Waking up in the middle of the night can be frustrating, especially if it takes a while to drift back into dreamland. If these mid-sleep disturbances are a frequent occurrence you may be wondering what waking up in the middle of the night could mean for your health. You might assume something is seriously wrong if your sleep is continuously interrupted, but I have good news for you: it is actually quite common to awaken mid-slumber — sometimes as much as two to three times each night! There are a variety of reasons for these bedtime disturbances, most of which are perfectly normal; however, if you are having trouble getting back to sleep or are waking more than usual, it could suggest something more serious at play.
Sleep is not a straight line, instead it happens in cycles. Throughout the night we moving through five stages of sleep, falling deeper and deeper until we reach the final stage of REM sleep. Each sleep cycle lasts between 60 and 120 minutes (90 on average), and if something disturbs you as you are coming to the end of the cycle or "surfacing" — especially during one of the lighter stages of sleep — you are more likely to awaken. Your internal clock regulates these sleep cycles, so if you find yourself waking at the same point each night, it's a sign that your body is right on schedule. Most of the time we surface from sleep and simply roll over or use the bathroom, and don’t even remember being roused from our slumber the next morning. But, if you find yourself waking up multiple times during the night and have trouble falling back asleep, you may be suffering from one of these (totally fixable) issues:
Your bodily temperature helps regulate your circadian rhythm and changes throughout the night. When dozing off your body's temperature drops to initiate the sleep cycle, and if your bedroom is too hot, it can take you longer to fall asleep and your rest will be fragmented (as will the quality of REM sleep). The ideal bedroom temperature for a good night's rest is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you are continually find yourself waking up during the night this summer the National Sleep Foundation advises that you keep the AC or fan on high. A hot shower or bath before bed can help signal your brain that sleep is on the horizon, and if you are feeling hot, kick off those sheets and wear lightweight (or no) pajamas.
Still sweating through the night? Be sure to drink plenty of water and replenish your electrolytes, as dehydration can disturb your sleep as well.
2You’re Stressed Out
Are you filled with worry before bed? Does your brain keep fixating on issues that can’t be solved at 3 AM? Stress can make it harder to fall and stay asleep and can even cause bouts of insomnia in normally sound sleepers. “Stress causes hyperarousal,” notes the NSF. “Which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness.” Try to pinpoint the source of anxiety or depression, and sooth the symptoms with mindfulness meditation or yoga, which can improve your mood and decrease your anxiety. Set up a period of winding down before bed, and good bedtime rituals that help with relaxation. If peaceful sleep is still beyond your grasp, it might be time to talk to a therapist or counselor.
3You Had Too Much To Drink
While a few glasses of wine can make your doze off quickly, staying asleep is another matter. Though you may fall into a deep sleep at first, alcohol has been shown to disrupt sleep quality overall by reducing restorative REM sleep, especially in the second half of the night. Going to sleep drunk you are more likely to snore, wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and sweat through your sheets. Anything over two standard drinks can produce fragmented sleep and leave you feeling tired in the morning.
4You’re Not Getting Enough Exercise
According to recent studies, working out may be a natural remedy for sleep disturbances, so if you keep waking up at night you may want to hit the gym. Research shows that people tend to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer on days they worked out. Aerobic exercise has been found to help ease insomnia in adults, with studies showing that “after 4 to 24 weeks of exercise, adults with insomnia fell asleep more quickly, slept slightly longer, and had better sleep quality than before they began exercising.” By increasing body temperature, the natural bodily cool down (known as temperature downregulation) that occurs after a trip to the gym may promote sleep, resembling the body’s pre-sleep temperature drop. Though there is still much to be learned about exercise’s effect on sleep, a morning workout or an afternoon jaunt on the treadmill will help you get a sound sleep.
5You’re Getting Older
If you miss those bouts of blissful oblivion you enjoyed as a teenager, I hate to break it to you, but sometimes waking up at night is just part of life and the aging process. Past our childhood and teen years we tend to sleep lighter, with less time spent in deep sleep, and more abrupt transitions between sleep and wakefulness. The older we get, the more likely we are to be awake throughout the night and in the early morning (women over the age of 50 average three to four periods of wakefulness each night). Aches and pains, and needing to use the bathroom, known as nocturia, can also to blame for disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle.