You open your eyes, and it is still dark. You just woke up in the middle of the night. What should you do?
Stay calm, it is totally normal.
First of all, you should be aware that waking up briefly during the night is likely to be fine. In fact, it is normal for any person to awaken, just for a few seconds, up to 20 times every hour. In those cases, you would not even know that it occurred. It is also normal to wake up twice to three times every night for long enough to notice it. Luckily, on most occasions you would just go back to sleep and forget the vast majority of those episodes.
The key here is to avoid worrying about it and remember that it was bound to happen, knowing that it is unlikely for you to have insomnia or a sleep disorder. The more relaxed you stay, the easier it will be for you to doze off again and protect your quality sleep. If you find yourself struggling to fall back asleep, try engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. These can help calm your mind and body and make it easier for you to drift back off, reducing the chances of morning fatigue, exhaustion or tiredness ruining the next day.
By staying calm and relaxed when you wake up in the middle of the night, you can improve your chances of falling back asleep quickly and getting the restful sleep you need to wake up fresh.
Something else may require your attention. So notice that, make it your priority for the morning, and try to unwind for the next couple of hours.
If you frequently find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and unable to go back to sleep, it’s important to pay attention to what may be causing this disruption. It might be a normal response to something else going on in your life. Take this as a sign that your attention should be focused on that issue, rather than on your sleep as the main source of the problem.
Often, the reason for waking up is stress about something happening at work, at school, in your personal life or to someone close to you. Stress can ruin the quality of your sleep by making it lighter than usual and often by making it difficult to fall asleep in the first place. If you conclude that stress is the culprit, then you might find that one or more relaxation techniques could be very helpful. These can include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.
When you wake up in the middle of the night, try to resist the temptation to check the time. This could just fuel your stress and anxiety levels, making it harder for you to get back to sleep. Plus, the exposure to blue and green light from the screen of your clock or phone can also make things worse. Instead, focus on unwinding and relaxing for the next couple of hours. By addressing the underlying cause of your sleep disruption and practicing relaxation techniques, you can improve your chances of falling back asleep and getting the restful sleep you need to wake up energized and alert.
It might not be your sleep, but what you ate. So tomorrow, make better choices.
Another frequent reason for waking up in the middle of the night that has nothing to do with sleep itself is indigestion. This can occur after eating a heavy meal or consuming spicy food in the evening. Some clues that indigestion may be the cause of your sleep disruption include feeling bloated, belching and passing gas, or feeling nauseous by the time you go to bed or when you wake up in the middle of the night.
When indigestion is the cause of your sleep disruption, the symptoms will typically go away on their own, leaving you with enough time to go back to sleep or to expect to be sleep deprived and fatigued the next day. It is best not to worry about this and simply take note of what you ate and when, so that you can protect your sleep in the future. By being mindful of your diet and avoiding foods that can trigger indigestion, you can improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep and waking up refreshed.
In addition to being mindful of your diet, there are other steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of indigestion disrupting your sleep. These include eating smaller meals in the evening, avoiding lying down immediately after eating, and elevating the head of your bed to reduce acid reflux. By taking these steps and being mindful of your diet, you can reduce the likelihood of indigestion disrupting your sleep.
Your surroundings or habits might be counterproductive for your sleep and you might need to make some changes for better sleep.
There are many other reasons why you might wake up in the middle of the night that can also be easily explained. Most of these can be sorted out either on the spot or by making a few changes to your habits. These reasons can include changes in your sleep schedule, drinking alcohol before going to sleep, the presence of a pet in your bedroom, room temperature that is too cold or hot, street noise or even the snoring of a partner.
If you find yourself waking up due to one of these reasons, you would likely know what to do in such cases. The key challenge is to avoid procrastinating on making the necessary changes. For example, if your sleep is being disrupted by street noise, you might consider investing in a white noise machine or earplugs. If your partner’s snoring is keeping you awake, you might encourage them to seek treatment for their snoring or consider sleeping in separate bedrooms.
By identifying the cause of your sleep disruption and taking action to address it, you can improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Remember that the key is to avoid procrastinating and make the necessary changes as soon as possible. By doing so, you can protect your sleep, while avoiding serious deprivation and waking up feeling energized and refreshed.
Other health challenges may be getting in the way and you would benefit from consulting a healthcare professional.
In some instances, unfortunately, you may find yourself awake in the middle of the night due to an underlying chronic physical condition such as arthritis, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, or irritable bowel syndrome. These conditions can cause discomfort and pain that can disrupt your sleep. Similarly, mental health problems such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, or PTSD can also worsen at night and interfere with your ability to sleep.
In these cases, the medication that you take for these conditions can also alter the quality of your sleep. If you suspect that your sleep disruption is due to an underlying health condition or medication side effect, it is essential to consult with a trusted health professional. They can help you manage your symptoms and improve your sleep quality.
There are also times when waking up in the middle of the night has to do with what is known in formal mental health circles as ‘insomnia disorder’. A formal diagnosis of insomnia disorder would involve an experienced professional assessing whether you meet specific established clinical criteria. One of these criteria is the presence of sleeping difficulty for at least 3 months, occurring at least 3 days per week despite having adequate opportunity to sleep well. If you suspect that you may have insomnia disorder, it is important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.
By addressing underlying health conditions and seeking help when necessary, you can improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep and wake up fresh to deal with the day’s challenges.
The bottom line
Most of the time, when you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, especially if it only happens a few times, it is likely normal and you can manage it with tools at your disposal. These tools can include relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene practices, and lifestyle changes that can improve your sleep quality.
However, if waking up in the middle of the night becomes a persistent challenge, it is important to seek professional support. There are many effective treatments available that can help you sleep better again. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), medication, and other interventions tailored to your specific needs.
If you are struggling with sleep disruption and it is impacting your daily life, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. By working with a qualified healthcare professional, you can identify the underlying cause of your sleep problems and develop a plan to improve your sleep quality and overall well-being.
Note: The statements above have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please consult your healthcare professional if you are struggling with a health challenge or need support.