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Everyone encounters a bad night of sleep now and again. However, frequently waking up in the middle of the night can affect every aspect of your life: your ability to think clearly, your performance at work, your relationships, your mood—even your overall health.
That’s why it’s so important to work with your doctor and find out what’s keeping you up. Read on for 10 common causes of middle-of-the-night insomnia.
People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) stop breathing for 10 to 60 seconds at a time during the night. This jolts your brain into waking you up and may cause you to gasp for air. You may then fall back asleep, only to have this happen again and again—even hundreds of times per night!
Of course, these multiple awakenings disrupt your sleep and can make you tired during the day. They may also lead to even more severe issues, such as high blood pressure and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Talk with your doctor if you experience symptoms such as loud snoring, snorting, or gasping at night. There are many ways to treat OSA.
If you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), you may feel uncomfortable crawling or tingling sensations in your legs and experience an urge to move them. RLS is one of the most common sleep disorders. It affects about 12 million Americans today.
One of the eating disorder which is characterized by a delayed circadian pattern of taking food, is the Nocturnal eating syndrome, where the affected individuals feel like they do not have any control over their eating patterns, and often feel shame and guilt over their condition. This condition affects about 1.5% of the population, and is equally common in men and women, as per the National Institute of Mental Health. If you are someone who keep waking up in the middle of the night to eat, and suspecting self to be a sufferer of the Nocturnal eating syndrome, then this article would help you know more about the condition.
Nocturnal Eating Syndrome: Why Do I Keep Waking Up In The Middle of The Night To Eat?
Nocturnal eating syndrome is an eating disorder, however, it is not similar to binge eating disorder. Yet! It must be mentioned that people with this condition are often binge eaters. Waking up in the middle of the night to eat differs from binge eating in the fact that the amount of food consumed in the night is not necessarily objectively large, nor is a loss of control over food intake is required. Are you suffering from any such condition where you frequently wake up in the middle of the night to eat? If yes! Then probably you might be having nocturnal eating syndrome.
Nocturnal eating syndrome is actually when the affected individual gets up in the middle of the night for eating compulsively. It is common for the patients of Nocturnal eating syndrome, to not eat much during daytime, but eat a lot in the evening and night. They wake up in the middle of the night to eat. This is not unconscious eating. Individuals who get up at the night to eat, are, knowing that they are eating; yet, like other binging behavior, the drive to eat is really strong at night. The eating can go on for hours and usually the foods chosen to eat at night are carbohydrate-rich.
Causes of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:
- Usually the causes of waking up in the middle of the night to eat vary, however, there are usually a variety of contributing factors. At times, college students adopt a habit of eating at night and are not able to break the habit as they become adults.
- Nocturnal eating syndrome, may be ironically a response to dieting. When people restrict their calorie intake during the day, the body signals the brain that it requires food and the individual typically overeats at night.
- Nocturnal eating syndrome may also be because of stress.
- It must be mentioned that individuals with nocturnal eating syndrome or people who wake up at the middle of the night to eat are often high achievers. However, eating patterns can affect their ability to socialize or manage work-related responsibilities. They may also have different hormonal patterns that may result in their hunger, inverted, so that they eat when they should not and do not eat when they should eat.
Signs and Symptoms of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:
If you are waking up at night to eat and suspecting self to be a sufferer of nocturnal eating syndrome, then you might also experience the following symptoms. Below are some of the signs and symptoms of nocturnal eating syndrome.
- The affected individuals are usually obese or overweight.
- They feel like they do not have any control over their eating behavior and eat in secret, and eat even when they are not hungry, especially during night time
- They feel shame and remorse over their behavior
- They eat very less in the day time, while they eat a majority of their food during the night.
- Traits of patients with nocturnal eating syndrome may include overweight, depression or anxiety, frequent failed attempts at dieting, substance abuse, concern about shape and weight, a negative self-image etc.
- Insomnia during 4-5 nights in a week
- A depressed mood that gets worse during the night or evening hours.
Medical Impact of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome or Waking Up in the Middle of the Night to Eat:
Individuals having the nocturnal eating syndrome are often overweight or obese, which makes them susceptible to several health issues caused by being overweight, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Those individuals who are obese, increase their risk of getting heart diseases, several types of cancer and gall bladder disease.
Affected individuals, usually have a history of substance abuse, and may also suffer from depression. Usually they are more depressed during the night. They also have sleep disorders.
Diagnosis of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:
Your doctor will diagnose night eating syndrome after asking you questions about your eating habits and your sleep. Apart from this, you may also have a sleep test known as Polysomnography, which measures your brain waves, heart and breathing rates and blood oxygen levels. Usually you will require to have the polysomnography at a sleep center or a hospital.
In order to be diagnosed with nocturnal eating syndrome, you need to overeat or wake up at night to eat for at least 3 months. The eating and sleeping patterns also cannot be because of substance abuse, medication, a medical disorder or another psychiatric problem.
Treatments for Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:
Treatment for nocturnal eating syndrome, generally begins with educating patients about their condition, so that they are more aware of their eating patterns and can begin to identify their triggers that influence how they eat. This awareness alone can make a big difference in the treatment.
Nutrition assessment and therapy, exercise physiology and an integration of CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy, DBT or dialectical behavioural therapy, Interpersonal therapy or IT and stress management are also included in the list of treatment ways for nocturnal eating syndrome.
Taking antidepressants can show improvement with nocturnal eating syndrome, symptoms like night eating, mood as well as overall quality of life.
It is important for the sufferers to change their behavior by changing their beliefs. If they believe they are unable to change the way they eat, they will not be able to change. So, it is essential for you to have positive beliefs to be able to overcome the problem of waking up in the middle of the night to eat.
Now that you are known to the symptoms, causes and treatments for nocturnal eating syndrome, in case you are waking up at night to eat or know anyone such with symptoms that matches with this disorder, then you need to reach medical profession and have a counseling and proper diagnosis and treatment on an immediate basis.
This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
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Few things are as dreadful as waking up in the middle of the night and finding yourself unable to fall back asleep. As the minutes and hours tick by, you can’t help but think about how exhausted you’re going to feel the next day, which then stresses you out and makes it even harder to get any more shuteye. If this sounds terribly familiar—and if you live in fear of the hours between one and five AM each night—you may want to try a refreshingly simple yet doctor-approved approach for getting back to sleep.
Paradoxical intention is a sleep strategy that has been a pillar of cognitive-behavioral treatments for insomnia and related sleep issues for decades. Put simply, the strategy works like this: Rather than trying to fall back asleep, attempt to stay awake as long as possible.
Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out.
Just like a rabbit chasing a carrot on a string, sleep is most elusive when we’re fixated on it. After all, we don’t actually control our sleep—it happens involuntarily. “If the focus of one’s life becomes so much about doing things to get to sleep, you can actually increase sleep anxiety and paradoxically stop yourself from getting sleep,” observes seasoned sleep psychologist Katherine Hall, a sleep therapist at Somnus Therapy. “Just like when you try and force a quiet mind, thoughts seem to get louder.”
Paradoxical intention, meanwhile, plays a subtle trick on your body, and works to allow that sleep to come back naturally. “It encourages you to lie in bed without doing anything to try to fall asleep,” says Hall. “The idea is to tackle the worry that comes with lying in bed awake and to normalize it in your mind. Once you’ve faced this fear, anxiety reduces and you’ll soon find that you are drifting off to sleep.”
So don’t try to sleep, and be cool with it. Just stay conscious and embrace the boredom. Consider writing in your journal or reading a boring book. If you used to fall asleep during boring lectures, imagine that you’re in that boring classroom. Science has proven it works.
One study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, even discovered the neurons in the human brain’s “pleasure center” (the nucleus accumbens) that induce sleep in response to boredom. According to another study, published in the scientific journal Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, paradoxical intention helped a group of people struggling to fall asleep reduce their sleep performance anxiety, sleep effort, and subjective sleep onset latency (perception of how long it takes to fall asleep).
“Telling yourself before bed, ‘I’m going to lay here awake and I’m fine with that,’ will help relax an overly anxious brain and will paradoxically make it easier to fall asleep.” says Dr. Sujay Kansagra, the director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and a sleep health expert for Mattress Firm.
Of course, there’s still the question of why you keep waking up in the middle of the night at all. If you’re continuing to find yourself waking up at 2am and unable to fall back asleep, read on, because we’ve listed just a few of the things that may be affecting your own sleep right here. And for more great advice for catching more Z’s, learn why This Easy Trick for “Falling Asleep in 5 Minutes” Is Going Viral.
You’re overthinking it.
Insomnia can be a slippery slope. The moment one begins to think, “I’ve got a problem with my sleep,” chances are things are going to start getting worse, not better. The more pressure you place on yourself to get a good night’s sleep each evening, the worse your chances are of actually accomplishing that feat. Instead, enter each new night with no expectations. Sleep is a necessity of life, not a daily test to be passed.
You’re not disconnecting at the end of the day.
It’s always been beneficial to disconnect from the day’s worries and stressors before bedtime, but it’s especially important nowadays. We’re all “plugged in” to our phones constantly, and that’s a big reason why sleep issues are so widespread. If you’re checking work emails and depressing news headlines just before bed, you’re not giving yourself a fair chance at seven to eight hours of consecutive sleep. And for more healthy living advice, see why This Crazy-Popular Walking Workout Totally Works, Say Fitness Experts.
You’re taking too many naps.
An afternoon nap or two may sound very appealing in the moment, but extra sleep during the day may end up robbing you of deep, transformative sleep in the evening. Too much sleep can be just as detrimental as too little. If you’re having issues sleeping through the night, do your best to keep your snoozing to when the sun is down.
You’re drinking too much, too late.
Whether your midnight drink of choice is tea, warm milk, or whiskey—drinking too much before bed is essentially guaranteeing a few extra trips to the bathroom in the night. If your early morning awakenings usually coincide with a sprint to the toilet, consider cutting off all fluid intake an hour or two before hitting the sack.
While too much of any drink will do the trick, alcohol is a particularly bad choice before bed. Tons of research, such as this study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, have found that while alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, it will almost certainly harm the quality of your sleep. And for more ways to get restful slumber, make sure you Never Do This If You Want Good Sleep, Say Health Experts.
Get back to sleep
It’s the middle of the night and suddenly, you’re wide awake, unable to go back to sleep. Try these tricks from people who managed to conquer their middle-of-the-night sleeplessness.
Put the phone away
When you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to check email or hop on Facebook, as the blue light emitted by electronics interferes with your sleep, according to Harvard research. If you find it impossible to do without screen time, either before bed or at 3am, try this trick from Nadine Hemens, an assistant principal. “Middle of the night insomnia is a big one for me, and I used to make it way worse by checking email. Now, I simply tell myself that whatever it is, it can wait, and I listen to a meditation app on my phone, instead. I usually fall back asleep without even realising it,” she says. If your computer, iPad, or phone is a bedtime staple you can’t do without, make sure to at least dim the screen down at night. This may help you stay asleep until morning.
Transform your bedroom into a quiet, dark sanctuary
“Middle of the night insomnia is often caused by emotional distress, anxiety, or a busy mind. Throughout the night, we go into sleep cycles. As we go into each cycle, we wake up a little, but typically don’t remember, and fall back asleep. If you are stressed out, those wake-ups can become a full awakening, and your mind gets very busy,” explains Rachel Ross, a certified sleep consultant. If you’re frequently waking up in the middle of the night, Ross recommends making your bedroom soothing and dark. “Even if you’re a shift worker, keep it quiet and comfortable. You have to work with what you have. If you live in a noisy city, and can’t sleep through it, white noise is helpful. A fan works just fine, or you can try a white noise machine that includes nature sounds. You can also try earplugs, and an eye mask, if there is too much ambient light in the middle of the night,” she adds.
One, two, three, sleep! Not
If waking up in the middle of the night feels a lot like your brain has a mind of its own, you’re right. According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is the inability of the brain to stop being awake. Wondering how to fall back asleep? Don’t just lie there, do something soothing, suggests Ross. “Try deep breathing, relaxation exercises, or soothing music. If you have a snoring partner, place a white noise machine on your side of the bed. And never, ever, have an alarm clock facing you while you’re trying to sleep,” she says. If it’s really hard to get your brain to rest, go to a chair and read, but do not turn on all the lights. And absolutely, do not start an activity, that will wake you up even more, like watching the news on TV, she says.
