Waking up during the night: what can we do to stay asleep?
There is nothing better than settling in for a great night’s sleep after a busy and tiring day, letting the pillow envelope your head, closing your eyes and giving in to the pull of sleep. But, on the flip side of the coin, there is nothing worse than finding yourself awake again after just a few hours of sleep, without knowing why, trying with all your might to fall back asleep, but it turns out to be a fool's errand. Even though it’s still dark outside, your brain seems to have decided now is the time to use that energy you were looking for during that last work meeting!
You’re not alone - struggling to stay asleep is more common than you might think. It could be due to various factors and might only happen from time to time; perhaps you're going through a particularly stressful time or you have worries running through your mind. For others, this could be a persistent issue, potentially linked to a sleep disorder. What’s for sure is that a restless night of constantly waking up makes for superficial sleep that will leave you feeling as though you didn’t get any rest at all.
Why do we wake up in the middle of the night?
The reasons why you may suddenly find yourself waking up in the middle of the night are as varied and numerous as the stars in the night-time sky.
The parents of a newborn baby are likely to wake up more than once in the night to the cries of the child they have just welcomed into the world, or an athlete may have spent an intense evening training for an upcoming competition (or to compensate for pigging out at lunch with their friends!). Someone else might be struggling to stop ruminating over the tasks they need to complete at work the next day, or the exam they don’t feel totally prepared for. Meanwhile, another person may be working with difficult shift patterns that does not let them sleep peacefully through the night, being worried they might oversleep and lose the hours of daylight they need to do normal household chores.
Sometimes the body might stay awake because you feel pain somewhere, or you need to drink or go to the bathroom. Some people may be more predisposed than others to suffer from sleepless nights and night-time waking, as this is particularly prevalent among women and especially in later life, often associated with menopause.
Whatever the underlying cause may be that leaves your eyes wide open while the rest of the household sleeps, keep reading to find out some tips and tricks that can help you get the Zzzs you deserve.
Disturbed sleep: the impact of night-time waking on health
Waking up in the middle of the night, as well as being a huge nuisance psychologically, can affect your body and your ability to function properly the next day.
When you wake up suddenly during a phase of sleep, this is a shock to the cardiovascular system and nervous system. This can have significant consequences if it becomes a regular occurrence rather than the occasional episode, potentially giving way to more serious disorders in the long term due to its impact on these two vital systems.
Frequently waking up in the night can lead to an imbalance in the production of cortisol, which can leave you feeling more anxious and nervous after a night of fragmented sleep.
You’re likely to feel the effects of not getting a good night's sleep the day after, when you lack the energy you need to tackle and stay focussed on the tasks that the day throws at you.
How can we avoid waking up in the night? Tips and tricks
Some natural remedies can offer a huge helping hand when it comes to getting enough, restful sleep throughout the night.
- Removing sources of light and using blackout curtains: exposure to light and, on the other hand, to darkness sends a signal to your brain that affects your sleep-wake rhythm. Getting rid of as many light sources as possible can help to draw the curtain on the risk of waking up too early. Turning off all electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed will also help you to fall asleep.
- Sticking to a regular sleep routine: going to bed and waking up at around the same times, if possible also during the weekend, will help your body get used to a good routine and reduce the chance of you waking up when you don’t want to or struggling to fall asleep.
- Avoiding heavy meals in the evening: opt for a light evening meal, preferably not too close to bedtime, with foods that you can digest easily like string beans, pesto, boiled potatoes, parsley, courgettes, pine nuts or almonds.
- Trying herbal remedies if you’re woken up by anxiety: chamomile, valerian root, lavender, melissa and plenty of other botanical extracts can work with you to help you enjoy a restful sleep. We particularly recommend these if your night-time waking is associated with anxiety or digestive issues. You can try using sleep supplements or go for a relaxing infusion before bed to make sure you rest right through until morning.
- Practicing breathing exercises: if you wake up unexpectedly in the night, avoid any activities that require significant physical effort. To help you fall back asleep, you can concentrate on your breathing, placing one hand on your chest and listening to your heart beat. You can put on some white noise or relaxing sounds in the background to break the total silence that might cause you to focus on every little sound in the room. This technique will help you to reset your mental state so you can slip straight back into the dream world!
- Keeping a diary on your bedside table: if you feel disturbed by intrusive thoughts that just won’t let you relax, you can write a list of all the things worrying you and put them out of your mind. This is a way to tell your mind that you’re aware of what is keeping you up and making you feel anxious, but that you want to sleep on these thoughts and resolve them tomorrow with a fresh mind.
- Dietary supplements are not intended to substitute a varied and balanced diet and should be taken as part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Melatonin contributes towards reducing the time it takes to fall asleep.
https://farmaciadelcorso.net/risvegli-notturni-e-difficolta-di-addormentamento Stepanski, Edward J. "The effect of sleep fragmentation on daytime function." Sleep 25.3 (2002): 268-276. Bonnet, Michael H., and Donna L. Arand. "Clinical effects of sleep fragmentation versus sleep deprivation." Sleep medicine reviews 7.4 (2003): 297-310. https://www.humanitasalute.it/salute-a-z/sistema-nervoso/82478-sonno-cosa-interrotto-tanti-risvegli-foto-parere-esperto/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2830306/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3490361/