid night’s sleep, so pregnancy and menopause both tend to mess up sleep.
Are You Stressed?
Stress may be the number one contributor to poor sleep. Not only does it impair your ability to fall asleep, but it can leave you tossing and turning during the night. Try one of our relaxation tips to drop the day’s worries:
- a warm bath
- a massage from your partner
- a small mug of herbal tea, other non-sugar non-caffeine beverage
- gentle stretching or yoga (nothing that gets you pumped up!)
- deal with it! Better to confront the problem head on and finally sleep tight
Did You Get Enough Exercise?
Most 21st century lifestyles leave you sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, in a car for two, and plunked on a couch for the remainder. Without proper exercise, it will be harder to get that deep sleep through the night. Try to get exercise everyday day, but make sure you cool down for at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
Is Your Sleep Schedule Backwards?
Your body depends on a finely balanced series of hormones and brain signals to know when to sleep. They can end up in disarray if you don’t maintain a steady, reliable sleep schedule. Your sleep schedule could be interrupted by big changes like jet lag or shift work. Or it could be interrupted by small problems day to day. For example, staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends. The common mistake will prevent you from regular sleep patterns that mean sleeping through the night.
Did You Nap During the Day?
Even though siestas may feel relaxing at the moment, they don’t help you sleep more overall. As we saw above, steady sleep schedules are key. Siestas can make it difficult to fall asleep, and also make you more likely to wake during the night. If that wasn’t reason enough to skip the nap, studies have shown that frequent nappers are more likely to develop diabetes.
Do You Have Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea doesn’t just mean snoring. In fact, the most serious sleep apnea sufferers may never snore at all. Sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue of your throat sags down and blocks your airway. This cuts off your airflow briefly. Not everyone wakes up from these apneas, but some people do. Sleep apnea is a significant medical condition and should be evaluated by a professional.
Is It Really That Bad?
Most of us don’t want to wake during the night – we want to sleep through with the standard eight hours. But some research, both scientific and historic, has shown that humans can safely practice biphasic sleeping, meaning sleep that is divided into two chunks. If you can spare the time, stop thinking of waking during the night, and more of a retro sleep style!
Does It Drive You Crazy?
If waking up during the night drives you into a frustrated frenzy, then you could be making things much worse. The most important thing, no matter how you sleep or what sleep conditions you have, is not to let it stress you out.
If you wake up during the night and your first thought is “oh no, not again!” then you have already started to stress out. And when you’re stressed, your not sleeping. Plus, you start to develop mental associations between night waking and anxiety, so your body becomes more likely not to fall asleep easily during the night.
Try turning your alarm clock away from your bed when you sleep, so you don’t compulsively look to it if you wake up. And if you do wake up during the night – try to relax! Remember that night should be a calm, mellow time, even if you can’t sleep. Train your brain to be relaxed during the night and eventually your body will follow.
Image credit: What is and what should never be. [Explored] by Ansel Edwards Photography, on Flickr