Eliminate your after-dinner drink
Alcohol is a depressant known for making people fall asleep (or pass out) quickly but it may also be the reason you’re up during the second half of the night, when sleep should be its deepest, according to the NSF. Alcohol is disruptive to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM is the dream cycle and may be restorative to both body and brain. “I always thought that having a late-night drink would help me sleep, but I started to notice it backfiring,” says Suzanne Miller, a busy attorney and mum to two teens. “On nights when I had a few glasses of wine, I would find myself staring at the ceiling at 2am. I started to replace alcohol with chamomile tea and found that I was calmer and better able to sleep. I also wake up feeling less dehydrated and more refreshed,” she adds. If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid. Try sipping some water, or have a cup of herbal tea instead. (Here’s more on how to sleep through the night.)
Need another reason to stop smoking? Here it is
You already know that smoking is bad for your health, but did you also know it may adversely affect your natural circadian rhythm, making it harder to stay asleep? Smokers have a greater risk of developing the heavy-snoring disorder of sleep apnoea, they sleep more lightly than non-smokers, and they wake up more frequently in the middle of the night, according to the NSF. Skimping on sleep has been linked to multiple diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. If you’re looking for another reason to quit, consider it found. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit, and never reach for a cigarette in the middle of the night – smoking in bed is a major fire hazard. When you quit smoking, it’s normal to experience temporary insomnia. Hang in there, and calm your middle-of-the-night mind with visions of a healthier you. This may calm you down, making it easier to fall back asleep.
Your plan for going to sleep often begins when you wake up in the morning. At that moment you probably set a time for getting back into bed later that night. It’s your sleep goal. It might also be the only reason you get out of bed; “I’ll be back!” Throughout the day, you also make plans for returning to sleep. You have caffeine cut off time. You eat a healthy meal at dinner. You get in some early exercise.
Yet, despite all that effort, you are still repeatedly waking up in the middle of the night. What is going on?
What Is Normal
When you fall asleep at 11 p.m. with a plan to wake up at 6 a.m. you’re not going to get a solid seven hours of sleep. That is because our nights are always punctuated with a brief wake-up. Often those wake-ups don’t entirely wake us up. They are a disruption of the sleep cycle that could be a random street noise or a sense that you’re too cold or too hot. Usually, you just roll back over and drift to sleep. There might be some other physical conditions like sleep apnea or excessive night-time trips to the bathroom that should be discuss with your doctor.
Overall, you could be waking up between five and seven times throughout the average night. The quality of your sleep can be determined in the morning. If you feel groggy a half-hour after waking up, then you might have some sleep issues that need looking into.
What You Take In
To prepare for a stronger sleep cycle, you do have to consider what you take in. Your caffeine cut off should probably be between 2 to 3 in the afternoon. Forget a cup of coffee for dinner! You also want to make sure you’re drinking water throughout the day. Going to bed a little dehydrated can cause a big disruption in your sleep cycle.
If you have a snack after dinner, then you should find something that would be “pro-sleep.” That would be something that has a small number of complex carbs and protein like wholegrain cereal with milk or peanut butter toast.
Where Your Sleep
We should all be sleeping in our comfy beds but you have to be on the look out for what you’re using your bedroom for beyond sleep. If this has become where you do remote work or most of your TV viewing, then you’re “training” your body to be awake in there.
It is also important to avoid looking at the clock when you wake up. That will just get your brain spinning with the idea that you’re “cooked” for the night and will never get back to sleep.
Finally, it helps to adjust your mindset for sleep. Yes, you want that good seven to eight hours but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always find it. When we lay down to go to sleep, it is often the first time we’re alone with our thoughts. That is a lot of processing. It might help to write out a list of all the things that you want to accomplish the following day. That locks you down to a schedule and you won’t have to think about it when you try to get to sleep. Above all, relax. Sleep will come.
Waking up in the middle of the night isn’t normal. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Do you end up waking up with a headache or feeling like you’re not well-rested in spite of sleeping for 7 to 8 hours? It’s probably because you’ve woken up multiple times in the middle of the night.
