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July 26, 2022

Here is why you wake up in the middle of the night

Here is why you wake up in the middle of the night

For many people, it is a routine: they go to bed knowing that in the middle of the night they will wake up, often at the same time. And there is no reason for it – they just wake up. This issue has a name: interrupted sleep.

Interrupted sleep – that is, one that starts and stops – is not as refreshing as continuous sleep. Recent sleep medicine studies show a strong correlation between the quality and continuity of nighttime rest. When disrupted or fragmented, it contributes to other problems like insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

This means that, even when interruptions do not reduce the total time spent in bed, they are still harmful, as they break the cadence of sleep stages, which can be associated with everything from memory problems to Alzheimer’s disease.

What causes waking up in the middle of the night?

In an article, Dr. Neha Pathak, specialist in lifestyle medicine, classifies reasons for disrupted sleep into six categories:

Physical Causes

These are chronic or temporary health conditions that can get worse at night.

– Pain: caused by trauma, arthritis, and heart problems, among others. If the pain is severe enough to prevent you from sleeping, tell your doctor right away.

– Breathing problems: such as asthma, bronchitis, or lung issues.

– Digestive system: chronic problems, such as reflux or gastritis; or temporary problems, such as very heavy or spicy meals at night.

– Hormonal issues: especially for women during hormone peaks during menstruation or menopause.

– Night urination: from drinking too much fluid or diuretics close to bedtime, pregnancy, or conditions such as diabetes and bladder inflammation.

Psychological Causes

The Acorda, Brasil! survey, developed at the request of Persono, conducted by the MindMiners human analytics platform and coordinated by the Unimark/Longo consultancy, showed that 27% of Brazilians say that stress interferes with their sleep. In fact, it makes sleep lighter and prevents you from reaching the REM and deep sleep phases.

Other psychological problems that can make people wake up in the middle of the night are anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia. 

Bad sleep habits

We have to sleep well to live better and live well to sleep better, like in a cycle. 

Everything we do during the day has an impact when we lie in bed and some common habits, such as excessive use of electronics and alcohol and caffeine consumption, lead to frequent nighttime awakenings, impairing the deserved daily rest.

To learn more about bad habits that interfere with sleep, go to our special post on the topic here.

Inappropriate place to sleep

Sometimes the bedroom itself is the enemy of sleep, with environmental and sound stimuli that cause waking up in the middle of the night. Here are some tips to improve your haven:

– Avoid all types of light using blackout curtains or an eye mask. Also, get rid of lights emitted by electronics even when turned off. 

– Remove sources of external noise using soundproof windows or even earplugs. “White noise” machines or fans can also help to stop outside noise.

– Be careful with cold and heat. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 18°C ​​and 22°C, which may vary slightly according to personal preferences. 

Messy bedtime

When there is no sleep routine, waking up in the middle of the night becomes more common. That’s why people with jet lag and who work shifts or at night often have difficulty sleeping. 

In addition, sleep patterns change through life, and it is necessary to adapt to this in order to have a better sleep quality. 

Sleep disorders

A poor sleep is not always synonymous with lack of routine or bad habits. Sleep disorders affect 40% of Brazilians, according to the Ministry of Health. And, like any disease, they require care.

Among the disorders that cause interrupted sleep the most are apnea, restless leg syndrome and night terrors.

When should I be concerned about interrupted sleep?

It is essential to point out that waking up in the middle of the night is relatively normal, but only up to a certain extent. And by a certain extent we mean time. When this happens for several days in a row for no apparent reason, like medication or a car alarm going off, it’s a warning sign.

The advice is to keep a sleep diary, in which you record the days you woke up during the early hours and approximately how long it took for sleep to return. If something looks wrong in these notes, there may be something wrong with your sleep. In this case, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist.

It often happens that a person does not even remember waking up. These are the so-called microarousals, which happen, for example, in patients with sleep apnea. This is why monitoring and measuring sleep with a sleep tracker is so important.

Other red flags for interrupted sleep are excessive daytime sleepiness and very loud snoring, which can point to nocturnal breathing problems.

These signs are especially important because micro-arousals often go unnoticed. The person wakes up in the morning but does not remember these events, since they last, on average, 10 seconds. This could be a sign of sleep apnea.

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