How to Wake Up Less Frequently at Night

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Written by Dr. Michael Breus

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Table of Contents

Waking up in the middle of the night is a common sleep problem. About a third of people experience nighttime waking at least three times a week. By understanding the reasons why this happens, you may be able to adopt habits that can help you sleep more soundly.

THE SLEEP DOCTOR’S

Top 5 Tips to Sleep Through the Night

  • 1 Limit exercise and naps to earlier in the day.
  • 2 Drink less fluids before bedtime.
  • 3 Time light exposure according to your sleep-wake schedule.
  • 4 Optimize the bedroom to be cool, dark, and quiet.
  • 5 Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before bed.

While waking up in the middle of the night is not generally a cause for concern, talk to your doctor if you experience frequent sleep interruptions.

Why Do I Keep Waking Up at Night?

Repeated late-night wakings can indicate a health issue, or they may be due to lifestyle factors.

Insomnia

A pattern of sleeping throughout the night or waking up early and struggling to fall back asleep might indicate you have insomnia. Insomnia can occur on its own, or it can occur along with another sleep disorder or health condition.

Mental Health Conditions

Fragmented sleep and nocturnal waking may accompany mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. People with post-traumatic stress disorder often experience nightmares and nighttime awakenings that cause severe disruption to sleep. Even short-term or minor stress can cause heightened arousal levels that make it difficult to sleep soundly.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes periods of shallow or halted breathing during sleep. The breathing difficulties are often accompanied by microarousals, and someone with sleep apnea may wake up feeling as if they have not slept well. If you’re concerned you may have sleep apnea, there are home sleep apnea test options available.

Restless Legs Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Restless legs syndrome causes discomfort in the legs accompanied by a persistent urge to move them. Symptoms worsen at night, which can lead to difficulty falling asleep and nighttime waking. A similar disorder called periodic limb movement disorder causes involuntary twitching and jerking movements in the legs, which can awaken the sleeper in the middle of the night.

Nocturia

Nocturia is the scientific name for frequent nighttime urination, which may occur due to multiple reasons such as drinking too many fluids at night, taking certain medications, not exercising enough, or experiencing certain health conditions. Nighttime bathroom trips may also wake up a sleep partner.

Poor Sleep Hygiene

Certain habits are unproductive for sleep, such as drinking coffee or alcohol, smoking, or watching television right before bedtime. Other factors such as taking long naps or staying in bed for long periods while you are awake may also interfere with sound sleep.

Odd Sleeping Schedule

Consistent bedtimes are critical for sleep. Night shift workers and people with irregular sleep schedules have a higher risk of developing sleep problems, as they must sleep at times that are at odds with their biological clock.

Age

Natural changes to the sleep-wake cycle as people age can lead to more frequent nighttime awakenings. Older adults spend less time in deep sleep and more time in lighter sleep stages, which are easier to wake up from. Evening naps, nighttime urination, and accompanying health conditions or chronic pain may also interfere with nighttime sleep.

Physical Conditions

Many physical health conditions can disrupt sleep. People with chronic pain may experience fragmented sleep with multiple nighttime awakenings. Acid reflux symptoms are often worse during sleep and may lead to arousals. People with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease often experience changes to the sleep-wake cycle that can manifest as fragmented sleep. Medications taken to treat these disorders may also contribute to sleep problems.

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Tips on How to Stay Asleep Throughout the Night

It is important to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Follow these tips to help improve your sleep quality and minimize the risk of sleep disruptions:

Improve Sleep Hygiene

Seek out areas for improvement to your bedtime habits and sleep environment. Reducing the use of electronic devices in bed and keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet can help ensure you get a good night’s rest.

Exercise Earlier

Although regular exercise is beneficial for sleep, some people may find that vigorous exercise too close to bedtime interferes with sleep.

Reduce Alcohol and Caffeine Intake

Consuming caffeine or alcohol in the evening can cause sleep problems. Although alcohol may help you fall asleep at first, it often leads to sleep disruption in the second half of the night.

Do Not Drink Before Bedtime

Drinking large amounts of fluids right before bedtime may cause nighttime waking to use the bathroom. If you frequently wake up from the urge to urinate, consider cutting out fluids in the evening.

Adjust Your Nap Schedule

Although naps can be an effective tool for people who are short on sleep, late afternoon napping and naps that last too long can interfere with sleep.

Avoid Large Meals Before Bed

If you experience acid reflux, eating large dinners and snacks in the evening can increase symptoms during sleep and may lead to nighttime awakenings.

Develop a Regular Bedtime Routine

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule and incorporating calming activities into your bedtime routine can help promote quality sleep.

Limit Awake Time in Bed

Only go to bed when you are feeling sleepy. Lying in bed if you cannot fall asleep can be counterproductive. If you wake up in the middle of the night, consider leaving your bed to do something else for 20 minutes before laying back down to sleep.

Manage Light Exposure

To help regulate your sleep-wake cycle, try to spend time in the sunlight during the day and avoid too much bright light in the evening.

When to be Concerned About Waking Up Frequently

Waking up in the middle of the night once in a while is not generally a cause for concern. However, experiencing frequent sleep interruptions and not feeling well rested each morning could indicate a sleep disorder or another health condition. Speak with a health care provider if you are experiencing sleep problems. They can work with you to address any health issues and determine a treatment plan.

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert


Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. He holds a BA in Psychology from Skidmore College, and PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Georgia. Dr. Breus has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is also the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, Good Night!, and Energize!

  • POSITION: Combination Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Wolf

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