You aren’t alone in feeling this way because it is a common lifestyle problem for many. A study conducted by the journal Sleep Medicine with over 8,000 participants noted that almost 40 per cent of the people woke up in the middle of the night. The thing is that you need to fix this issue before it starts taking a toll on your health.
To fix your sleep cycle, you need to figure out exactly what could be causing disturbed sleep. For this, we talked to Dr Sonal Anand, a psychiatrist at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai .
Here are 6 prime reasons you end up waking up in the middle of the night:
1. Bedroom atmosphere
According to Dr Sonal, too many temperature variations during the night can disturb sleep. Moreover, extreme temperatures can also make it tough to catch on some comfortable sleep.
“Other factors in your immediate surrounding that can disturb your sleep include uncomfortable bedding, sudden loud noises, bright lights and mosquitoes or bed bugs. You can use eye wraps and earplugs for a peaceful sleep,” suggested Dr Anand.
2. Poor sleep hygiene
For a good night’s sleep, you need to maintain good sleep hygiene. As you age, you require less sleep. Older adults need about 7 hours of sleep. If you sleep in the afternoon, it is quite possible that you might end up waking up during the night. Lying in bed for a long time without sleep impairs quality and quantity of sleep.
Working late till late in the night and rotating shifts can alter sleep patterns, disrupting sleep on the weekends and also on normal working days.
“Having too much tea, coffee and water in the evening can cause the bladder to become full late in the night and lead to multiple bathroom visits,” suggested Dr Anand.
3. Medical conditions
It is most common amongst older adults but can affect people of all age groups. “There are many medical conditions that might cause one to wake up in the middle of the night. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is one of the most common conditions that can lead to disturbed sleep. Other conditions include underlying cardiac or pulmonary problems, neurological issues like Alzheimer’s, restless leg syndrome, hyperthyroidism, pain, and diabetes. Some medications can also lead to disturbed sleep,” explained Dr Anand.
4. Psychological causes
Stress is known to cause insomnia. Anxiety and tension in the body and mind might disturb the sleep cycle. Terminal insomnia is often seen in patients who have depression. In fact, insomnia can precede depressive episodes in some cases. Post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with nightmares and frequently waking up during the night.
5. Alcohol and nicotine consumption
“Alcohol can help with sleeping but can also lead to waking up too quickly. In the long run, alcohol depresses the brain and gives rise to sleeping problems. Smoking also disturbs sleep. Many smokers wake up soon after sleeping due to their body craving for nicotine,” she explained.
6. Using your phone before going to bed
Most of us end up using our phones or laptops right before going to sleep. This is not just wrecking our physical well-being but our mental health as well.
According to a study, people who use their smartphone right before they are off to sleep develop insomnia or deal with sleep deprivation. Moreover, this problem doesn’t just lead to mental fatigue but it also diminishes focus and productivity.
Here are 6 things you can do to induce deep sleep:
1. Don’t keep your phone anywhere near yourself. If possible, put it on sleep mode.
2. Drink a cup of chamomile tea an hour before you sleep.
3. Listen to soft music before going to bed.
4. Have a hot water shower.
5. You can practice basic yoga poses that can help in inducing sleep.
6. Eat light food but don’t starve yourself. In addition, don’t drink too much water right before you sleep.
Ladies, it’s time to fix your sleep cycle to ensure you always stay healthy!
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Keep your cat from ruining your sleep
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
Does your cat constantly wake you at night by playing on the bed, lobbying to be fed, or soliciting cuddle time when all you want to do is sleep?
Your good night’s sleep is extremely important to your health and shouldn’t be interrupted by your kitty. It can be even worse for people with sleep disorders, who may have problems going back to sleep after being awakened by a demanding cat.
There’s no need to suffer from cat-related sleep deprivation, though. If medication or pharmaceutical sleep aids aren’t an option for you, experiment with one or more tried-and-true tactics for getting a full night’s sleep and still give your kitty the attention it craves.
Why Does Your Cat Wake You at Night?
