Why do you keep waking up in the middle of the night? And how to break this vicious cycle

It’s 3 a.m. For some reason, you’ve just woken up and can’t get back to sleep. You’re now just lying there, staring at the ceiling and growing more irritated with each passing minute. So, why does this happen, and more importantly – how can you avoid it next time?

Let’s start by stating the obvious – every one of us wakes up during the night. Even if it’s five or six times a night, it’s still within norm according to specialists. We inherited this sleep pattern from our ancestors. Not that long ago, people slept in two phases, with a short break in the middle of the night. But back then, the night was dark and full of terrors, and our ancestors had to wake up a few times a night to check if everything was in order. Only then, they would go back to sleep.

Nowadays, we live in a world of insomniacs. At least 30% of us suffer from lack of sleep, and unwanted awakenings are a big part of the problem. So, let’s see what may be behind your wakeups and how to spare yourself the frustration of midnight sheep-counting.

  1. You went to bed after a drink or two

Australian scientists studied what actually happens inside your body when you go to bed a bit tipsy or better. They hooked 24 participants up to an EEG (electroencephalogram) and they found, that while sleeping drunk, the brain produces more delta waves. That’s fine because that’s a sign of a healthy, deep sleep phase. But besides delta waves, the research also revealed alpha waves, and these waves normally occur when the brain is in wakeful relaxation mode (and your eyes are closed). The scientists concluded that the two completely different types of waves compete with each other inside your brain reeling from alcohol. And when you finally wake up, you’re still tired because there was no time for your brain to relax and refresh.

Solution: don’t drink, but since that’s not reasonable for many, just brace yourself for being hungover and sleepy the next day.

  1. Your mind is racing

You should be up in a few hours, ready to go, but here you are, sleeplessly tossing and turning, working through a myriad of issues ranging from work to relationships to the annoying neighbor who drives you up the wall. Of course, it’s not like you’re finding solutions to these problems – only working yourself up and depriving your body of precious sleep.

When you fall into this anxiety trap, it’s hard to get out. But not impossible.

Limit unwanted wakeups. Try Nightly!

Solution: prepare a “worry list” of whatever is bothering you. It may be work-related or a list of questions you’d like to ask your partner. Writing down the bothersome things takes pressure off your mind and helps alleviate the worries.

Or you can use a mantra. It might be just “It’s going to be OK,” or a “Breathe in – breathe out” mantra. But, truth be told, this solution will only work for some.

  1. It’s too hot (or too cold)

15-20 degrees Celsius or 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit – that is the ideal bedroom temperature range according to the National Sleep Foundation. Unless you’re dealing with some extreme situations like a heat wave or heating system failure, you should be able to get within this range with relative ease.

Solution: If you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, try adjusting the temperature.

  1. Heartburn is keeping you up

You ate something you shouldn’t have because it looked too good to pass up or it wasn’t polite to decline. We’ve all been there. But now, here you are, feeling heartburn and regret. If this is the very first case of such indigestion, try to be more careful with what you eat in the future. If you’ve been suffering from heartburn for some time, try sleeping with your upper body slightly elevated. That way your stomach is lower than your throat.

Solution: avoid alcohol, caffeine, cocoa, garlic and onions as well as fat, spicy or acidic food before going to bed. Also, wear loose clothes to bed – tight pajamas will press on your stomach, which may cause heartburn.

  1. You’re stressed out

Stress is one of the top reasons for nighttime wakeups. Now, we won’t tell you just to get rid of it – you’ve likely thought of that before. But you can try some universal solutions if the wakeups are frequent or last for hours:

  • Start exercising – basically, any type of physical activity is beneficial not only for your fitness but also for maintaining healthy sleep architecture. Get up from your chair and start moving – just bear in mind, that exercises done before bedtime might make it harder to fall asleep.
  • In technology we trust – if you’re not sure what’s the underlying cause of your sleep problems, try different relaxation methods. One of the most effective ones is wrapped in mobile technology. The Nightly app is based on scientifically proven concepts like audio-visual stimulation and sleep stimulation technology. It has demonstrated a 55% effectiveness in reducing unwanted wakeups in a study conducted in clinical conditions. Its AI-based algorithm detects crucial moments in your sleep pattern and actively takes action by playing soothing sounds to make sure you sleep soundly through the night.
  • When you can’t sleep, leave your bed. Don’t let your brain associate lack of sleep with your bedroom.
  • Avoid checking your email or Facebook messages – you’ll activate the attention center in your brain, and you don’t want that in the middle of the night.