You know the feeling after a bad night's sleep. Poor sleep not only makes you feel groggy and cranky, but you have less energy throughout the day. And that's not to mention the several long-term health risks caused by bad sleep, such as weight gain, weakened immunity and memory issues. Simply put, sleep is critical to overall health. It's key to reducing stress, improving your mood and functioning at a high level each and every day.
However, in certain seasons of life, sleeping through the night can be difficult. I'd need way more than two hands to count the number of restless nights I've spent waking up several times before morning. And, I'm not alone in this frustrating sleep disturbance -- one study showed that 35% of Americans woke up at least three nights a week.
If sleep is so critical, why can it be difficult to sleep through the night without waking?
Waking up in the night is a form of insomnia, and it can be caused by anything from stress to eating spicy foods too close to bedtime. While insomnia can sometimes be a serious problem needing medical attention, its causes can also often be treated with natural sleep aids or simple lifestyle changes. Here are several reasons why you may not be sleeping through the night, and what to do about it. Hopefully, you'll be back to feeling well-rested in no time. (For better sleep, also check out our rundown of the best cooling mattresses, the best pillows and the best alarm clocks of the year.)
Middle-of-the-night bathroom trips
One common cause of interrupted sleep is nighttime bathroom trips. Most people wake up throughout the night to go relieve themselves, but if you stay awake for too long after, it can disrupt your sleep cycle. Causes of this frustrating phenomenon range from simply drinking too much water to more serious complications, including diabetes.
If your bladder wakes you up at night, first try to cut down on evening fluid intake. Don't drink anything for two hours before bedtime, especially alcohol or any caffeinated beverages. Alcohol and caffeine are both diuretics, meaning they make your body lose more water, and you have to take more bathroom trips.
Also, if you're on a diuretic medication, like the ones used to treat blood pressure, this could be the culprit of more frequent urination. Nighttime urination can also be a symptom of a UTI or diabetes. If cutting down on fluid intake doesn't help with your problem, you may want to take a trip to the doctor to rule out these problems.
A high thermostat
One easy-to-fix culprit of nighttime awakening is simply that your room, or internal body temperature, may be too warm. Your body temperature fluctuates throughout the day -- when it rises in the morning and early afternoon, you become more alert, and as it falls at night it signals that it's time for bed. If your room is too warm in the middle of the night, your body might think that it's time to be awake and alert. Plus, if it's hot, you could wake up with night sweats, and no one likes being jolted awake by sticky sheets.
If you live in a warm area and don't have the luxury of simply turning on air conditioning, there are things you can do to cool down at night. Taking a cold shower, using a bedroom fan and putting your sheets in the freezer for a little bit before bed can all help.
Snoring or sleep apnea
Another cause of nighttime awakening is snoring. Snoring can be harmless (besides the noise that wakes up your partner), but frequent intense snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea -- a medical disorder where breathing starts and stops throughout the night. If you wake up with a dry mouth or wake yourself up by snoring loudly, or your partner tells you that you stop breathing in the night, you may have sleep apnea . Sleep apnea is no fun -- it causes restless nights, daytime fatigue and a host of other health issues stemming from long-term sleep deprivation.
A doctor will help decide the best course of treatment for you, including the use of breathing machines, lifestyle changes such as losing weight and maybe surgery.
Untreated anxiety or depression
Mental health and sleep have a cyclical relationship -- anxiety and depression can worsen sleep quality, and sleep deprivation worsens mental health. It can be hard to escape this loop, especially when sleep deprivation comes along with a lack of motivation.
If you wake up during the night, anxious racing thoughts can make it impossible to fall back asleep. Plus, depression has been strongly associated with waking up too early and being unable to drift back off.
For people who experience both anxiety and sleep disturbances, cognitive behavioral therapy has shown to be effective at treating both. CBT instills lifelong strategies for managing mental health, and targets the root of the behavior rather than the symptoms. Nutritional and herbal supplements have also been suggested to be helpful in treating anxiety disorders.
Other methods of relaxation and stress relief may be helpful, such as meditation, exercise and finding time for meaningful hobbies. If anxious thoughts are keeping you up, try jotting down a to-do list before you doze off. That way, you can forget about what you have to do tomorrow until the morning actually comes.
Scrolling on your phone
If you've ever found yourself frantically checking emails before bed, you're not the only one, especially if you're part of a younger crowd. Four out of 5 teens report sleeping with their phone in the room, and countless adults do as well. Many people admit they check a mobile device after they've gone to bed.
The artificial blue light emitted from screens may delay your circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin, a natural chemical that tells your body it's time to sleep. When you stare at your phone right before bed, it causes your body to wake up and become more alert. Your natural rhythm is disrupted, and you're much more likely to wake often throughout the night and experience a lower quality of sleep.
There's a simple fix to this blue light phenomenon, though it's not easy: Don't use your phone or computer right before bed. Two hours before you want to fall asleep, put all the screens away and focus on relaxing activities, like reading, light cleaning and spending time with loved ones. If you use your phone as an alarm, buy a cheap clock to use instead so that you can leave your phone outside of the bedroom for the whole night.
Heartburn or indigestion
Here's another yucky one -- according to one source, 14% to 20% of Americans experience heartburn at least once a week, and 70% to 75% of those people have it at night. Nighttime heartburn can wake you up with a burning or choking sensation in your throat, and the pain and discomfort makes it hard to fall back asleep.
Common culprits of heartburn are spicy foods, chocolate, citrus and alcohol. If you can't narrow down what's causing your indigestion, try keeping a food journal along with noting your symptoms. You can eliminate various suspects from your diet to find out what's causing you discomfort. Once you figure it out, try to avoid this food as much as possible. You'll thank yourself for it in the morning.
Heartburn may be simply diet-related, but it could also be an indicator of a relatively common disorder known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, aka GERD or acid reflux. People with GERD typically experience heartburn, choking and coughing more often while lying down at night. If your symptoms are more severe or you think you may have acid reflux, seek medical attention and treatment.
Alcohol or nicotine before bed
Many people turn to alcohol to relax, but it disrupts your rest once you've fallen asleep. Alcohol increases a chemical in your brain, adenosine, that helps you fall asleep. However, the rush of that chemical subsides as quickly as it came, and you wake up before you feel rested. A nightcap can also cause bathroom trips during the night. Another unfortunate consequence is that alcohol relaxes your throat muscles, leading to increased snoring, which can also wake you up.
While smoking cigarettes or vaping can similarly be a calming mechanism, it also hinders your rest. Nicotine is a stimulant, so it disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes your body feel more alert throughout the night. Also, it has been suggested that smokers experience nicotine withdrawal while asleep, leading to more sleep disturbances.
Juul e-cigarettes have been painted by some as a healthy alternative to cigarettes, but the high nicotine content in a vaporizer will likely keep you tossing and turning throughout the night.
Want more sleep tips? Learn more about staying cool while you sleep and how to regulate your circadian rhythm to get the best sleep possible.
More recs for better sleep
- Night Sweats: 7 Common Causes and How to Stop Sweating While Sleeping
- Alcohol Can Give You a Bad Night's Sleep. Here's What to Know
- 6 Ways Exhausted Moms Can Get More Sleep With a Newborn at Home
- Interpret Your Dreams: What It Means to Dream About Fire, Death, Falling and More
- Why You Should Rethink Letting Your Pets Sleep With You
- The Secret to Taking a True Power Nap
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
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