How I Cope With My Middle Of The Night Wakings

image of a bedside clock and light being turned on

How often do you wake up in the depths of the night? Do you roll over and soon fall asleep again, or does your busy mind have other ideas?

The best time to be worrying about life’s trials and tribulations probably isn’t at 4 a.m. in the dark.

But it happens. Again and again and again…

Whatever the initial reason is that you woke up, worrying about it happening can keep you awake even longer. It’s a vicious circle that I used to find myself stuck in several times a week.

And even though I still regularly wake up long before the dawn chorus, I’ve developed some effective coping strategies.

This type of sleep disturbance is sometimes called sleep maintenance insomnia. It can be frustrating and lead to sleep deprivation, which as you may already know only too well, is far from ideal for your overall well-being.

For me, it was reading a fascinating new perspective about late-night wakings not necessarily being such a bad thing that helped me stay calmer when it happened.

The idea is to accept that it just happens to some people. Understand and accept that you can still get enough sleep to be at your best. And learn to fill that waking time better, rather than ruin the rest of your sleep through stressing about it.

I’ll be looking at that theory in more detail later in the article. But first, I think it’s useful to first go over some of the main reasons people tend to wake up.

As much as accepting it can help in some circumstances, there are also many causes for nocturnal wakings that can either be fixed with simple adjustments to your life, or that require medical treatment.

If none of those apply to you though, perhaps the later section will prove as useful to you as it did to me.


Why do we wake up in the night unexpectedly?

Your nocturnal wakings might be caused by an underlying condition or lifestyle choice. Identifying that cause and dealing with it appropriately might help you sleep in longer blocks.

Some causes can be addressed yourself with self-help or lifestyle changes. Others might need the help of a medical professional.

Let’s take a look at some possible explanations:

1. A sleep disorder

Some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can cause nocturnal wakings. If you, or anyone else, notice any irregularity with your breathing in the night or you snore loudly, it’s important to speak to your doctor.

The sleep disorder narcolepsy, which causes people to fall asleep uncontrollably during the day can lead to waking randomly too. If this happens to you, it’s important to seek medical advice.

While some people will wake up from time to time, for others it can be a sign of insomnia. If it’s a chronic problem for you, and affecting your life, then it’s a good idea to practice good sleep hygiene and speak to your doctor about it.

2. An underlying mental health issue, anxiety or stress

There’s a range of mental health issues which can lead to sleep problems. People who suffer from anxiety or stress, for example, can have disturbed sleep. And when that flurry of thoughts and worries arrives, it can be hard to fall asleep again.

3. Needing to go to the bathroom

There are several reasons why you may need to wake up to use the toilet, such as:

  • Drinking too much liquid before bed.
  • Men with an enlarged prostate.
  • Diabetes.
  • Overactive bladder or bladder prolapse.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Some medications.

If you struggle to control your bladder at night or during the day, it might be worth asking your doctor to check for an underlying condition. It might also help to stop drinking liquids in the two to three hours before bed.

4. Alcohol

Alcohol can trigger wakings for several reasons:

  • Alcohol withdrawal can wake you up, particularly if you drink heavily on a regular basis.
  • Excessive liquid can lead to the need to run to the bathroom.
  • Alcohol is thought to disrupt your normal sleep patterns.

5. Noise

Whether it’s a partner snoring, sleep talking, grinding their teeth, or the traffic outside rumbling away, noise can disrupt many people’s sleep.

It’s a huge problem for me personally. And despite the existence of a myriad of clever ways to block out noise, for me, simple foam earplugs are usually the most effective.

If this is an issue for you, you might find it useful to read my other tips for reducing bedroom noise.

6. Hunger, thirst, and indigestion

Hunger, thirst, and indigestion can all cause problems at night. For some people, it might help to have a little to drink before bed, but only enough to keep you hydrated – not so much that it contradicts what I said in point 3 too much!

Try to eat your main meal earlier in the day and only have a light snack before bed if you’re hungry. And if you have eaten a heavy or rich meal before bed, perhaps eat a yogurt or take a calcium-based tablet to stave off any indigestion problems.

7. Bad dreams or other parasomnias

Children and adults alike can be woken up by nightmares or other disturbing events in their sleep. If this is an issue for you, it might help to read my article about nightmares.

