Ever tell someone you're having sleep issues only to be advised to just "relax?" After a night of restlessness, the last thing you probably want to hear is that five-letter word.
Lucky for you, there's a number of actionable things you can do tonight to bring an end to your late-night wake-up calls. Read on to learn the eight reasons why you're waking up in the middle of the night and how to get better sleep.
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1. You're Leaving Technology On
Your phone and TV screens emit blue light, a spectrum of light that's beneficial during the day, as it promotes wakefulness, but disruptive in the evening, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
At night, staring at blue light can suppress your body's sleep hormone production (aka melatonin), affecting your sleep cycle and ability to stay asleep. Even more simply, though, late-night text messages or phone calls may be the reason you're stirring after bedtime.
Fix it: As the sun sets, dim the lights in your home, per Harvard Health Publishing. Shut off all technology about two to three hours before bed and silence your phone to prevent disturbances.
2. You're Drinking Water Too Late in the Day
Being told to drink less water on a health website sounds like an oxymoron, but in this case, it's not. While you don't want to minimize how much you're drinking in total, try not to sip too much right before you hit the hay, says sleep disorder specialist Sonja Gabriele Schuetz, MD, or you might find yourself making frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.
Fix it: Drink a majority of your beverages during the day time and minimize your intake before bed. If you continue to see issues with using the bathroom in the middle of the night, you may need to see a doctor.
3. You Have a Prostate Issue
For people assigned male at birth, waking up night after night to use the bathroom could be a sign of potential prostate issues, says sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD, author of The Power of When.
An enlarged prostate can weaken the bladder over time, making it more difficult to push back trips to the bathroom even while you're asleep, per the Simon Foundation for Continence.
Fix it: Especially if you have other symptoms of an enlarged prostate, such as an urgent or frequent need to urinate, difficulty starting to urinate, a weak urine stream or one that stops and starts, the inability to fully empty your bladder or dribbling after urinating, make an appointment with your doctor or a urologist.
4. It's Your Caffeine or Nicotine Habit
You're probably aware that you shouldn't drink a cup of coffee before bed. But actually, you should avoid any kind of caffeine at least 10 hours before bedtime, according to the Mayo Clinic. Caffeine not only makes it harder to fall asleep, but it can also make your sleep inconsistent.
Caffeine is at its strongest about an hour after your cup of coffee, per Harvard Health Publishing. After that, about 50 percent is eliminated every four to six hours. So, if you drink a full cup of coffee six hours before bedtime, you'll still have about half the caffeine in your body when your head hits the pillow.
Smoking cigarettes may be another reason you're struggling to sleep. Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant that can make it harder to stay asleep, according to You Can Quit 2, an educational Defense Department platform.
Fix it: Avoid drinking coffee at least 10 hours before bedtime, and try to keep any smoking to daylight hours, too. (Better yet, consider this one more reason to quit smoking altogether.)
5. You're Eating Too Late in the Day
While a late-night dinner is OK every now and again, eating right before bed isn't doing your sleep any favors, Dr. Schuetz says. A big meal before bed is taxing on the digestive system, making it harder to get some quality rest.
When it comes to waking up in the middle of the night, the specific foods you eat matter, too. Avoid spicy ingredients at least three hours before bedtime, as these can cause heartburn throughout the night, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Spicy foods can even worsen sleep apnea symptoms (more on that below).
High-fat and high-protein foods are harder for your body to break down as well, so a plate of steak and fries may be a recipe for late-night wakings.
Fix it: Avoid alcohol and heavy meals several hours before bed. If a late-night snack is necessary, choose foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, like whole-wheat toast or oatmeal, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
6. It's Alcohol's Fault
You can add alcohol to the list of foods and beverages to avoid before bed, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly at first, but it can wake you up in the most important sleep stages as you sober up.
Fix it: Avoid alcohol for several hours before bed. And keep in mind that you should be sticking to one or two drinks a day max, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
7. Your Sleep Environment Is Less Than Ideal
Alongside your TV or smartphone, there are a few things in your bedroom that may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
For one, the temperature of your bedroom may not be cool enough for sleep. A bedroom that's too warm (above 67 degrees Fahrenheit) may be the reason you're waking throughout the night, as it can disrupt your rapid eye movement (REM) cycle, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Also, try your best to keep your bed or bedroom for sleep only, even when you wake up in the middle of the night, says Dr. Schuetz. Avoid bringing your work laptop into the bedroom and keep your reading in the living room.
"It's important that your mind associates your bed with sleep," she says. "Take a look around your bedroom: You want it to be quiet, comfortable, dark and not too warm or too cold."
Fix it: "Don’t eat, work, watch TV or play on your phone in bed," Dr. Schuetz says. "If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in bed. It’s better to get up and do something relaxing, and only return to bed when you’re really sleepy." A few hours before bed, adjust the temperature to sit somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees, per the Cleveland Clinic. Keep your laptop out of bed and dim the lights.
8. You May Have Sleep Apnea
"A common cause of waking up in the middle of the night is undiagnosed sleep apnea," Dr. Schuetz says. "If you wake up snoring, choking, gasping or short of breath, you should tell your doctor because you may have sleep apnea."
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder in which your breathing repeatedly starts and stops, causing snoring, daytime fatigue and difficulty staying asleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. This condition is caused by the muscles in the back of your throat, which make it difficult to breathe once they relax. If you know you snore and have tried snoring remedies with little success, you should get checked for sleep apnea.
Often, people living with obesity, people who smoke and those with a family history of sleep issues are at higher risk of developing sleep apnea, per the Mayo Clinic. Nasal congestion and pre-existing health conditions are common causes as well.
Fix it: If any of these symptoms apply to you, it's probably best to consult a doctor. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, a professional can provide machines that help open your airways and promote good sleep.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Blue Light Has a Dark Side"
- Simon Foundation for Continence: "Nocturia — Nighttime Trips to the Bathroom"
- Mayo Clinic: "What Are Your Sleep Busters?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Buzz About Caffeine and Health"
- You Can Quit 2: "Sleep Better Without Nicotine"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Better Sleep: 3 Simple Diet Tweaks"
- Cleveland Clinic: "What Is the Ideal Sleeping Temperature for My Bedroom?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Sleep Apnea"
- Mayo Clinic: "Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): Symptoms and Causes"
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.