6 Things to Do When You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night
If you’re wondering how to sleep better, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a study by the CDC, one in three adults is not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
We’ve established that sleep is essential—it’s recommended to have at least seven hours or more to maintain healthy brain function and physical health. But when you’re not getting adequate rest due to waking up in the middle of the night, it can lead to frustration and anxiety. Not only are you awake, but you’re doing the dreaded dance of “How much shut-eye can I get if I doze off at this exact moment?” or “Should I just stay up?”
Janet Kennedy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, is here to reassure you that “night waking is normal.” But if your night waking is frequent and becoming an issue, there are some factors that you may want to look into, such as hormone levels.
“Progesterone helps us to stay asleep, and when those levels fluctuate at different stages of the month or of life—think pregnancy or menopause—night waking can be more prevalent and prolonged,” Kennedy says. Another common time to wake in the middle of the night is when your blood sugar drops.
Shirin Peters, MD, an internal medicine specialist and founder of Bethany Medical Clinic in New York City, agrees and even says that night waking can come in patterns. “Many people find themselves waking up at the same time each night,” she says.
In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, 35% of people regularly wake up at 4 a.m. Dr. Kennedy gives an explanation for this, saying it’s “when natural melatonin levels are waning and body temperature starts to rise.” She assures us that this is a normal part of the circadian process, but it can make it harder to fall back asleep.
To help you get the rest you deserve, we consulted with sleep and medical experts to share their best advice for when you wake up in the middle of the night and how to sleep better.
Make some lifestyle changes.
While some reasons are out of our control, there are a few things we can do to help improve sleep. “Drinking caffeine or alcohol late in the day, overheating, or having a poor sleep environment and needing to use the bathroom” are all reasons people may wake up in the night, says Dr. Peters. You can obviously limit your caffeine and alcohol, play around with your room temperature, and stop drinking liquids at a certain time to prevent these sleep disturbances.
Yes, really. Dr. Kennedy says that the difference between lying down and sitting up can be massive. “Thoughts are scarier and less rational when we are lying down,” she says, which makes sense because we’re more vulnerable when we’re in a sleeping position. “Sitting up brings back our rational mind and psychological defenses.” Once you’re upright, “something that feels like a big deal might not turn out to be so important,” she adds.
Write it down.
Grab a pen and some paper. In fact, it would be smart to leave a notebook and pen on your nightstand, because both Dr. Peters and Dr. Kennedy say that journaling is a good antidote for night waking. “Journaling your thoughts and getting them all out on paper can provide mental relief,” says Dr. Peters.
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