Anyone who has ever woken up in the middle of the night and struggled to get back to sleep knows the toll insomnia can take the next day.
More than 17% of adults had trouble staying asleep most or every day in the past month, according to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Biquan Luo, a San Francisco sleep expert and CEO of LumosTech, which produces a smart sleep mask to promote healthy circadian rhythms, shared some of the reasons and remedies for waking up at night.
There are several reasons why people wake up at night, Luo said.
Some common sources of sleep disruption include stress and anxiety, discomfort or pain, and environmental disturbances such as noise, movement, or temperatures that are too hot or too cold.
Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, can also cause people to wake up during the night.
“Disruption of the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle” can also lead to fragmented sleep, Luo said.
What to do when you wake up
When you wake up in the middle of the night, it’s best to stay in bed at first, try to relax and see if you can fall back asleep, Luo said.
He suggested trying techniques like progressive relaxation, breathing exercises, white noise machines and other methods that can help you relax.
“If you can’t go back to sleep after 10 or 15 minutes, it’s time to get out of bed,” Luo said.
“Try going to a quiet, comfortable place at home, like the couch, and doing a quiet, low-stimulation activity, like reading a book or doing a relaxing activity, until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.”
Mistakes to avoid
Resist the temptation to reach for your phone or look at the clock if your sleep is interrupted, Luo said.
Checking the time when waking up in the middle of the night is one of the most common mistakes that will make it harder to fall back asleep, Luo said.
“Checking the time can increase stress and make it difficult to sleep,” he said.
“Also, if you check the time on your phone, the content on your phone may be too stimulating, preventing you from relaxing and falling asleep.”
What to know about your internal clock
Waking up in the middle of the night may be a result of your body’s internal clock not aligning with your sleep schedule, Luo said.
“Our sleep is governed by two key factors: early in the night, it is the buildup of sleep pressure, our body’s need for rest, that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep,” the expert said.
“Later at night, our internal clock, known as circadian signaling, plays a crucial role in maintaining sleep.”
In an ideal scenario, these two factors will work together to keep you asleep, Luo said.
“But if sleep pressure decreases before the circadian signal is fully activated, it could cause you to wake up at night,” he said.
“If you’re not sure why you wake up during the night, you might consider adjusting your internal clock to see if it helps reduce these interruptions.”
Some ways to adjust your circadian rhythm include waking up at the same time every day, using timed exposure to bright light, changing meal times, taking melatonin supplements, exercising at different times of the day, and consuming moderate amounts of caffeine. in the morning, according to the Sleep Foundation.