We all know the innate urge to get back to sleep ASAP after any event halts our journey through dreamland. At some point in your life, you have probably experienced the pain of trying and failing too.
Sometimes, a loud crash in the street wakes you, and you just can’t seem to get back into the groove, other times, it’s your clumsy roommate messing up your nighttime.
The saving grace with such interruptions is that the scope of their effect is quite limited. You may experience fatigue the following day due to not getting enough rest; however, by the next day, you should be caught up and back to being your best.
However, how about when the cause of the interruption is much more intrinsic?
What happens when you wake up at 3 AM every other night for apparently no reason with no respite? How do you stay sleeping through the night without waking up?
Why You Wake Up at Night
Short and often interrupted sleep is so common that many Americans consider it a part of growing up.
There are no surprises here. We Americans are consistently sleep deprived.
According to the American Sleep Association, over 35% of citizens 20 or older report sleeping for less than 7 hours in each 24-hour period. This statistic shows that we are invariably getting less than 7-9 hours per night as recommended by sleep experts, and nighttime sleep interruptions constitute a significant part of this problem.
However, figuring out why you are waking up at night is not as straightforward. Sleep interruptions during the night may stem from often temporary issues like:
- Stress—during periods of high pressure, some sleepers can develop a temporary case of short-term insomnia that can lead to recurrent nighttime wakings
- Other psychological problems like depression and anxiety
- Side effects of some medications
- Injuries and severe pain
- Jet lag
With many of these being mostly temporary, the sleep interruptions typically only persist until the underlying problem blows over.
However, in consequence, if the situation extends for more extended periods, you can sometimes end up with cases where insomnia may become a standalone issue that perseveres even after that cardinal situation changes.
Sleep interruptions can also stem from more severe medical conditions and sleep disorders that may require rapid attention. Examples include:
However, sometimes the problem is not your biology, but the things you are doing to it during your waketime hours.
- Lifestyle choices that may end up with you awake in the middle of the night include:
- Bad sleep hygiene
- Poor sleep environment
- Not adhering to a regular, consistent sleep schedule
- Excessive consumption of alcohol, coffee, and other stimulants, especially close to your bedtime
Waking up at night is one of the manifestations of insomnia.
Hence, with this disturbance, you can often experience all the effects of being in a sleep-deprived state, including fatigue, impaired cognition, moodiness, reduced ability to concentrate, low motivation, and a heightened risk of accidents and bodily harm.
Your best bet is to apply the solutions that best address your particular situation To tackle this issue successfully. You must get to the root cause of your sleep problem, fix it, and get back to getting adequate rest.
While over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids can knock you out and keep you asleep through the night, they do not help fix the underlying issues.
Sleeping pills can also pack considerable side effects comparable to what you get with sleep deprivation from nighttime interruptions. Common side effects of using sleep medication include dizziness, daytime sleepiness, reduced cognition, headaches, and constipation.
However, many of the tips below are excellent ways to improve your overall sleep quality and will be a perfect addition to the lifestyle of most people.
How to Sleep Through the Night Without Waking Up
Get Your Sleep Schedule Right
It all starts with your sleep schedule.
The regularity of your sleep and wake times can profoundly impact how well you sleep each night. Hence, if you don’t have an established sleep schedule, this should be the first item on your list when troubleshooting your sleep issues.
Getting your sleep right can also help with other issues that may cause sleep interruptions like easing stress and fast-tracking recovery from illnesses and pain.
The key to setting a schedule that works is to pick the best times that work for you. Once you train yourself to adhere to a set time for sleep, it becomes significantly more natural for your body to get into sleep mode and stay there until morning.
For most people, a sleep window that lasts from 10 PM to around 6 AM will work best. This time frame covers all of the night’s hours that are critical to REM sleep, ensuring you wake fully rested.
If you feel sleepy several hours before your set bedtime, you should avoid going to bed as that can interfere with your sleep schedule and have you up in the middle of the night.
Opt instead for an activity like doing the dishes that can help stave off sleepiness.
However, picking a schedule that works best for you, considering how much time you have available, is best. On average, it will take about three to four nights of practice to set a new schedule.
Once you pick a schedule, make sure to stay on track.
Read More: How to Reset Your Sleep Schedule
Beyond setting a regular sleep schedule, you should also consider integrating other proper sleep hygiene elements into your daily habit. Some useful ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:
- Setting up a relaxing bedtime routine incorporates elements like a warm shower, some reading, a cup of decaf tea, or some soft music
- Avoiding blue light from electronic devices for a few hours before bedtime
- Putting off going to bed until you feel sleepy
- Avoiding coffee after midday
- Limiting your intake of stimulants like alcohol and nicotine around nighttime
Sometimes, the reason you wake up at night is as simple as not getting exhausted enough during the day.
Sleep is supposed to help recharge your energy stores, reinvigorate your muscles, and ensure full recovery from the previous day’s strain. However, what happens when you spend your day in a mostly passive state?
When you spend the day doing nothing or undergoing only minimal amounts of physical exertion, you can often throw your homeostatic drive to sleep out of whack.
The homeostatic sleep drive is a process that makes you feel sleepy and is essential for proper sleep. Typically, this process draws its influences from factors like your circadian rhythm and your duration of wakefulness. However, physical exertion can help fill up the bar quicker, and here, living a sedentary lifestyle can backfire.
The effects of exercise on sleep quality extends beyond getting you exhausted enough for good sleep, though.
