Why Do You Keep Waking Up in the Night?

If you've been waking up several times a night for a while, it's time to take action. In this article, we'll talk about what you can do so that these interruptions cease to exist and your rest improves.
Why Do You Keep Waking Up in the Night?
Cristian Muñoz Escobar

Written and verified by the psychologist Cristian Muñoz Escobar.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

To understand why you might wake up several times a night, you first need to know that sleep is of the utmost importance for your daily physical and mental functions. Indeed, if you don’t take care of your sleep, you may suffer harmful effects on your health. After all, you have to deal with a hectic daily routine, which requires you to make the most of your time. This is even more relevant in the globalized, digital world, which leaves you little room for rest.

However, all is not lost. The first step in solving this nocturnal problem is to understand how you’re feeling. For instance, if you have some type of illness or are going through a stressful situation. As a matter of fact, it’s normal to wake up several times a night because your brain goes through different sleep cycles. The problem occurs when you can’t reconcile them immediately. This is a sign that there’s a problem with your body and you need to rest and recover. Even more so, if the situation persists over time.

A man is desperate because he has been awake several times at night

Why do you wake up several times a night?

Waking up several times a night to go to the bathroom or look at the alarm to see that it hasn’t gone off may not disrupt your brain’s recovery process. In fact, you may not even remember the times you wake up during sleep cycles.

However, a problem appears when you wake up every night, interrupting your sleep cycle, and this situation persists for a considerable time, especially if it’s difficult for you to fall asleep again. At these times, it’s necessary to pay attention to it because it may be a symptom of a more important problem.

The sleep process

Sleep has two phases. These are REM (rapid eye movement sleep) and non-REM sleep. This is the active phase of sleep that allows the brain to be active. It’s also known as NREM, and is divided into four stages, which occur according to the repeated cycle of NREM followed by REM. The process occurs four to six times in seven to eight hours of sleep.

If you wake up in the development of any phase of these cycles, your rest is interrupted. Therefore, you must start the sleep process again from the beginning, from the first NREM phase. Sleep cycles repeat every 90 minutes. The more times you wake up at night, the greater the probability of losing your restful sleep, the consequence of which would be the disturbance of your circadian rhythms.

Causes

Now, let’s move on to the main reasons why you might wake up several times a night.

  • Depression. Its symptoms are fueled by negative thoughts and irrational ideas, excessive worry, anhedonia, and muscle aches that directly influence sleep quality. Depression can generate excess insomnia. It’s also nourished by the stress of daily life, especially the kind you feel unable to control.
  • Stress. This is closely related to depression. It involves obsessive and intrusive thoughts over which you have no control. They’re usually related to physical and mental symptoms, which increase your feelings of stress. The most serious consequence is that it activates your body to deal with stressful agents, whether real or imaginary. For example, the anxiety of waiting for a future that hasn’t yet happened.
  • Pessimistic behavior. This means your mood is conditioned by negative, dark, and generally irrational feelings and thoughts. If your emotions aren’t regulated, it’s due to the presence of anxiety and persistent pessimistic behavior and it’s fueled by irrational ideas .
  • Social networks. Don’t have your electronic devices nearby. That’s because they can wake you up during the night or in the early morning. In fact, the light from digital screens interrupts the production of melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, causing it to decrease. This increases insomnia.
A woman is watching movies late at night
  • Alcoholic beverages. They can make you dream and can also disrupt your sleep. Because alcohol has sedative effects that work on REM sleep. This means that you might wake up extremely early in the morning.
  • Sleep apnea. This disorder prevents breathing at night, causing people to wake up several times to inhale air.
  • Medical Complications. Aside from psychological situations, there are several physical conditions that can disrupt sleep cycles:
  1. Fever.
  2. Discomfort.
  3. Acid reflux.
  4. Abdominal fat.
  5. Thyroid problems.
  6. Respiratory problems.
  7. Vitamin D deficiency.
  8. High temperature in the room.
  9. Drinking fluids before bed, causing the need to urinate.

Recommendations

If you can’t go back to sleep when you wake up during the night, here are some recommendations:

  • Relax. This defuses anxiety and stress. Don’t worry about the ticking of the hands of the clock or about the sun that in a short time will be shining through the curtains. Keep calm. This means that your adrenaline levels won’t skyrocket. Remember that to rest you need these levels to be low.
  • Perform breathing exercises or meditation. If you’ve been awake for more than thirty minutes, you could practice breathing exercises or meditation. They’ll help you relax and combat negative and intrusive thoughts and, therefore, anxiety and stress.
  • Try not to turn on any screen. Don’t visit social networks. Leave your cell phone alone and try the exercises in the previous point. Remember that light from screens interferes with the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
  • Perform exercises or stretches that aren’t too demanding. This means your body, through motor skills, regulates itself, relaxes and prepares to begin the REM sleep phase.
  • Limit the consumption of stimulating drinks before bed, such as alcohol, caffeine, energy drinks, etc.
  • If you feel sleepy during the day, try to take naps only in the afternoon, not exceeding 30 minutes.
  • Be strict with your daily routine in order to respect your circadian rhythms. If your sleep cycles are inconsistent, they’ll be negatively affected. Go to bed and get up at a fixed time.
  • Get out in the sun to help your body produce vitamin D. Fifteen minutes of daily exposure is enough. The morning sun is the most favorable. In fact, avoid midday exposure due to the intensity of its rays.

Finally, if, after carrying out the above, you’re still waking up several times at night, don’t hesitate in consulting a specialist. The first thing they’ll do is to rule out an organic problem. If this is disregarded, a psychologist specializing in anxiety management can be really helpful. Finally, there are certain conditions that you may well have overlooked , such as thyroid, obsessive or depressive traits. For this reason, a professional diagnosis is essential.

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  • Cordero, A.; Lorenzo, D. & Muñoa, G. (2009). Los conocimientos sobre el sueño y los cuidados enfermeros para un buen descanso. Enfermería Global, 8(3), 1-18. https://acortar.link/wFGzdG.
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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.