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The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
In their natural habitats, cats are nocturnal creatures. They sleep almost all day and play or hunt all night. There are a few reasons why your kitty might be prompted to wake you up in the dead of the night.
- It may not be getting enough stimulation, enrichment, and exercise during its active periods, so while you’re starting to fall asleep, your cat may be fully awake and looking to play.
- If your cat spends most of its active time home alone while you’re at work or elsewhere, it may be bored and looking for companionship.
- Your kitty is hungry, thirsty or wants a midnight snack or a special treat.
- Your cat’s schedule isn’t in sync with yours anymore.
- Your kitty’s bedding or litterpan has been disturbed.
Take note if your cat is old and/or its nighttime friskiness is new or unusual behavior. Whenever your cat exhibits off behavior, wakes at night for no reason, seems to be sickly, or displays other symptoms that it’s sick, check with your vet right away.
Unusual bouts of interrupted sleep can be a sign of illness, ranging from a toothache to something even more serious like arthritis, hyperthyroidism, or high blood pressure.
How to Stop Your Cat From Waking You
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The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
There are a number of techniques that you can try to train (or retrain) your cat not to wake you up at night. Some will require some behavior modifications on the pet owners part, so make sure that all family members are on board with the changes. Before you go to bed, decide how you will react to your cat. The middle of the night is not the best time to make a decision.
- Help your cat to readjust its internal clock by scheduling an interactive hour-long play period about an hour before bedtime. Follow the play session with a light kitty-appropriate snack like a small treat, which should leave your cat not angling for food in the middle of the night.
- If your cat wakes you up anyway, ignore it. After trying this a few times, your cat will learn that it’s not getting the attention it wants from you and may leave you alone.
- If you have a sleep disorder, it’s best never to encourage your cat to sleep on your bed. This means making your bedroom off-limits at all times. Give your cat a comfortable cat bed in a spare room, a corner of the living room (with a screen for privacy), or even a bathroom. If you do this, make sure wherever the cat is kept at night that it has access to water and litterpan. Try rubbing a bit of catnip on the bed initially to encourage the cat to use it.
- A single cat may easily become bored when it’s home alone all day and may expect its human companion to provide attention at night. A second cat may offer companionship during the day and may lessen those nocturnal urges to wake you for play. This is especially true of kittens, who have much more energy to burn during their first year of growth. Two kittens are almost always better than one and often is a great time for cat’s to be introduced. Selecting a second adult cat for your home to get along with your first adult cat can be very difficult and should be done carefully so that your initial cat has a companion that does not cause it stress or vice versa.
- If your cat interrupts your sleep early in the morning to seek breakfast, avoid feeding it at the time of it’s demand or it will continue to wake you up this early. Having a safe, designated area such as a spare bedroom where your cat can sleep, eat and drink and potty that is not in your bedroom can be helpful to your sleep schedule and relationship with your cat.
- Cats don’t like surprises and are most happy when their household revolves around a predictable schedule. Giving your cat a set time for food, exercise, interactive play, grooming, and petting will go a long way toward maintaining its well-being and giving you a good night’s sleep, every night.
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The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
If you find yourself awakened by a noisy or annoying cat, try to create a peaceful environment to help you (and your cat) get some restful sleep. Again, make sure that all family members are aware of the steps you are taking. If you ignore your cat, but someone else feeds in the middle of the night, the ignoring is for nothing.
- Even if you close your bedroom door to your cat, a determined feline might scratch at the door for a while, but it will eventually give up and either go to sleep or find some other activity. You can help prevent damage to your door by either mounting a vertical scratch pad on it, trimming your kitty’s nails regularly, or having your vet fit your cat with plastic nail caps like Soft Claws.
- A number of commercial products are available that play soothing sounds that may help you sleep (with your cat on the other side of the door). You can select from bird sounds, ocean or waterfall sounds, or just white noise. Earphones or earbuds will help amplify and enhance the sleep-inducing effects.
- Try to prevent those pouncing, biting attacks on your toes at night by using room-darkening shades to completely darken your room. Replace any digital or fluorescent-dial clocks by the bedside with nonilluminated versions or just use your phone.
- If all else fails and your cat’s noises or scratching at the door keeps you awake, use swimmers’ earplugs, which effectively seal the ear canal and should give you some relief.
