why do I fall asleep and suddenly wake up?
Sleep Problems

Why Do I Keep Waking Up in The Middle of The Night?

Last Updated on September 2, 2023 by Louise Carter

The human body thrives on 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but interrupted sleep isn’t as beneficial.

Many of us endure unwelcome interruptions to our sleep, leaving us tired and sluggish in the morning. Constant waking up in the middle of the night is called “fitful sleep” or “broken sleep.”

Explanations for fitful sleep include an unbalanced sleep-waking routine, sharing a bed with a noisy or active partner or pet, the wrong room temperature, or feeling stressed and anxious.

If you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, you’ll feel bad in the morning. Broken sleep leads to irritability, difficulty focusing and recalling short-term memory, and a weaker immune system.

Is it Normal To Wake Up in The Middle of the Night?

Waking up at night is frustrating, but it’s normal. As the body goes through different sleep cycles, we wake up and fall asleep again. This is a problem if only half the process has been completed.

If we wake up and don’t fall asleep again, we experience broken sleep. The journal Sleep explains that disrupted rest harms our physical and mental well-being and is linked to depression.

If you wake up regularly at night, don’t accept another night of tossing and turning before a groggy morning wake-up call.

What Does It Mean When You Wake Up Around The Same Time Every Night?

Some people find that waking up at night always happens at a set time. Whether it’s 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM, or any other time, the body rouses itself from sleep at the same point.

This could be due to an external factor. For example, you may have a noisy roommate or a neighbor who works shifts and slams their car door when leaving at 3 AM.

If this isn’t why you prematurely wake up, the body has developed a bad habit. If you suddenly become alert at 3 AM, explore the possible explanations.

wake up at night and can't go back to sleep

Why Do I Fall Asleep And Suddenly Wake Up?

Even during high-quality, uninterrupted sleep, the body goes through 3 disparate cycles. Initially, you’ll start to doze off. The transition from waking up to sleeping is known as “light sleep.”

During this time, the heart rate slows, the mind calms, and the muscles relax. Equally, you can wake with a start if touched or exposed to loud noise. Around 50% of all sleep is light sleep.

After a while, the body moves toward “deep sleep.” This is when you’re fast asleep, possibly snoring, and it takes some effort to rouse or wake up.

Deep sleep comprises around 15-20% of our sleeping time, during which the body repairs itself.

The remainder of our time in bed is “REM sleep,” during which we dream. The body will follow a cycle of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Then, it’ll repeat.

The body is only in a deep sleep for 90 minutes. This means you can be easily roused for much of your sleep. You must structure sleep around potential disruptions.

Why Can’t I Fall Asleep After Waking Up in The Night?

One of the frustrating aspects of broken sleep is falling asleep after waking up. “Sleep maintenance insomnia” is responsible for fitful sleep patterns.

The Journal of Psychiatric Research links this problem with other health concerns.

What Causes Broken Sleep?

There are many explanations for waking up at night. Review these common reasons for broken sleep and determine why you don’t enjoy uninterrupted rest:

Unbalanced Circadian Rhythm

Our circadian rhythms govern sleep cycles, which is a body clock influenced by our surroundings. The body is conditioned to wake when the sun rises and grow tired when darkness begins to descend.

However, our circadian rhythms don’t always match the clock.

If you work shifts, you may find your schedule and instincts are at odds regarding sleep. Jetlag from changing time zones is another example of an unbalanced circadian rhythm.

We can train our bodies to accept changes to circadian rhythms, but it takes time and patience. If you’re not keeping conventional sleeping hours, you must establish a sleeping and waking routine.

Inappropriate Temperature

Do you wake up sweating at night? If so, you’re likely sleeping in a too-hot room. 65 degrees Fahrenheit is considered the optimum ambient temperature when sleeping.

This may sound cold, but that’s a positive because our body temperature drops while asleep. As a result, a colder room tells the body that it’s bedtime and you should be resting and repairing.

You may initially feel comfortable in a hotter room, but you’re likely to wake up as your temperature remains high. Keep the temperature appropriate and consider your nightwear.

Thick flannel pajamas in the summer will interrupt sleep. Also, wearing socks to bed will cause the feet to sweat, increasing the likelihood of smelly feet, dry skin, and foot fungus.

Sharing a Bed

There are advantages to sharing a bed with a partner, child, or pet. Proximity strengthens the bond between humans (and animals) and provides additional body heat and security.

Alas, there are many instances where sharing a bed can lead to lower quality, broken sleep.

For example, a partner that snores will likely wake you up. If you wake your partner to stop the noise, they’ll also experience broken sleep.

Some people or pets are active while they sleep, prone to kicking and flailing. If sharing a bed interrupts your ability to get uninterrupted sleep, it’s time to rethink your sleeping arrangements.

Stress and Anxiety

Do you wake up anxious in the middle of the night, questioning if you’ve turned off the stove or locked the door before bed? If so, this points to a stress that prevents you from sleeping well.

Nightmares are a common symptom of nocturnal anxiety. If you awaken with a jolt, covered in sweat, and feeling uncomfortable, there’s every chance a nightmare was to blame.

Just because you don’t remember a dream doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

According to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, there’s a difference between nightmares and bad dreams. In adults, nightmares are often linked to mental or subconscious stress.

You won’t benefit from uninterrupted sleep until stress and anxiety are under control. The mind needs to relax to sleep, and it can’t do so if it’s still churning through concerns.

Health Complaints and Prescription Meds

Are you constantly waking up to pee at night? Do you find yourself experiencing pain in your joints? Do you struggle for breath or otherwise feel unwell?

If so, a health concern may be interrupting your sleep. You may not notice the symptoms amid a busy day of work and family commitments. At night, there’s no way to ignore them.

Almost all prescription drugs have side effects, ranging from minor to major. Do the side effects include insomnia, body temperature fluctuations, shortness of breath, or nausea?

If so, the body is waking you up as a precaution. If your medication is a long-term prescription, consult a doctor and discuss a potential modification. Unfortunately, all meds have side effects.

constant waking up during the night

Lifestyle

The body and brain need time to relax and unwind before you can enjoy uninterrupted sleep.

Are you consuming excessive caffeine or alcohol during the day and night? Are you using electrical appliances immediately before bed? Are you eating late at night?

If you’re flooding your mind with stimulation, it’ll be unable to shut down fully.

How To Break the Cycle of Waking Up in The Middle of the Night

To avoid broken sleep, you must enter a positive routine. There are steps you can take to make this happen. Consider the following strategies:

  • As caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, avoid caffeinated beverages in the afternoon or evening.
  • Be mindful of your diet, especially in the evening. According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, sugar and saturated fats are linked to broken sleep.
  • Spend at least 30 minutes decompressing from your day before bed. Avoid screen time.
  • Set the temperature in your bedroom to 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Get blackout curtains or blinds to eliminate light pollution, or use earplugs or a white noise generator to mask external noise.
  • Follow a sleep schedule. If you have a night of broken sleep, don’t attempt to compensate the next day with naps or lie-ins. Keep progressing with your day and seek interrupted sleep.

Consider biphasic sleep, which involves dozing in 2 x 4-hour blocks. According to Progress in Brain Research, this can be beneficial but ensures the body has enough time to adapt and repair.

Biphasic sleep can signify cognitive decline, but it’s preferable to the effects of sleep deprivation.

Everyone experiences broken sleep occasionally, but don’t allow it to become an accepted routine. Practice good sleep hygiene to ensure you get sufficient uninterrupted sleep.