Understanding and Overcoming Midnight Wake-Ups: A Guide to Restful Nights

Understanding and Overcoming Midnight Wake-Ups: A Guide to Restful Nights

Have you ever found yourself abruptly awake in the middle of the night, wondering why sleep eludes you? You’re not alone. Midnight awakenings are a common phenomenon that can disrupt our sleep patterns and leave us feeling fatigued the next day. But what causes these interruptions, and how can we tackle them effectively?

The founder of Lumos, Dr. Biquan Luo, was interviewed by Fox News (Sleep interrupted: What to do, and what not to do, when you wake up and can’t drift back off). In the interview, she talked about Dos and Don’ts when waking up in the middle of the night. Here are the highlights:


Common reasons people wake up at night

People wake up at night for various reasons. Some of the common ones include:

  • stress and anxiety
  • discomfort or pain
  • need to use the bathroom
  • environment disruptions such as noise, movement, feeling too hot or too cold
  • sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome
  • disruption of the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle

If you don’t know why you wake up, time to look at your circadian clock

Waking up in the middle of the night can happen when our body’s internal clock and our sleep schedule don’t quite match up, causing sleep to occur out of sync with the time when the body is the most inclined to sleep.

Our sleep is governed by two key factors: early in the night, it’s the buildup of sleep pressure, our body’s need for rest, that helps us both fall and stay asleep. Later in the night, our internal clock, known as circadian signaling, plays a crucial role in maintaining sleep. Ideally, these work together to keep us asleep. But if sleep pressure fades before the circadian signal fully kicks in, it might lead to waking up at night. If you’re unsure why you’re waking up during the night, you may look into adjusting your internal clock to see if it helps reduce these interruptions.


A Strategy for Returning to Sleep

  1. Avoid time-reading: When you wake up in the middle of the night, avoid reaching for your phone or looking at the clock.
  2. Stay in bed and relax: First see if you can fall back asleep. You can try techniques like progressive relaxation, breathing exercises, white noise machines, and other methods that may help you relax.
  3. Get out of bed: If you can’t fall back asleep after an estimated 10-15 minutes, it’s time to get up. This is to disassociate the bed with activities other than sleep.
  4. Low-Stimulation Activities: Engage in a quiet, low-stimulation activity such as reading a book or doing a calming activity until you feel sleepy again, then return to bed. If you don’t feel sleepy enough to go back to bed, just get up and start your day.

    What are the biggest mistakes people make when they wake up in the middle of the night?

    Checking the time after waking up in the middle of the night will increase the difficulty of falling back asleep. Checking the time can increase stress and make it harder to sleep. Additionally, if you check the time from your phone, the contents from the phone may be too stimulating, which further prevents you from relaxing and falling asleep.  


    How to reduce waking up in the middle of the night?

    If you have a specific reason that leads to you waking up at night, first address that reason:

    • If it’s sleep environment, try creating a dark, quiet, cool bedroom to promote best sleep;
    • If you need to use the bathroom, try avoid drinking water a few hours before bed;
    • If discomfort wakes you up, try getting comfortable pillows and mattresses, or invest in temperature-regulating beddings.
    • If you are stressed, practice stress-reducing techniques, such as journaling, yoga, or mindfulness, to ease your mind before bedtime.

    If you cannot pinpoint any specific reasons for the night-time awakening, there are a few things you can do to increase your sleep pressure and get your circadian rhythm more aligned with your sleep schedules:

    • Limit Naps: If you nap during the day, keep it less than 20-30 minutes and avoid napping too close to bedtime.
    • Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, to regulate your body’s internal clock.
    • Get light exposure: Utilizing the most natural and powerful regulator of the circadian clock: light. You can get natural light exposure, a light box, or other light therapy devices such as the Lumos Mask.

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