I imagine we can all relate to the frustrating feeling of waking up multiple times a night and not knowing exactly why. Sometimes you can literally wake up on the hours, every hour, and other times you might wake up periodically throughout the night with no pattern.
Of course, sometimes we know the reason; it could be that there has been some kind of disturbance, you could get woken up by children or pets, or you could have had a bad dream or even just woken up too hot, or needing the toilet.
Why Do We Wake Up Multiple Times a Night? And How Do We Prevent it from Happening?
So, what are the do’s and don’ts before you go to bed and while you sleep that might stop you from waking up multiple times throughout the night?
During this guide, I will be taking an in-depth look into what might be causing you to wake up in the night and what you can do yourself to try to prevent it.
Is It Normal to Wake up Multiple Times a Night?
While waking up through the night might be a very common problem among people, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is normal. It might be time that you started to look at why you wake up, such as diet, stress, anxiety, temperature, alcohol, drugs, circadian rhythm, health issues, or mineral imbalances.
Whatever the cause, it is not something that should be happening regularly, and there is likely something that you can do to stop it, such as thinking about what you wear to bed, maintaining a healthy diet, and cutting down alcohol consumption.
Causes of Waking Up Multiple Times Through The Night
So what causes us to wake up through the night? As it turns out, there are many reasons why your sleep might not be as peaceful and restorative as it should be, so below is a list of possible causes that may be disturbing your slumber and some things that can be done to try and overcome them.
1. Sleep Apnea
If you have ever had that feeling of being suddenly awoken in the middle of the night, and feeling as though you can’t get your breath, then you may be suffering from something called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea tends to slow down or even sometimes stop your breathing while you sleep; scary, right?
The Mayo Clinic tells us that there are two kinds of sleep apnea. The first one is called obstructive sleep apnea, and what happens with this one is the muscles in your throat tend to relax a little bit too much, in turn narrowing your airways, which can cause your oxygen level to drop.
The second one, called central sleep apnea, is when your brain isn’t sending the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing, resulting in a drop in oxygen.
There is a third kind of sleep apnea, combining symptoms of both above. This is called complex sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be challenging to diagnose and will most likely need an overnight sleep study to correctly identify if that is what’s happening. The test includes monitoring your breathing while you sleep.
Solution: A CPAP machine is one of the most common ways to treat sleep apnea. This stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It is a mask worn while you sleep, and it helps keep your airways open and oxygen flowing as it should. But, depending on your specific case, your doctor may have other remedies for you to try first.
2. Needing The Toilet
Needing to go to the toilet a few times during the night could be something called Nocturia, which is quite a common condition. Some people may only need to get up once a night, whereas, for others, it may be more like 2 – 4 times per night, which, as you can imagine, gets pretty frustrating when you’re enjoying a peaceful night’s sleep and don’t want to get out of bed.
It can also significantly affect the quality of sleep you get, not just because you keep waking up, but because even while asleep, you’re subconsciously thinking about needing to go to the toilet. Or sometimes you can’t get to sleep because you know that at some point soon you’re going to need to go again or trick yourself into thinking you need to go when you don’t.
It turns out that, on average, around 25% of us suffer from this disorder in one form or another, but what can we do to prevent it?
Solution: Of course, one of the obvious things you can do to stop needing the toilet in the middle of the night is to control the number of fluids you drink, especially in the later hours of the day. If this doesn’t work, however, there could be an underlying condition such as a urinary tract infection, or an overactive bladder, in which case, if controlling your liquid intake doesn’t work, you should get advice from your doctor.
3. Overactive Thyroid Gland
The Thyroid Gland is the thing that controls several different organs. When it is overactive, it can create too much of a hormone called thyroxine, which in turn can affect other parts of your body. One of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid is trouble sleeping, raised heartbeat, sweating, tremors, and anxiety, which also contribute to an uncomfortable night.
Solution: To be honest, the only thing you can do in the case of an overactive thyroid is to go and speak to your doctor. Depending on the result, they will take blood samples to check your hormone levels. They will then take you through your options and discuss any treatments available, such as medications that can help slow the production of the thyroids hormone and beta blockers to reduce the heart rate.
4. Room Conditions
The conditions of the room you sleep in can be very personal. Some people sleep better with the heating on, while others like to have the window wide open come rain or shine. But it turns out that there is an ample temperature for sleep, which means you’re most likely to get an undisturbed night’s sleep. The room should be cool enough to sleep comfortably under your sheets without overheating or sweating.
While you are asleep, you go through four different stages, three stages of NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement) and one stage of REM (rapid eye movement.) The first stage of sleep is the lightest and, therefore, the time you’re most likely woken up by sounds, light, movement, etc.
Solution: Make sure that the room you will be sleeping in is cool, dark, and as quiet as possible, and if you’re unable to remove inevitable distractions for any reason, then try using sleep aids such as ear plugs and eye masks to prevent anything from waking you up.
5. Alcohol and Drugs
It is common knowledge that substances such as alcohol and medications can negatively affect sleep. It may seem as though after a night on the beer, you feel you can fall asleep much easier than usual, but, what it does do, is cause you to have a very restless sleep.
Alcohol tends to mess up your sleep stages. So, for instance, you may crash into a deep sleep and go into stage 2 or even 3 or 4 very quickly while skipping some steps, and then later in the night, you might experience stage one, which is, of course, backward. This is also likely to cause you to wake up during the early morning hours, which can mean you struggle to get back to sleep.
