7 Reasons You Wake Up at Night and How to Fix Them

Adult sleeping

When was the last time you slept through the night without waking up? According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleeping through the night is more common among children and teens, but adults typically wake up once or twice. If you are able to fall back asleep within a few minutes, great! It’s sweet dreams until the alarm goes off, the kids jump on the bed, or there’s a wet dog nose in your face.

You may, however, be among the millions of people who wake up more often or who find it difficult to go back to sleep once awake during the night. This is sometimes called middle of the night insomnia, and it can be caused by a multitude of factors. The good news is each of these situations can be remedied once you recognize them.

Read about 7 tips to sleep better tonight

Hot flashes

These intensely annoying and uncomfortable temperature changes can go on during the perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause years. Sometimes it can be so bad you need to change your sleepwear in the middle of the night. By then you are really awake!

How to fix it. Several herbal remedies may help reduce or even eliminate hot flashes, including black cohosh, valerian root, and licorice root. You can wear moisture-wicking PJs and put moisture wicking sheets on your bed. To help you stay cool, you can try a cooling pad (similar to a heating pad) under your sheets.

Hunger

If you had dinner at 6 or 7 PM and didn’t eat after that and you wake up around 2 or 3 AM and are very alert, you could be responding to low blood sugar and hunger. Your brain may be telling you it’s time to eat by revving up cortisol production, which in turn wakes you up. Your wake-up call may be accompanied by symptoms of hypoglycemia, such as sweating, shaking, confusion, and lightheadedness, so keep a fix by your bedside.

How to fix it. You should eat something, but what? Raw honey is one choice because it’s natural and helps to stabilize your blood sugar slowly. Other options include 100 percent fruit juice (diluted if desired), applesauce, or dried fruit. To avoid having to get out of bed (and thus increasing the chances of having trouble going back to sleep), keep one of these foods on your bedside table if mid-sleep hunger is a frequent problem.

Irregular sleep patterns

Do you burn the midnight oil more than one night a week, sleep in on the weekends, go to bed at random hours, and then find yourself getting sleepy during the day? If you follow an irregular sleep schedule, you can play havoc on your health.

How to fix it. Establish a regular bedtime and wake up schedule–it is critical for healthful sleep. As much as possible, adjust your routine so you go to bed and get up at about the same time every night and morning. Once you establish a pattern, your body will adjust and so will your sleep. Try drinking some almond milk before retiring, as it is a great source of calcium, which helps the brain make the sleep hormone, melatonin.

Read more about better sleep for your health

Pain

One of the more common painful conditions that can cause mid-sleep awakenings is menstrual cramps and associated pain. These can be accompanied by other annoying symptoms, such as night sweats. Others experience chronic pain, restless legs syndrome, temporary pain from excess exercise, fibromyalgia, or a headache.

How to fix it. Address the cause of pain before you go to bed, using natural remedies when at all possible. Depending on the pain, you may use a hot water bottle, feverfew for headaches and rheumatoid arthritis, turmeric for arthritis and heartburn, ginger for joint and muscle pain, or devil’s claw for lower back pain. Magnesium either orally or applied as an oil to the skin can relieve muscle as well as nerve pain. [Editor’s Note: Herb Pharm has a number of tinctures that support minor pain and sleep. Pure Essence Ionic Fizz ™ Magnesium is a magnesium powder that you add to some warm water and can have any time of the day, however, it may help ease muscle discomfort during the night and support a good nights sleep.]

Sleep apnea

More than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea, and millions more may not yet be diagnosed. Waking up in the middle of the night multiple times is a classic sign of sleep apnea, and it leaves those who live with this condition fatigued during the day.

How to fix it. You should be checked by a qualified health professional to determine the extent of your sleep apnea. Some doctors recommend using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine; there also are dental appliances that reposition the tongue and lower jaw to help improve breathing. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, not smoking, and avoiding alcohol. Sleeping on your side rather than your back can help significantly.

Stress

Many of us find it difficult if not impossible to turn off the stressors of the day once we hit the pillow. Even once we fall asleep, the stressors haunt us and can keep us awake during the night.

How to fix it. Fortunately, there are several effective measures you can take to help with sleep when it comes to stress. One is magnesium, which not only can help you get to sleep; it can also assist in deepening sleep and staying asleep during the night. This mineral prepares you for sleep by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes you. It also regulates melatonin, the hormone that guides your sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium also attaches to receptors of the neurotransmitter called GABA. 

You also might consider L-theanine supplements. This amino acid is in green tea leaves and can boost the level of calming neurotransmitters (e.g., GABA, serotonin, and dopamine) involved in regulating sleep. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, listening to tranquil music, and guided visualization are other suggestions to try if you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep due to stress.

Urination

The need to urinate more than one or two times a night likely means you are consuming too much liquid and/or caffeine before bedtime.

How to fix it. If you drink caffeinated beverages, you may need to stop them at least 8 hours before retiring. Limit other liquid consumption to just a few sips for several hours before bedtime. You will have to experiment to determine how much you can drink before bedtime to significantly reduce your need to pee during the night.

Sources
Bhatia J. Herbal remedies for natural pain relief. Everyday Health
Breus MJ. What you need to know about L-theanine. Psychology Today 2017 Aug 29
Breus MJ. 3 reasons you wake up at night. The Sleep Doctor 2018 Apr 28
National Sleep Foundation. How to wake up less frequently at night.
Teitelbaum J. Magnesium for pain relief. Psychology Today 2010 Sep 16
Uygun DS et al. Bottom-up versus top-down induction of sleep by zolpidem acting on histaminergic and neocortex neurons. Journal of Neuroscience 2016 Nov 2; 36(44): 11171-84
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Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently, she lives in Tucson, Arizona.