Studies show that, in people with insomnia, exercising can help ease feeling anxiety and stress concerning sleep. Lower stress levels often translate to better sleep and a lower risk of nighttime interruptions.
However, the good news is that you don’t have to entirely overhaul your daily schedule and become a gym rat to see benefits.
In one 2010 study, researchers reported that the participants (all older adults diagnosed with insomnia) on a 16-week exercise program saw significant improvements in their sleep quality, sleeping, on average 45 minutes to an hour longer than the inactive volunteers.
The exercise regimen for this study consisted of only 30-minute light aerobic sessions, 3-4 times per week.
Avoid working out too close to bedtime. Vigorous exertion can increase alertness, making it harder for you to fall asleep and stay sleeping without interruptions. A good rule of thumb is to schedule your workouts, so they end at least two hours before bedtime.
Optimize Your Body Clock with Natural Light
Your circadian rhythm, your homeostatic sleep drive, and how well you sleep are all connected. And one major factor that heavily influences all three elements is the amount of natural light you get during the day.
If you are not getting enough sunlight exposure during the day, that can be one of the main reasons you wake up in the middle of the night.
Exposure to natural light is one of the key ways your body’s internal clock dictates your sleep-wake circle. With more light exposure during the day, the circadian rhythm restricts the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), increasing your energy levels and improving alertness.
At night, the flip side of this reaction occurs. For it to regain homeostasis, your body produces a significant supply of melatonin, that makes you sleepy, keeps you asleep for longer, and promotes overall better sleep quality.
Like exercise, light exposure can also have far-reaching benefits.
In one study, researchers found that office workers with windowed offices had lower daytime melatonin levels and higher nighttime melatonin levels than their counterparts in windowless offices. The group with windows also reported overall better sleep quality and fewer incidence of depressive symptoms.
Optimize Your Sleep Environment for Sleep
The state of your bedroom is also another critical factor affecting the smoothness of your night’s sleep.
Irrespective of how well you optimize all other parameters, if you do not make your bedroom distraction-free, the chances are that you will have to deal with waking up in the middle of the night some of the time.
The first step here is to make sure that your sleep gear is comfortable and conducive for sleep.
Ensure that you pick a mattress that offers adequate support, comfort, and temperature control while matching all your other needs. The same requirement applies to beddings, blankets, sheets, and sleepwear.
Next, ensure that you are completely blocking out all outdoor lights. A streak of light streaming into your bedroom is a surefire way to mess with your body-clock and disrupt your sleep schedule.
Use blackout curtains or shade, and if possible, throw an eye mask into the mix for some sleep-friendly absolute darkness.
Be wary also of interior lighting and blue light from electronic devices. According to one Harvard study, excessive exposure to blue light can suppress melatonin production, thus, reducing sleepiness and negatively impacting your sleep quality.
It is best to keep electronic devices entirely out of the bedroom and restrict their usage to at least 1- 2 hours before hitting the sack.
Other ways you can optimize your environment to avoid waking up during the night include:
- Set temperature levels to cool, comfy ranges (a good rule of thumb is to aim for around 60-67 degrees
- Employ a white noise machine or fan to mask background disturbances
- use earplugs if you have particularly noisy outdoors
- Keep pets and children out of the bedroom if possible
- Place bedroom clocks out of your direct line of sight. Watching the clock can cause sleep anxiety, making it harder for you to stick to your sleep schedule
Plan Your Naps
Daytime naps can be an excellent way to boost your alertness, mood, and creativity, especially after a night of inadequate sleep. They can also be a great way to enhance your wellbeing and cognition after a late night out.
Avoid sleeping in even after late-night outs and on the weekends. Sleeping in can mess with your sleep schedule, increase daytime fatigue, and lead to nighttime awakenings. You are better off opting to make up for it with a nap or two during the day.
However, on the flip side, when done wrong, naps can further impair your sleep and leave you with night interruptions.
Nap smartly. A good rule of thumb is to limit your daytime naps to 20 minutes or less. You should also preferably nap in the first half of the day and avoid taking naps once it’s mid-afternoon (2-3 PM.)
If you are worried about napping excessively, consider using an alarm every time.
For chronic insomniacs, even a single short nap may be enough to cause nighttime sleep trouble. If you fall into this category, you should seriously consider forgoing naps altogether.
Keep Your Bladder Empty
One of the most common reasons for waking up during the night is a natural one, needing to go to the bathroom. In most cases, having to go pee is not a big deal, and most sleepers will resume sleeping immediately after with ease.
However, between going to the bathroom and back, all you need is one worry-heavy train of thought or some electronic distraction, and you may be in for some trouble getting back to sleep.
It’s best to avoid this situation altogether.
Avoid consuming excessive amounts of liquids in the evening and empty your bladder before hitting the sack.
In some cases, frequent urination may stem from underlying causes like bladder inflammation, heart disease, or diabetes. Your best course of action is to consult with your healthcare practitioner to learn the best practices for your situation.
Avoid consuming big meals too close to your bedtime also. Large meals, especially those containing acidic or spicy components, can cause a range of issues that can disrupt sleep, including stomach upsets, constipation, incontinence, and heartburn.
Seek Medical Treatment for Psychological Issues and Underlying Illnesses
In some cases, sleep trouble may stem from a host of underlying medical conditions, including psychological issues like anxiety and depression and sleep disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
If you encounter persistent insomnia even after changing your lifestyle, you should consider consulting with a qualified healthcare practitioner for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Possible treatment schemes may range from medication to therapy or sleep strategies you can implement yourself at home.
What to Do When You do Wake Up
If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, you should: