Why Can't I Sleep? 7 Reasons You're Waking Up In The Middle Of The Night, According To Experts
When you wake up in the middle of the night, you might have been scared by a nightmare or anxious about an upcoming life transition. But there are a number of surprising reasons you aren't sleeping through the night that you might not have even considered. According to experts, something as seemingly common as having a warm bedroom or brushing your teeth with minty toothpaste could cause your sleep to be less than ideal.
While it's pretty common to wake up during the night, it's not healthy if it happens on a regular basis or affects how sleepy you are. One in three adults are likely to suffer from sleep deprivation, Carolyn Burke, a certified sleep coach and editor for The Sleep Advisor, tells Bustle. "You'll find a lot of people who are waking one or more times during the night," she says. "But this does cause damage to the body and brain long-term." Two signs that you should talk to a doctor are if you notice that you have trouble sleeping for an extended period of time, or if waking up during the night is affecting you during the day, Burke says.
Here are some reasons you aren't sleeping through the night, according to experts.
1. Using Too Many Lights At Night
Once the sun sets, it's pretty natural to start switching on lamps, overhead lights, or even cute twinkly lights. While this can help keep your eyes from straining, using too many lights too close to your bedtime can have a negative effect on your sleep quality. "Recent research into the circadian rhythm and sleep disturbances shows that light from any source after sunset can reduce or delay the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin," Rose MacDowell, the chief research officer for Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. Even more surprising, she says, is the fact that folks who think of themselves as "night owls" might be more sensitive to this nighttime light effect than others.
2. Not Saving Your Bed For Sleeping
If you have roommates or live in a studio apartment, you probably do a lot of your living in your bedroom. Maybe you work at home from bed or read until you fall asleep. "The brain and body clock are sensitive to sleep-related routines and conditioning," MacDowell says. "If you study, work, watch television, or read in bed, you may associate the bedroom with waking activities." This means that a small period of insomnia could potentially condition your brain to associate your bed and evening routine with the inability to sleep, she says. Do your best to create some separation between the waking area of your living space and the sleeping area, even if it's by doing something as simple as hanging a separating curtain.
3. Keeping Your Bedroom Too Hot
Waking up in the middle of the night with icy toes and hands is definitely not a great way to get quality sleep. But surprisingly enough, keeping your bedroom too warm can also lead to waking up in the midle of the night. "The body’s core temperature drops in preparation for sleep," MacDowell says. "If the temperature of the air is too high, sleep may be delayed or disrupted." While you're sleeping, you're less able to sweat and shiver, so if you get too warm, your body will wake itself up to get your core and skin temperature under control, she says. Try to adjust your thermostat or keep a fan running so that you stay nice and cool even through the summer months.
"If you are eating something heavy or that causes known side effects for your own body, you may wake up feeling uncomfortable, bloated, or needing to rush to the restroom," Burke says. In order to find what, exactly, is hurting your stomach, you will need to work with a doctor, because the culprit can be different for each person. But if you suffer from GERD or acid reflux, you don't want to be eating jalepeno poppers, she says. Make sure to only eat foods that sit well on your stomach in the hours before bed. Plus, look into an adjustable mattress, which can potentially help — especially if you have acid reflux, Burke says.
5. Having To Pee
If you had a tall glass of milk or a warm mug of tea right before bed, then you probably aren't super surprised when you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. But waking up to pee — also called nocturia — can also be related to a collapsing airway. "When the body recognizes a collapsing airway, it sends out a different breathing pattern and in doing so," Dr. Mark Burhenne, DDS, a sleep medicine dentist, founder of Ask the Dentist, and author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox, tells Bustle, "the chest muscles compress causing the heart to think the blood pressure is too high and wants to dump blood volume, causing the bladder to fill." See your doctor to get tested for sleep apnea so that you could address this issue.
6. Using Minty Toothpaste
During your nighttime routine, you probably wash your face, put on some pajamas, and brush your teeth. But if you use a toothpaste that's very minty, this could be contributing to your sleep issues, Burhenne says. This is an oral stimulant, which can wake up your brain a bit and cause you to either have a hard time falling asleep or lead to waking up in the middle of the night. But toothpaste isn't the only problem. Watch out for linen sprays, essential oils, or candles containing mint too, as these can also work as cues to your brain that it's time to wake up, not fall asleep.
7. Being Overexcited
"Stress is the main contributor to insomnia," Julie Lambert, a certified sleep specialist at Happysleepyhead, tells Bustle. "But interestingly enough, people tend to think of stress as of our body’s reaction to something negative," she says, "while in fact, a significant amount of positive emotions (also known as eustress) may trigger the same response as stress does." Both emotional responses boost your levels of stimulating hormones to make you feel more alert, she says. It's pretty unlikely that you can (or even want to) cut out the exciting parts of your life, so finding a coping strategy can help. Meditation can help you deal with stress, and seeing a therapist can help give you coping mechanisms for when you're experiencing intense emotions.
If you've been waking up in the middle of the night, don't just put up with being extra sleepy. With some careful sleuthing, you should be able to figure out what's causing the problem so that you can get some quality rest again.