The same goes for some medications; sleeping tablets, for instance, can also cause you to fall into a deep sleep early on or can mean that you sleep for a more extended period. Both these things can make it hard for your circadian rhythm to get back into sync the following night.
Solution: Each person is different, but the general rule here is to stop drinking at least three hours before you go to bed (I know this is easier said than done when enjoying a night out.) But, by doing this, your body has time to process the alcohol. Another thing that you can do is to make sure that you drink plenty of water before you go to bed. This can prevent you from waking up feeling dehydrated during the night and help with any hangover symptoms the following morning.
6. Meal Times
Eating close to your bedtime is a bit of a no-go in speaking. It can play quite a significant part in your sleeping pattern and mean that you either struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep.
One of the big reasons for sleep disturbance from eating late at night is acid reflux, commonly known as heartburn. It can all make you bloated and full of wind, which can cause discomfort while trying to fall asleep.
On the other hand, not eating enough before you go to sleep can also cause disturbances and lead to insomnia. This is because going to sleep on an empty stomach can cause you to wake up with cravings and your stomach rumbling. This, of course, can lead you to eat in the middle of the night. It can also lead to a drop in blood sugar, known as hypoglycaemia, which can cause dizziness and shakes.
Solution: The bottom line is to keep a moderate diet and stick to the same eating times where possible. Make sure you have three meals a day and try to ensure that each meal fills you up, is balanced in nutrients, and isn’t full of additives and processed sugars.
If you think you are suffering from symptoms of hypoglycaemia, be sure to see your doctor, as these are common in people with diabetes, and you will need to have that ruled out by a professional.
7. Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS is a disorder that makes your legs feel irritable and often as though they are throbbing, aching, tingling, or cramping. It can be an extremely unsettling feeling, which usually means you constantly have the urge to move your legs around. Of course, this can be highly disruptive when you try to get comfortable enough to get to sleep.
Most of the time, symptoms of RLS occur in the evening and can appear to be more intense if you’re already having a bad night’s sleep.
At the moment, no research has concluded precisely what causes RLS, but it appears to be hereditary in many cases. It is currently being investigated whether issues with dopamine levels can play a part in it.
Solution: As with any medical condition, you should always check with your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms. Having restless leg syndrome can be a sign of another underlying health condition, so it is always better to get peace of mind by speaking to a professional and having tests related to your circumstances. If you’re diagnosed with RLS, then your doctor will discuss with you any treatments, medications, and exercises that will help you soothe your symptoms.
8. Stress and Anxiety
If you’ve got a lot on your mind, perhaps a situation in your home life is getting you down, or you’re under a lot of pressure at work. These are all things that may lead to you waking up throughout the night due to worrying or overthinking situations; let’s face it, in the middle of the night, they are out of your control.
One of the reasons anxiety can disturb our slumber so much is that even while sleeping, our brains are overworking, which causes us to wake up with an elevated heartbeat, and even nightmares.
In some cases, these nighttime disturbances are caused by sleeping while stressed and can lead to people waking up in the middle of a full-blown panic attack, which of course, can be terrifying.
Solution: Always try to go to sleep with a clear and calm mind; if you’re having a hard time at work, tell yourself that right now, there is nothing you can do about it, put it to the back of your mind, and try to concentrate on something relaxing, practice your breathing techniques, or learn how to meditate in bed.
You should see a doctor if those techniques don’t help, and they may be able to help you in other ways, such as medication or therapy.
General Tips To Help You Get A Good Night’s Sleep
There are numerous things you can try to ensure you don’t wake up during the night and also that you are getting the most out of your sleep, such as:
- Make sure that you exercise during the day.
- Don’t use screens such as phones and laptops late at night.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime.
- Make sure your room is cool enough, comfortable, and quiet.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Don’t drink alcohol close to your bedtime.
- Do something relaxing, such as meditation, before you go to sleep.
Frequently Asked Questions About Waking Up Multiple Times in The Night
Will Drinking Alcohol Help Me To Sleep?
Drinking alcohol before bed may seem a good way to get yourself off to sleep. In actual fact, alcohol messes with your sleep stages, meaning you can end up in light sleep stages further into the night and crash early on. Overall this can lead to a topsy turvy night’s sleep. Always try to stop your alcohol consumption about three hours before bed.
Is It Normal to Wake Up During the Night?
Waking up during the night is a common problem for quite a lot of people, but this isn’t something that should be happening on a regular basis. There is usually an underlying cause for sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, overactive bladder, room conditions, or health issues.
When Should I See a Doctor About Waking Up At Night?
Most of the time, there is a good reason why you might be waking up multiple times through the night, but you should see your doctor if this starts to affect your day-to-day life. For example, if it is happening on a nightly basis, if you are feeling fatigued throughout the day, or if you think there may be an underlying health issue.
Overall, waking up during the night is not something that should be a significant concern, and there are many things that you can try yourself to make sure you are getting a full, restorative sleep. But, if you find that waking up during the night affects your quality of life, it should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Hopefully, reading all this information has helped you narrow down what might be causing you disruption during the night. For instance, you might spend time on your phone before sleep, your bedroom is too warm, or perhaps you’re having your evening meal too late in the day.
If you think that you have tried everything, and you are still not getting a good night’s sleep, then you should speak to a medical professional who can run tests to find out precisely what is causing you to wake up in the night, and they can work with you to find the best solution.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Is It a Unique Clinical Syndrome? | SLEEP | Oxford Academic (oup.com)