It’s 2 am and you’re wide awake. Again. What’s the deal?
First of all, understand that waking up in the middle of the night is completely normal and part of our human DNA, says Jose Colon, MD, founder of Paradise Sleep and author of The Sleep Diet.
After all, sleep goes in cycles throughout the night, moving from deeper, slow wave sleep to lighter sleep, explains James Findley, Ph.D., CBSM, clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. But as the night goes on, “we’re moving toward lighter stages of sleep, so we’re more likely to have an awakening,” he tells HuffPost. For that reason, many people are more likely to experience fragmented sleep in the morning.
Age can also be a factor; Findley notes that people tend to wake up more often during the night as they get older.
“Usually it’s one of those ‘you wake up, you roll over, you fall back asleep’ kind of awakenings, and those are fine,” Findley says. But when your middle-of-the-night-awakenings end up being more than 30 minutes per night for three or more days a week, it’s a sign there could be a deeper problem at play. It might be…
You Need To Pee
Nocturia (nighttime urination) has many triggers. But if you find yourself waking up 2 to 4 times a night to pee – even when you limit your evening drinking – you might want to try sipping more water before bed. Just add a pinch of salt, says Jonathan Steele, RN, executive director of WaterCures.org. Our bodies try to maintain an internal balance of water and electrolytes, Steele says. Too much water without enough salt, and your body may try to jettison some H20, which may explain why you’re waking up in the middle of the night to pee.
Solution: About 30 minutes before going to sleep, drink a small glass of water with a pinch of unprocessed sea salt, Steele suggests. “Unprocessed salt helps the water to get into all of our cells,” he says. You need to take the salt with H20 to ensure your body retains both, he adds.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), feeling hot can make it hard to stay (and fall) asleep. “The temperature of the room, what you wear or don’t wear to bed, the sheets and blankets – all figure in to keeping your body at the right temperature,” says Marc Leavey, MD, a primary care specialist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. (Looking for more health tips? Get your FREE trial of Prevention + 12 FREE gifts.)
Solution: People can sleep comfortably at a range of temperatures. But a room temp between 60 and 65°F is ideal for most, the NSF reports. Also, try a bath before bed, Leavey suggests. “Taking a warm bath raises your temperature in the tub slightly, while exiting the tub triggers a slight drop in temperature – a signal that your brain associates with sleep,” he explains.
Your Late-Night Tweets
If your bedtime routine involves scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, your updates may be messing with your sleep. “Exposing eyes to light during the evening stops the body from making melatonin, the sleep hormone,” explains Richard L. Hansler, PhD, of John Carroll University. From tablet screens to smartphones, electronic devices are light sources people tend to hold close to their faces, which may make them potent sleep disrupters.
Solution: Avoid your phone or tablet. Do not turn on any electronics, because the blue-spectrum light emitted from such objects is known to impede sleep.
Your Nightly Nightcap
While that second cocktail may make you sleepy, it can also disrupt your restful night’s sleep. “Alcohol has a sedative effect that, if you drink enough, can put you to sleep quite easily,” Leavey says. “Over the first few hours, you metabolize that alcohol, with the alcohol producing a form of sleep that can prevent the healthy rapid eye movement sleep that is most restful.” This lack of REM sleep will make the second half of your night restless and fragmented.
Solution: The “best” cocktail to drink before bed? It doesn’t exist, Leavey says. “If you are going to drink, you may not be able to sleep,” he adds. (There’s a reason “happy hour” and “cocktail hour” are early in the evening.) Take it easy on the booze and quit drinking a few hours before you go to bed, and you’ll give your body time to metabolize the alcohol before you try to sleep.
Whether it’s a demanding boss or a troublesome toddler, stress can rob us of a good night’s sleep. “Stress-reduction interventions, such as mindfulness meditation and progressive relaxation, have demonstrated some effectiveness for sleep disturbances, including frequent awakenings from stress,” says Lekeisha A. Sumner, PhD, a board-certified clinical psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Sumner says meditation and similar practices may help decrease worry and improve mood, which supports sounder sleep. (Check out these 7 ways to fall back asleep in 10 minutes or less.)
Solution: While practices like meditation or yoga may help, Sumner says people with serious stress-sleep issues may benefit from psychotherapy. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy can enhance sleep quality by helping your brain get control of the stress-based thoughts that rob you of ZZZs.