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Why You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night (and What to Do About It)

man wondering what to do when you wake up in the middle of the night

So you've gone through your whole bedtime routine. You've washed your face, brushed your teeth put on your pajamas. Maybe you even fall asleep quickly and without worry.

But for some reason, your sleep keeps being interrupted by waking up in the middle of the night.

You might wake up at the same time every night and have to get yourself back to sleep. Or you may wake up over and over again, ultimately damaging the depth and quality of your sleep. And you can't help but wonder why.

We're here to talk about seven of the leading reasons why people wake up in the middle of the night and a few tips on how to achieve relaxing, continuous sleep.

1. Sinus Congestion

Congestion comes from all different causes. Being sick, having allergies, dust in the air, or an ongoing known issue with your sinuses. But one thing's for sure: Your nose can keep you awake or wake you up when breathing doesn't work right. You see, your body is supposed to breathe automatically and deeply when you're asleep. When you can't do that, you lose sleep, and you're more likely to wake up because your body wants you to 'fix' whatever the problem is.

If you wake up snorting, 'drowning' in mucus, or simply unable to breathe through your nose, then sinuses are the reason you're waking up. Lingering soreness in your throat might also be a clue.

To fix a sinus-based sleep problem, you'll want to come at this from two angles. First, make sure your bedding is clean (allergen-free) and consider a new mattress or a hypoallergenic mattress cover. Hypoallergenic covers will reduce sinus-irritants while you're sleeping. Next, consult with your doctor and consider breathing strips to help with the regular sinus issues.

2. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is when your body doesn't breathe correctly when you sleep. Instead of taking long deep breaths, your body starts to 'error' and takes short, shallow breaths instead. Sometimes it skips a breath entirely. So, it can cause you to wake up feeling woozy or even gasping for air. Not a great way to wake up and an unfortunately common reason for interrupted sleep.

If you have sleep apnea or suspect you do, see a doctor about the condition. There are a variety of medications and treatments. Be prepared to go through a sleep test to show the details of your sleep apnea and help your doctor suggest the right solutions.

3. Old Habits

If you have recently changed your sleep schedule after keeping a different routine consistently, this could be the reason you're waking up at night. Our circadian rhythms help us to be sleepy and to wake up at the 'right' time every day. While each of us has a natural rhythm (diurnal or nocturnal, for example), your body also adapts to the schedule you set—which is why you may find yourself waking up in time for the morning alarm.

Changing your schedule confuses your circadian rhythm can confuse your circadian rhythm and cause it to send you 'wake up' signals at the wrong time. The best way to face this one down is to stick to your current schedule like glue. Your circadian rhythm will catch up after a week or so of adhering to the new schedule.

4. Full Bladder

Everyone wakes up having to pee sometimes. It's an inevitable fact of life that, at some point, the liquid you drink will process to its natural conclusion and sometimes that happens while you're asleep. But if you wake up having to pee all the time or multiple times during the night, this enters the 'abnormal' range and is possibly a medical concern.

To reduce your need to pee during the night, try lowering your liquid intake during the hour or two before bed. Skip that big glass of water after brushing your teeth and don't drink alcohol before bed. If the problem persists, see your doctor. You might have a mild bladder infection (causing increased sensitivity) or another issue that medicine can alleviate rather than water control.

5. Room Temperature

If your room is the wrong temperature, your body can have trouble sleeping deeply and comfortably. A cold room will cause you to wake up shivering and reaching for another blanket. But once you have a blanket, the cold should help you sleep better than usual as you snuggle up under the covers.

A hot room, on the other hand, can stop you from falling asleep or staying asleep. When a place is too hot, your body can't regulate its temperature while asleep. So, you wake up over and over again because you cannot correctly enter the deeper cycles of the circadian rhythm.

If you can't adjust your thermostat for a better sleep temp, handle only the room where you sleep. A space heater can help with the cold. And if fans don't work for heat, try a window AC unit. And, of course, try new sheets and blankets that wick moisture and help your body maintain the right temperature.

6. Changing Lights, Smells, and Sounds

Another issue, especially if you live in an apartment or dorm room, is distracting lights, sounds, and even smells. Changing lights in your room or outside your window will confuse your body and mind, possibly indicating it's time to get up. Anything can have that effect—clouds moving over the sun, street lights flipping on and off, or even someone walking through the room where you're sleeping.

Sounds can bother you and interrupt your sleep, but usually only if they are unexpected. We can often sleep through things we understand, like the gentle whoosh of cars on the road or the sound of your partner watching their late-night tv shows. But unexpected sounds can wake us up, and we won't even remember what the sound was.

And, of course, smells are one of the most subtle interrupters of sleep. The adage about the smell of breakfast waking you up is true, but it doesn't have to be morning. If the smells of cooking, or less pleasant local smells, interrupt your sleep, they really can wake you up even if you don't perceive the smell after waking.

To avoid these issues, insulate your sleep area. Cover the windows and any electric lights inside the room. Use white-noise to block out unwanted sounds and earplugs if you like. As for smells, try putting a towel under your door and diffuse a little essential oil before you go to sleep.

7. Aches and Pains

And, of course, there are the sleep interruptions that come from aches and pains. As we get older, sleeping isn't as comfortable as it used to be. We start to understand the jokes about laying your old bones to rest at night, and some of those old bones are harder to relax than others. If you keep waking up in the middle of the night to switch sides of the mattress or roll off an aching joint, chances are the problem at least partly lies with your mattress.

Even young people can wake up with aches and pains with an old or poor quality mattress. If your mattress sags, bulges, or ripples instead of maintaining a firm comfy surface, then you're going to wake up achy. Whether your bones are old or not. With a new mattress, you'll soon realize most of those aches were not, in fact, old bones. Simply your spine, hips, and shoulders resting at awkward angles as your mattress became misshapen.

Have you been having trouble sleeping through the night? Young or old, some things can wake anyone out of a sound sleep or prevent us from sleeping soundly in the first place. For more tips on how to beat the midnight wake-up beast or to improve the quality of your sleep overall, contact us today!

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