8. You change shift or time zone

It’s very common for shift workers to have problems with their sleep. Doctors, nurses, pilots, flight attendants, and frequent international business travelers, to name just a few, will know how hard it can be to quickly adjust to a change in their shift, time zone, or sleep patterns.

There’s plenty of self-help advice available for shift workers. One good starting point is the UCLA website, which has a useful guide for shift workers.


Could waking up in the night be part of a normal sleeping pattern?

Let’s go back to the point I made at the start of the article. Is it really so bad to wake up in the night, as long as you manage to get enough sleep overall?

Back in the 1990s, the psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted a study in which he kept participants in darkness for 14 hours a day for one month.

This was to follow as closely as possible the natural cycle of day and night, where we experience 14 hours of darkness on an average day (depending on where and when you live).

Once they had managed to establish a sleep pattern, it became evident that they would sleep for 3-5 hours, then wake up for 1-3 hours. After that, they would sleep again for another 3-5 hours.

It appeared that their natural sleep cycle was to wake up in the night, but not at the cost of less sleep overall.

Before electricity

light bulbs in the night

An interesting point of view is that before electricity was harnessed, many people probably had more time available for sleeping at night. And the natural reaction to the long, dark night was to have segmented sleep.

The hours of darkness have greatly reduced in the modern world due to the availability of lighting, as well as an ever-increasing drive towards efficiency.

So in our fast-paced day and age, we’ve compressed how much time we allow for sleep and try to get it all done in one block.

Wehr’s study showed that people might prefer to sleep in two phases though. So if you have an inability to sleep through the night, perhaps all is not lost.

This theory is further backed up in a book published in 2005 by the historian Roger Ekirch (At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past).

Nighttime wakings throughout history

Ekirch’s book contains hundreds of references to historical descriptions across the globe of sleeping in two phases.

From the authors Homer, Dickens and Cervantes to medieval medical books and anthropological reports of the Tiv tribe in Nigeria, it’s a fascinating account.

There are descriptions of people doing varied activities in the early hours of the morning, such as relaxing, talking, reading and writing. Some would get out of bed to practise their religious beliefs, visit family or neighbors; others would try to conceive.

Curiously, Ekirch notes that the term ‘sleep maintenance insomnia’ first appeared during the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th Century. And that’s also when references to segmented sleep all but disappeared.

It’s okay if you wake up for a while

Sleep psychologist Greg Jacobs agrees that it’s normal for people to wake up in the night. And that this was how we slept naturally until recently.

He’s joined by a growing number of scientists who believe that it might even be counterproductive to believe you must get a solid seven hours’ sleep, every night. This expectation could cause anxiety, panic and stress when your sleep doesn’t go according to plan.

Jacobs suggests that the short waking during the night could have been an important time for people to regulate stress. In the dark hours, they were forced into a period of relaxation and meditation.

So what can we learn from this idea of sleeping in two phases? The first thing to take away is the concept of not worrying about sleeping right through the night.

As long as you have enough sleep either side of this period, my view is that it doesn’t matter if you spend some time awake at 3 a.m. – especially if the quantity and quality of sleep are not having an adverse effect on your day-to-day life.

So perhaps it’s time to decide what to do with that time you spend awake.


What to do during that time awake?

So what should you do with this quiet time? Well, that’s up to you to decide. But I’d recommend an activity which is relaxing, calm and not overstimulating. It’s probably not the best time to check in on work, play Fortnite on your phone or watch a horror movie.

Here are some ideas to try:

  • Relaxation exercises
  • Quiet, calm reflection
  • Meditation
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Practice your religious belief
  • Gentle yoga
  • Mindfulness exercises
  • Listen to the radio or a quiet podcast (my personal favorite is ‘Get Sleepy’)
  • Just spend time enjoying how comfortable your bed is, how warm and safe you feel. Focus your attention on how nice it feels to be tucked up in bed.

The key is to spend your wake time positively, doing or thinking about something that makes you feel good. Don’t just lie there and expect your brain to be quiet and switch off – it doesn’t always play nicely!

The main point for me personally is not let yourself get stressed. As long as it’s not impacting your quality of life or your well-being, don’t worry if your sleep doesn’t seem to follow a ‘perfect’ pattern.

This worked for me, and I hope it helps you too!