If you’re prone to waking up in the middle of the night, this scenario is probably too familiar: You wake up, it’s pitch black and your brain immediately knows the time. Maybe it’s 3:19 a.m., maybe it’s 37 minutes before your alarm goes off. Regardless, it’s always around the same time. Suddenly your mind is active in the middle of an otherwise good night’s sleep.
According to a global sleep survey conducted by Philips Healthcare, 67% of adults worldwide say they wake up at least once during the night . And while the occasional middle-of-the-night wake-up isn’t anything to be alarmed about, doing it consistently can affect your productivity and mood the next day. One study published in the journal Cureus found that sleep deprivation is linked to increased anger and aggression .
So what gives? We asked sleep experts to explain what’s happening when you’re waking up at the same time every night. Read on for answers, plus tricks to get you back to sleep ― or even better, advice to help prevent you from waking up at all.
First, know that we all wake up during sleep. It’s the ‘same time’ part that is a problem.
“Everyone awakens briefly in the middle of the night multiple times ― anywhere from five to seven times ― between sleep cycles,” said Shelby Harris , a licensed psychologist and board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist in Westchester, New York, and author of ” The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia: Get a Good Night’s Sleep Without Relying on Medication .” “It is totally normal followed by a quick return to sleep usually with amnesia for the awakening.”
But waking up frequently at the same time in the middle of the night is different, and it can mess up your sleep cycles. “When sleep isn’t consolidated, one can feel tired, sleepy and foggy during the daytime hours, in addition to getting less sleep at night and disrupting your depth of sleep,” Harris said.
Fully waking up each night may be a sign of an underlying health issue.
“People wake up in the night for many potential reasons but some are quite common,” said Mark Aloia, global lead for behavior change at Philips Healthcare .
Among these reasons include insomnia (Aloia said about 80% of people with insomnia have awakenings at both the beginning and middle of the night) and obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep that may cause someone to wake up in the middle of the night. I t’s important to get these conditions ruled out by a doctor if you find yourself waking up at the same time in the middle of the night ― not just for your sleep’s sake but your overall health.
“Sleep-related disturbances like sleep apnea can lead to numerous health problems such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke and diabetes,” Aloia said. “It can increase the risk for an irregular heartbeat, worsen heart failure, and even increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents.”
If it’s not a health issue, it may be a lifestyle one.
Sad but true: As we get older, we also become lighter sleepers. “Adults tend to have less slow-wave sleep [the deepest phase of non-REM sleep], and as a result, wake up more in the middle of the night,” said Terry Cralle, a sleep expert with The Better Sleep Council .
In addition, things like noise, lights (ahem, checking your phone when you wake up) and your diet before bed all play a part in how deeply and how long you’ll sleep during the night before waking up. “Alcohol in particular can help you fall asleep, but it invariably fragments your second half of the night,” Aloia said.
Another issue at play that goes hand-in-hand with age? Your hormonal state, particularly for women. “Pregnancy is a time when sleep gets disrupted from hormonal changes, urination, anxiety and discomfort from a growing belly,” Harris said. “As perimenopause hits for women, hot flashes and night sweats also begin to disrupt sleep quality.”
Waking up at the same time at night may be stress-related.
While there’s currently no research that explains exactly why we wake up near or around the same time of night, Aloia said it’s likely due to hypervigilance or worry.
“Many times when we fall asleep with worries, we process these worries during certain stages of sleep,” he said. “When we wake with these worries, we have not clearly and fully processed them.”
This is why Aloia often recommends those with sleep trouble keep a worry journal next to their bed to write down what’s causing them stress and help eliminate middle-of-the-night worry sessions.
Harris added that often anticipation of an event ― such as a baby that might cry or even the anxiety of wondering if you’ll make it through the night without waking up ― can cause lighter sleep and lead to wake-ups.
You can retrain your brain to sleep through the night.
First and foremost, it’s important to establish a healthy nightly sleep routine. That includes winding down 30 minutes to an hour before bed with no screens, keeping a consistent wake-up and sleep schedule ― even on the weekends ― and keeping the room at a comfortable temperature. (The Better Sleep Council recommends about 65 degrees Fahrenheit . )
Cralle said there are also a few things you can do to specifically help yourself get back to sleep when you are waking up at the same time in the middle of the night. First, stop clock-watching.
