This Is The Reason You Wake Up At 3AM And Can’t Go Back To Sleep

January 7, 2018
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Staying asleep is just as important as falling asleep.

Waking up in the middle of the night is like opening up a can of worms: wriggling, stressed out worms in the form of a series of questions that make it impossible to fall back asleep.

Why am I awake? I’ll wonder when my eyes suddenly snap open before the sun comes up. Then I check the clock, calculating when my alarm is going to go off. I have three hours — should I go back to sleep, or get up now? Am I going to be exhausted today? It this insomnia?

Valid questions, but far from resolving the problem, this kind of anxious thinking can keep me from falling back asleep again. And stress in general can be the culprit of nighttime awakenings. So if you’re wondering why you always wake up in the middle of the night, first take a deep breath and relax. Then, read on.

Why me?

Unfortunately, insomnia is an issue that’s most commonly experienced by women.

“We do see gender disparity in sleep, such that women report more insomnia than men,” explains Rebecca Robbins, PhD, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the NYU School of Medicine and the co-author of Sleep for Success!

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“Life stages women experience, such as menopause, and associated hormonal fluctuation can also result in sleep issues.”

Feeling stressed out?

“Stress has a profound impact on sleep architecture (e.g., sleep stages) and circadian rhythms when stress is either acute or chronic in nature,” says Robbins.

“For instance, research shows stress can interfere with sleep-wake activation in the brain, making sleep fundamentally more fractured and less restorative.”

But, is it really such a bad thing?

In a word: yes. It might feel kind of productive to spend the pre-dawn hours texting with an overseas friend or catching up on Jessica Jones, but you’re doing yourself more harm than good if you give in to nighttime awakenings. Just one night of fragmented sleep can have negative effects, and if you keep waking up in the middle of the night, it could feel like you’re not sleeping at all. But that doesn’t mean you should just lie in bed and suffer through a bout of insomnia.

“When experiencing insomnia symptoms, acute or chronic, one common mistake is to stay in bed and toss and turn,” warns Robbin, who explains that “tossing can be counter productive in that it starts to condition you to look at bed as a stressful place.”

Instead, Robbins recommends that “you leave the bedroom, keep lights low, and do something that will help you become sleepy like read, then return to bed when you are tired.”

What can I do?

Sleep hygiene: it’s just as important as brushing your teeth or applying deodorant. Examples of good sleep hygiene include “maintaining a regular sleep/wake cycle, bedtime routine, [and] removing technology from the bedroom,” says Robbins.

Learn about good sleep hygiene; some tips may surprise you. For example: while no coffee before bed can seem like a no-brainer, did you know that alcohol (which can help us fall asleep) can act like a stimulant by waking us up in the middle of the night?

Should I see a doctor?

Don’t let insomnia mess with your life for long: “When sleep difficulties persist it is important to seek medical attention from your healthcare provider,” advises Robbins.

When there’s an underlying cause to sleep problems, it’s known as secondary insomnia, and it can be caused by a number of medical conditions including chronic pain and gastrointestinal issues.

Images via giphy.com and shutterstock.com.

Comment: Do you suffer from insomnia? Have you found anything that helps?

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