This Is Why You Wake up in the Middle of the Night, According to a Neurologist

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There’s nothing quite like the power of a good night’s sleep. The older we get, the fewer and more far between those solid eight-hour sleeps seem. We don’t seem to be fully rested.

If you’re like me, then you wake up once or even a few times during the night. Whether you’re tossing and turning or you have pets that keep you up all night, it’s always the absolute worst when you wake up in the middle of snoozing. So why do why exactly do we wake up in the middle of the night?

There’s a term for this; it’s called “Sleep Maintenance Insomnia.” Sounds fun, right? Nope.

Did you know that approximately a third of American adults wake up in the middle of the night, at least three times a week?

In 2010, Sleep Medicine published a study and found that out of those numbers, at least 40% had trouble falling back asleep. Does any of this sound familiar to anyone? It certainly does for me.

“But, why?” is the question on the tip of our tongue.

Well, there are a lot of reasons. Neurologist and author of The Sleep Solution, Dr. W. Christopher Winter, told BuzzFeed, “It could be caused by a lot of factors, including teeth grinding, restless legs, acid reflux, sleep apnea, snoring, a pet, overactive bladder, alcohol, or many other things.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

So how do we stop waking up in the middle of the night and turning into a zombie for the rest of the day? It can seem like the battle for good sleep is never-ending, but there are a few things you can do to combat your sleeping issues.

For one, identify which issue is keeping you up at night.

Winter explained a few issues that could be keeping you up at night. He also pointed out ways in which to spot them.

Sleep Apnea

This disorder is no joke. Sometimes, you aren’t even aware that it’s happening. Sleep apnea disorder is when you stop breathing multiple times in a night. But how do you know if you have sleep apnea? If you sleep next to somebody, ask them if they hear you snoring loudly or gasping for air in the middle of the night. If you wake yourself up in the middle of the night by catching your breath, that’s another major hint.

Restless Legs

Do you kick or thrash your lower body around at night? Winter suggests wearing a Fitbit on your ankle, that way you can track if your legs are hard at work during the times when you’re supposed to be snoozing.

Acid Reflux

Who knew acid reflux could keep you up at night? Winter says that if you wake up with foul breath in the middle of the night or taste something strange in the back of your throat, chances are you have acid reflux.

Of course, if you’re worried about your sleep patterns, you should consult your doctor.

Sleep maintenance insomnia can sometimes occur if you give yourself a little too much time to sleep.

I know, it sounds like it should be the opposite.

We’ve heard it all our lives: we need at least eight hours of sleep. But did you know that’s just a recommendation?

It’s true. Most adults should get 7-9 hours.

Dr. Lawrence Chan told BuzzFeed that our needs change as we get older. So, the same amount of sleep that we needed back when we were kids is not necessarily the same amount of sleep that we need as adults. Winter says, “If you find that you’re always waking up and it takes you 30-40 minutes to go back to sleep, make your bedtime 30 minutes later, but don’t change your wake time for two weeks. If you’re still waking up in the middle of the night after trying this constricted schedule, you might need a sleep study.”

It’s crazy, yeah?

But how exactly do we get a better night’s sleep? There has to be a way, right?

There are solutions out there, don’t worry.

Mayo Clinic has some pointers for those of us wanting to improve our sleep. Good rest is around the corner!

Be consistent with your sleep schedule.

Make sure to go to bed and get up at the same time. Being consistent with times can help your body’s sleep-wake cycle.

But what if I just can’t fall asleep?

It’s recommended to leave your bedroom and do something that can relax you. Like reading, or listening to a song that is soothing to you. Ah, doesn’t that sound nice? Then, go back to bed when you’re tired. Wah-lah, all of your sleep problems are fixed!

Pay attention to your diet.

How many of us love to snack right before bed? I know I certainly do. Well, it’s important to not go to bed overly stuffed or super hungry. Discomfort in your gut can keep you awake or make you restless.

As for beverages? Well here are some to avoid before bed.

Caffeine and alcohol are both best avoided if you’re looking for a good night’s rest. Even when you drink some wine and it makes you feel sleepy, it can keep you up later in the night.

It’s all about the ambience of the room.

It’s important to keep a restful, relaxing environment. Get rid of those harsh lights! Keep your bedroom calm and peaceful.

As for scrolling through your phone before bed? Don’t do it.

Scrolling through your phone before bed is a perfect way to ruin your sleep. It can stress you out and give you a headache. I would suggest calming exercises before bed, like deep breathing or meditating.

Keep those long, mid-day naps to a minimum.

Okay, here’s the tea. Naps are great, nobody is arguing that. But taking long naps in the middle of the day can really screw your sleep up.

But if you absolutely have to nap…keep them to 30 minutes.

A 30-minute nap seems ridiculous to some of us, yes, but it’s important to not over-nap.

Exercise is important when it comes to sleep.

You shouldn’t work out too close to your bedtime, but regularly moving and exercising helps you get a good night’s sleep. Mayo Clinic also suggests going outside each day as well.

Which, to a cave gremlin such as myself, is horrible news.

But, if going outside makes me feel sleep better, then I’ll do it. Make sure you get plenty of sunshine, kids!

Try to control your anxiety and worry.

I know, I know it’s easier said than done. But trying to not be so anxious and trying to resolve your worries for bed is a great way to embrace that sweet, sweet shut-eye.

As for managing stress and worry…

There are a few practical things to do before bed that can help.

Try writing what’s bothering you down.

Sometimes getting those pesky worries onto paper feels better. It’s like you’re ridding yourself of the anxieties themselves.

It also helps to get organized.

Make a to-do list for the next day, so you’re not as overwhelmed. Feeling like you’re in control always eases anxiety.

Make a gratitude list.

Before you go to bed, make a list of some good things that happened during the day. By remembering positive things that have happened, your last thoughts before bed won’t be negative.

But what if you’re still having trouble with your sleep patterns?

Don’t be afraid to contact your doctor. They’re there to help you.

We all deserve good sleep.

Believe that you deserve a flawless night’s rest that will have you feeling like J.Lo. the next morning! It will happen!

But really, don’t look at your phone before you go to bed.

It’s the worst. Share this with your friend who has horrible sleeping patterns.