“A clock face should not be in your line of sight during the night, and you should not be checking your phone for the time if you do wake up,” Cralle said. “When you check the time during the night, you inevitably calculate how long you’ve been awake, and how long you have left until you need to wake up. This can easily lead to stress and anxiety and make it difficult to fall back asleep.”
It’s also important to not force sleep. It sounds counterintuitive, but it ends up being another stress-inducing activity.
“If you are not asleep in what feels to be about 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing and distracting in as dim of lighting as possible,” Cralle said. Anything from reading to listening to an audiobook, coloring, knitting, doing a puzzle, or anything else that takes your mind off sleeping will help make you feel sleepy faster. This all will eventually reduce the time you spend staring at the ceiling in place of dreaming.
A doctor shares tips for drifting back to sleep when you’re awake in the middle of the night.
Try these tips to fall back asleep faster when you wake up at night.
A full night’s sleep is hard to come by, and there’s nothing more frustrating than waking up in the middle of the night without going back to sleep easily. Sometimes the disruption is expected — like if you have a baby or pets. Other times, you wake up for seemingly no reason. For me, stress is usually to blame. Sometimes I’ll wake up at 3 a.m., my mind racing about something, and I can lie awake for hours before finally drifting off again.
If you can relate, keep reading below for insight on the best ways to fall back to sleep from Dr. Sujay Kansagra, MD and sleep health expert for Mattress Firm.
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What causes you to wake up throughout the night?
The first step to remedying sleep problems is trying to figure out what’s causing them in the first place. If your kids, your pets or noises outside your window are waking you up, then you can skip this step. But sometimes the things that wake us up aren’t so obvious and require a bit more investigation — sometimes with the help of medical professionals.
“All human beings have multiple awakenings at night that are normal. It is part of going through a full sleep cycle. When we sleep at night, we go into deep sleep and then emerge into lighter sleep every 90 minutes. When we’re in lighter stages of sleep, it’s not uncommon to have a full awakening,” says Kansagra.
Although staying asleep all night is ideal, if you do wake up from time to time, it’s not always a problem. But if you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, it cuts into your overall sleep time and quality. Sometimes, health problems can be at play, like sleep disorders (including sleep apnea ) and restless leg syndrome. “Other health issues can also cause awakenings such as [acid] reflux, arthritis pain and asthma just to name a few,” Kansagra says.
Drinking too much caffeine during the day can impact your sleep later.
Why is it so hard to fall back asleep?
When falling back to sleep isn’t easy, there are a few things that could be going on that you want to rule out. “The most common is insomnia amongst adults. Many adults become anxious and begin thinking excessively during these nighttime awakenings. This can lead to a cycle in which the bed becomes a place where you worry and think and not the place where you sleep,” Kansagra says.
Besides insomnia and anxiety, something other potential culprits could be drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, smoking and poor “sleep hygiene” habits, according to Kansagra.
Tips for falling back asleep, from Kansagra
Seek medical help or therapy for insomnia: If you suspect you have insomnia, a sleep medicine physician or a psychologist can help you with a treatment plan. Be sure to rule out any potential health disorders with medical professionals before you try to self-diagnose or treat your problems.
Try “paradoxical intent”: Dr. Kansagra recommends this cognitive behavioral therapy technique if you find yourself awake and worrying about falling back to sleep. “It’s recommended that you think quietly about staying awake rather than trying to actively fall asleep. Be comfortable with being awake. This prevents you from getting excessively anxious about being awake and paradoxically, can help you fall back to sleep,” he says.
Practice good sleep hygiene: Finally, remember that you can also better set yourself up for sleep success with your habits and sleep hygiene. “Sleep hygiene involves the behaviors and things in your environment that can help or hurt your sleep. This includes avoiding light from screens for 30 minutes prior to bed, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon or evening, avoiding alcohol at night and having a structured nighttime routine that is performed the same way and at the same time every single night leading up to bed,” Kansagra says.