Healthy Living

published : 2023-12-10

Sleep interrupted: What to do, and what not to do, when you wake up and can’t drift back off

A sleep expert shares smart tips on how to handle slumber disruptions

An image of a person peacefully sleeping in a comfortable bed, demonstrating the importance of a good night's rest. (Taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T7i)

Anyone who has ever woken up in the middle of the night and struggled to go back to sleep knows the toll insomnia can take the following day.

According to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 17% of adults had trouble staying asleep most days or every day of the past month.

Dr. Biquan Luo, a San Francisco sleep expert and CEO of LumosTech, shared some of the reasons and remedies for waking up at night.

Luo highlighted various reasons for sleep disruption, including stress and anxiety, discomfort or pain, and environmental factors such as noise, movement, and temperature extremes.

Sleep disorders like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can also cause nocturnal awakenings.

"Disruption of the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle" can further contribute to fragmented sleep, added Luo.

When waking up in the middle of the night, Luo recommends initially staying in bed, trying to relax, and attempting to fall back asleep.

A person practicing progressive relaxation techniques, lying in a serene setting, surrounded by nature. (Taken with a Nikon D850)

To promote relaxation, Luo suggests trying techniques like progressive relaxation, breathing exercises, and utilizing white noise machines.

If falling back asleep doesn't happen within 10 to 15 minutes, Luo advises getting out of bed.

To facilitate falling back asleep, she advises going to a quiet and comfortable place at home, engaging in a low-stimulation activity like reading or calming pursuits, and returning to bed once feeling sleepy again.

Luo warns against the habit of checking the time or turning to electronic devices when sleep is interrupted.

According to Luo, checking the time can increase stress levels and make it harder to return to sleep.

Waking up in the middle of the night may occur due to misalignment between the body's internal clock and sleep schedule.

To adjust the circadian rhythm, timed exposure to bright light can be beneficial.

An image of a person using a white noise machine to create a calming ambiance for better sleep. (Taken with a Sony Alpha a7 III)

Two factors play crucial roles in maintaining sleep: sleep pressure and circadian signaling.

Ideally, these two factors work together to keep individuals asleep.

Luo suggests adjusting the internal clock if unsure about the cause of nocturnal awakenings.

Practices like waking up at the same time daily, using bright light exposure, altering meal times, taking melatonin supplements, exercising at different times, and consuming moderate caffeine in the morning can help regulate the circadian rhythm.

Overall, understanding the reasons behind sleep disturbances and employing strategies to handle them can lead to improved sleep quality and daytime well-being.