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5 Reasons You Wake Up At Night (And 5 Ways To Get Back To Sleep)

16 December 2022

Tired of waking up in the middle of the night? Getting back to sleep after waking up in the early hours can be a frustratingly long process.
But there are simple things that you can do to sleep better, and get to sleep quicker if you do wake up.
You might not know that we naturally wake up around 20 times an hour during the night - what an article by John Hopkins Medicine calls ‘mini-awakenings’. These little wake-ups are normal and you won’t even notice them.
Though waking up and being unable to sleep again for a long time is less usual. Other than medical reasons or sleep disorders like insomnia, there are only a few reasons why you might feel unable to get back to sleep.

5 Reasons Why You Wake Up In The Middle Of The Night

#1 Discomfort

The Sleep Foundation says that sleep is most often disturbed by: noise, light, temperature or lifestyle factors like caffeine intake, digital device usage and a lack of exercise.

The vast majority of these factors are rooted in discomfort - something which you do have control over.

#2 Lack of Bedtime Routine

Varied bedtimes and inconsistent hours of sleep can disturb your sleep pattern and make it harder to get to sleep.

Going to sleep at the same time every night can help synchronise your sleep cycle, improve your quality of sleep and result in you waking up less often.

#3 Napping

Those midday naps might feel good at the time, but they have a negative impact on your sleep at night. Sleeping in the day disrupts your sleep pattern and is best avoided if your aim is a good night’s sleep.

#4 Unhealthy Habits

Several unhealthy habits can keep you awake.

Stimulants, such as nicotine, alcohol and caffeine reduce sleep quality. Especially keep away from caffeine after lunchtime. Unhealthy eating generally is not great for quality sleep.

A lack of regular exercise can result in a surplus of energy that then disrupts your sleep. Equally, eating too soon before bedtime causes the digestive process to keep you awake.

#5 Stress

Stress and worry are very common causes of poor sleep.

While it’s not always possible to deal with the stresses that life throws at us, we can often control the way we think about these stresses. Relating to stress in a more accepting way can actually help reduce stress. Practising meditation can also help you unravel your thoughts before bedtime.

5 Tips For Getting Back To Sleep

Getting back to sleep in the middle of the night doesn’t have to be a frustrating process. The first step is to understand what is waking you up and keeping you awake. The second step is to take the right action to get back to sleep peacefully.

Here are 5 simple tips to help you catch more ZZs.

#1 Don’t Watch The Clock

Do you often find yourself worrying about how many hours remain until you have to get up?

Watching the minutes tick by sets off a worry cycle and encourages your brain to be more alert - making sleep more unlikely.

Turn your clock away from you (and definitely don’t have your phone within reaching distance).

#2 Get Comfortable

Remove anything that is causing discomfort - temperature, light, smells, textures, noises.

White noise (especially natural sounds), calming diffusers and a cool open-window breeze are good tools for reducing discomfort.

Bigger changes in your bedroom might also help. The Sleep Foundation suggests that a quiet, dark, cool bedroom is best for good sleep.

Turn your bedroom into a distraction-free sleep sanctuary. Harvard Health says to reserve your bedroom for ‘sleep, intimacy, and restful activities such as meditation and reading for pleasure’.

Invest in a quality adjustable bed frame to improve your sleep. This electric bed frame from FlexiSpot is a great option - it’s quiet and reliable and its tilt is perfect for calming pre-sleep activities.

#3 Put Down Your Phone

Going on your phone in the middle of the night provides unwanted mental stimulation at a time when you are trying to relax. And the lights and sounds coming from electronics can reduce the quality of sleep.

In particular, the blue light from your smartphone suppresses the body’s melatonin production - melatonin is important for regulating your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.

Keep devices out of reach at nighttime to help you avoid the temptation of midnight scrolling.

#4 Calm Your Mind

Do what you can to calm any anxiety or stress.

Try using white noise, sleep music, an audiobook, sleep meditations or breathing exercises to relax. Headspace has lots of resources designed to help you get back to sleep, from meditations to sleep music.

In particular, sleep music can help calm the nervous system. Try integrating 20 minutes of calming music into your regular bedtime routine.

#5 After 20 Minutes, Get Up And Do Something Relaxing

Limiting awake-time in bed is important. If you lie in bed feeling frustrated at not being able to sleep often, you will begin to associate your bedroom with that frustration.

If you don’t get back to sleep after around 20 minutes (remember not to look at the clock!), get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy once more.

Reading, meditation or even a warm bath can help you feel drowsy again.

If these tips are not helping you get back to sleep, schedule a trip to the doctors to make sure there are no underlying medical issues which are keeping you awake.