When to seek medical advice

Despite my focus on acceptance in this article, if you’re worried that waking up regularly and for long periods of time is impacting on your life and well-being, please talk to your doctor about it. They might decide to check for an underlying sleep disorder or medical condition.

If they think that you have a form of insomnia that needs treating, they might prescribe medication. But it may be that they discuss good sleep habits with you or suggest specialist therapy to help with your sleep.

Your thoughts

Are you awake in the night more often that you would like to be? What do you do to cope with it? Please share your thoughts in the comment below.

102 thoughts on “How I Cope With My Middle Of The Night Wakings”

  1. I wonder if there is a genetic link to maintenance insomnia. I used to sleep like the proverbial log from childhood up to around the age of 25. Thereafter I began waking after about 6 hours or so. This may have had to do with having to get up fairly early for work, maybe some anxiety about being late. I don’t really know. Now I am 4 years into retirement and have no need to rise before 7 or 8 am, I nevertheless still wake around 5-6 hours after falling asleep. I have tried various things: melatonin, milky drinks/bananas before bed. I exercise regularly, usually in the mornings and get some sunshine, and am pretty fit for my age. I rarely have trouble getting off to sleep although it can sometimes take 30 minutes or so. I remember my father used to wake early, creep downstairs and make tea and have a snack while reading. I don’t know when it started with him but he continued this way even after moving into a care home. He lived to the age of 93!
    I read recently that researchers believe there may be a small proportion of the human population who can function perfectly normally on just 5 hours sleep a day.

  2. I developed tinnitus a year ago following an ear infection . Now I sleep for three hours wake up ,am awake for two hours, and then sleep for a further two .I feel perfectly refreshed the next day.

    1. Hi Rob
      Thanks for sharing your experience – it’s interesting to hear from someone who is sleeping in two phases with a long gap in between. What do you do in that two hours out of interest?
      Regards
      Ethan

  3. If you have slept for 5 hours already and you wake up and could not sleep anymore chances are you don’t need it anymore so just continue to lie down and relax don’t worry about it.

    1. Hi Raul
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think there are many people who only need 5 hours on a regular basis. But you’re right about not worrying about it – trying to relax and just enjoy the comfortable feeling of being in bed and not dwelling on being awake is much better than stressing about it.
      Regards
      Ethan

  4. I almost always wake up in the middle of the night. However, I found a perfect way to fall back to sleep: I just say the single word, “black”, focus on black areas (eyes closed), and I’m out! It works every single time. I think it has to do with quieting a noisy brain. Thank you for confirming that it’s okay to not sleep through the night.

    1. Hi Peggy
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad the article provided some comfort. That technique interestingly sounds like an NLP theory someone told me about once – where you basically imagine blackness and ‘nothingness’.
      Regards
      Ethan

    2. That’s actually a form of meditation. Repeating a one syllable word while blocking out all other thoughts. The one syllable word is called a mantra. Meditation is really good for you. It’s a relaxation technique that alleviates stess. Helping you to fall asleep is another benefit.

  5. I definitely believe in 2 phases of sleep. Yes sometimes it is hard for me to get back to sleep as all the things I need to do are foremost when I wake. I find that trying to think of something quite bland helps put me back to sleep. Such as trying to recite all the roads on the housing estate where I lived as a child gives my brain the distraction it needs to fall back to sleep. Its a bit like counting sheep but involves a bit more thought and so more distraction.

    1. Hi Richard
      Thanks for your comment. You’re right in that the mind tends to start thinking when you wake up in the night. But keeping calm and doing something relaxing, or bland as you suggest, is a good way to stop anxiety about being awake from developing, and fall asleep again.
      Regards
      Ethan

  6. Would it be ok to work out (weight training) if one wakes up at 3AM?

    Why toss and turn in bed when you can do something, right?

    1. Hi Al
      Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if there is any science to back up what would happen! But I imagine it would wake you up too much to sleep again, unless perhaps you find a good workout knocks you out!
      Regards
      Ethan

  7. Good article.

    I would add this: if you are not able to fall back asleep, I suggest the “eyes locked shut” method. This means that no matter how awake you are, keep your eyes CLOSED. Do not open them up under any circumstance. Keeping your eyes closed sends a message to the brain that it’s time to sleep. If you keep them closed, stay calm, and be patient, you will fall asleep.

    1. Hi Joey
      Thanks for your comment, and compliment. I like your suggestion, and I think it’s definitely worth trying when you first wake up. Perhaps if you then become frustrated, it might be better to get up. But if you can keep the eyes shut and try to relax and go back to sleep, it’s worth a shot before taking more dramatic action.
      Regards
      Ethan

  8. Hlo sir,I wake up in the night around 3pm,sound disturbs me and my heart sinking for 2 seconds and butterfly feeling in my abdomen and chest,all starts for 1 month,what happened to me.

    1. Hi Arun
      Thanks for your comment. Does it happen at any other time of the day? And how long do you feel that way before you return to normal? If you’re worried about your heart, and have anything unusual happening, it’s a good idea to mention it to your doctor, just to be on the safe side.
      Regards
      Ethan

      1. Sir,only in the night at 3 a.m but when i take relaxation medicine in the night then all well…sir when i sleep broken then all well after 3-4 seconds but after that my sleep broke again and again…sir plz help me

        1. Hi Arun
          I really couldn’t say what it might be – there are various possible things that can create this type of feeling. If you’re concerned about it, the best approach is to ask your personal doctor for their opinion.
          Regards
          Ethan

      2. Happens with me too. I felt this was a case of panic attack or low blood sugar. It went off on its own.. de stresss if your thoughts are racing. If you feel a lil scared iris panic attack. It’s not too abnormal or something to be scared of. Slow down in life and make yourself happy.

  9. Interesting article! I recently started waking up around 3AM/4AM and noticed it gives me time to get some reading done that I normally wouldn’t have time for during the daylight hours. I usually go back to sleep within an hour or two and wake up feeling pretty rested. On nights when I drink beer, that’s a whole other issue!

    1. Hi Josh
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m pleased you liked the article. It sounds like you already have a good way of dealing with the nightly wakings, which is great. If you can see it in a positive way, and make use of that time, I think that’s a good way to deal with it.
      Regards
      Ethan

  10. Hi!
    I’m 23 and I have not slept through the night fully in about 12-13 years. Every night, without fail, I wake up at least 4 times, sometimes more. Sometimes I can’t get back to sleep and I am awake from the early hours of the morning. Most often I also cannot get to sleep easily (over an hour) and sometimes cannot sleep at all.
    I’ve tried sleeping tablets such as temazepam and have doubled the dosage without little or no effect (maybe getting to sleep a little easier, but not staying asleep).
    Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Stacey
      Thanks for your comment. I can imagine it must be very frustrating to have suffered from such bad sleep problems for so long. Have you ever had a sleep study done to get a proper assessment of your sleep problems? Other than that, the best suggestion I have is to really get stuck into learning all the different positive sleep habits the experts recommend. If you haven’t done already, have a read of my article about good sleep habits, and also the article where I describe how I personally dealt with insomnia.
      Regards
      Ethan

    2. One thing that works for me is a little melatonin. You have to be careful with it though, it’s not a drug, it’s a hormone that all living things produce. It’s what tells our body when it’s time to sleep but our bodies can get messed up pretty easily. If you are sleeping but at the wrong time, your body is producing enough melatonin but at the wrong time.

      The proper dosage is key to making it work right. Most brands aren’t very good, there’s only one that I trust. It’s called Solgar. I only get the 5 mg tablets then cut the pill so that I just take a little bit of powder. It might sound strange to get a high dose pill and cut it rather than getting a lower dose pill but this is the only way I’ve found to ensure the strength of the melatonin. I put it under my tongue about 30 minutes before I want to fall asleep. You may sleep well for about 4 hours, then wake up. DO NOT take more at this time. Just keep repeating this pattern every night for about 4 to 7 days until your body starts feeling sleepy at that time of night without taking anything. You are training your body when to produce melatonin at the right time. You also want to make sure you are in a dimly lit room when you take melatonin and in the evening thereafter before you want to fall asleep. You will become sensitive to light, light at this time will really irritate you.

      It’s also important to practice good sleep hygiene.

      Now that I’m older I find I need to do this periodically if I’m not getting lots of exercise. I call it my pixie dust.

  11. Hi Ethan

    Nice article. I just wanted to share my experience. I am in my early 40s now and for many years I have woken up at night , normally once and always for the loo. I have always struggled to fall back to sleep afterwards as I do at the beginning of my night sleep too. Now recently , I was working for a few months out of town and so arranged accommodation. This was en-suit with the loo being literally behind a door next to my bed. It was a small room. I found that even though I was still waking up like clockwork for the loo between 3-4am I was falling back to sleep much quicker and often without issues. When I moved back home I reverted back to my old problem of taking ages to fall asleep after night visit to the loo. I think as crazy as this may sound one work around for people in this situation is to try and have their loo as close as poss to bedroom. I think the shorter time to visit the loo etc is really crucial. I think by literally limiting the time you are up to go toilet is a big factor as the longer the visit to the loo takes the more awake you become.

    Thanks
    Ahmed

    1. Hi Ahmed
      Thanks for your comment. I think that rather than thinking about it in terms of distance, perhaps more important is the exposure to light. The difference between walking 3 meters and 5-10 isn’t much really, comparing how long that takes with how long you’ll still spend once you get to the toilet. But an important thing is not to turn on bright lights. I have a dimmer on my toilet light, and always turn it right down before I turn it on if I get up in the night. I also point my bedside lamp downwards before going to sleep, so if I do wake up, the light needed to walk around the house doesn’t shock my brain with it’s brightness.
      Regards
      Ethan

      1. Hi Ethan

        Thanks for your thoughts on that. It’s interesting but I haven’t thought about it in terms of exposure to light. My house is a pretty bright one especially in summer. I will see how I can minimise exposure to light during a loo visit.

        Cheers
        Ahmed

  12. I was diagnosed with OSA recently. Finally feeling more energy during the day and getting into a routine. Many of these issues came to light when I returned from Seoul, Korea around early January. My jet lag was hardcore, and I couldn’t sleep longer than 4 hours at a time. Before that period, I always slept wonderfully and deeply. These days, I get blips of deep sleep, but quite segmented. If I am lucky, I can sleep for a consecutive 4-5 hours, but usually 2-3 hours. My average night goes like this. In bed by 10-1030 pm, once I am tired. Then 2-3 hours later, I will wake up. I have trained myself to fall back asleep within 5-10 minutes (20 minutes on bad nights). 2-3 hours later I will wake up again. By this time, it is 4 am or so. I then wake after every hour or so until I get up. I feel a lot better, don’t get me wrong, but I never used to remember my awakenings, so that can be frustrating. I have read many forums expressing that this is pretty normal, but I am not sure why (once apnea is treated) why I have such a high reported arousal rating (according to my sleep study). I do have some hand numbness if I sleep the wrong way, so I attribute a lot of troubles to this fact.

    1. Blake—

      Thanks for your list as I’ve experienced the same issues the last six months after successfully treating my osa since February. I really got anxious about the insomnia after getting used to wearing the CPAP because I thought life would be like Rip Van Winkle for seven or so hours followed by better memory. No such luck.

      I’ve seen a few doctors and radically improved my sleep hygiene habits even adding chamomile and lavender tea to my evening before-bed ritual, but like clockwork, I wake up at least three times per night to lightly urinate. The anxiety originally kept me alert and agitated with these frequent wakings but now I’m at the point where I can get back to sleep within five or ten minutes of using the bathroom. I’m more comfortable with the waking now after reading several articles like this and your post reassures me that I’m not the only one experiencing this. I feel pretty well rested after 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep when I wake up at 5:00 am or 5:30, so I’m learning this may just be the new normal with the sleep apnea treated and the morning headaches gone from my life.

  13. A very insightful article indeed.

    I’ve been struggling with anxiety on sleep for a few months and I’ve been on Lexapro for a couple of months to manage my anxiety. However, I still find myself waking up at 4am – 5am consistently every night and the moment I am up, my mind starts to race. Mentally, I will also beat myself out for not clocking the amount of sleep hours which would be good for adults. I tend to get stressed and beat myself up emotionally on it. Would be glad to hear how others are going through such tough times. Its not easy indeed.

    1. Hi Stephanie
      Thanks for your comment, and glad you liked the article. If you do tend to stress about the quantity of sleep you get, hopefully this article will help you stay calm next time you wake in the night. Just try to remember not to allow yourself to worry – get up for a bit, do something pleasant, have a drink maybe, and go back to sleep. I still practice this basic concept of trying to quietly enjoy the time rather than let it be a hellish time of panic and minute counting!
      So I can tell you from personal experience that it is possible to completely turnaround how you let this kind of waking affect you.
      Regards
      Ethan

    2. I have found meditation for sleep audios on my cell phone really helpful for this. You might still toss and turn through much of a 90 minute session but I find it does eventually calm me down. I also use a free app called white noise and listen to ocean waves crashing. I do this throughout every night. It seems to help my brain know this is sleeping time.

  14. Dear Ethan,

    For many months now I’ve been having bouts of waking 1-3 hours before I intend to. I go to bed (and live my day) in a relaxed way. I eat well and exercise an hour four times a week.

    Sometimeso however I will wake at this time with – there’s no other way to describe it – cortisol coarsing through my veins. This seems to decrease over time. Doctors automatic response (due to statistical likelihood) is anxiety etc but im fine when I’m awake! I don’t see how I can relax my mind any further.

    I’m fairly overweight despite recent exercise efforts. Could this be osa? Surely if it was I would be able to return to sleep easily? (I cant)

    Any advice?

    Benjamin

    1. Hi Benjamin
      Thanks for your comment. Did your doctor suggest the idea of nocturnal panic attacks as well, or just anxiety? It’s impossible to say if it’s OSA – you’d need a sleep study done to confirm that. Did your doctor suggest a sleep study? You could also try using a sleep tracker that monitors things like your heart rate. That might be a way to take some measurements to your doctor for them to think about more.
      Regards
      Ethan

  15. Hi
    I’ve been struggling with staying asleep for six months now. I’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea after one sleep study and was given an oral device to help treat that. I’ve just started using it and now have trouble sleeping for more than 2-3 hours using the device before I go back to sleep. Before the treatment, I’d get 3-5 hours of sleep. When I wake up, I feel completely fine. I don’t gasp for air or anything like that and I wake up like 1 or 2 times a night. Not sure what’s normal for OSA but I thought you’d wake up too many times a night and barely get any sleep and feel so exhausted the next day. I don’t feel so tired the next day so I’m doubting the sleep apnea diagnosis because it was just 1 study. I’m sure everyone’s airway gets blocked sometimes somehow, right?
    I no longer have trouble falling asleep but staying that way is the trouble. I’ve tried many things but I get stressed, thinking that I’m not going to get back to sleep. So I’m on sleeping pills because that’s the only thing that’s really getting me through the night but I’m worried one day my doctor’s going to take me off it because I hear there’s some danger in taking those for a long time. I’ve tried white noise, breathing, music, reading, watching something. Nothing. I just feel like I’m changing my ways during the night so I can sleep and that stresses me out. I just want to be natural and be able to go back to sleep without trying anything except the sleeping pill. I’m really thrown off with what’s happening because I’m a 35 year old female and I’ve slept very soundly my entire life!
    I called the sleep dentist the other day (the dentist who gave me the sleep device) and told a nurse I was concerned about clenching and still waking up even with it. She said it was all normal. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear because waking up was pretty much why I went to a doctor about insomnia in the very first place. So I’m concerned it’s not working and I don’t know when to go back for adjustment or if I need to get used to it and if so, how long? How long does it take to get used to it? I go back for a follow up in less than 10 days and am trying to wait until then because he’s 20 minutes away and it’s stressful to go back to him whenever my oral device need adjustment and I need something. Everything is stressing me out about this and again, trying to relax to try and get back to sleep isn’t help because I feel like trying is just stressful. I wish I could just naturally go back to sleep like there’s nothing to it.

    1. Hi Liz
      Thanks for your comment. I completely understand your concern and why you’re feeling stressed. Sleep study tests are usually very rigorous, so it would surprise me if they got a diagnosis of apnea wrong. I think perhaps the key is to hold in there and give yourself time to get used to not just the oral device, but also the new sleep pattern that it’s starting to give you. It might be that in the next 10 days you settle down a bit, and a new routine starts to take shape.
      Try not to get too stressed about it, and go easy on yourself. Sleep can be such a tricky thing, but the best way to give yourself a good chance of sleeping well is to not allow yourself to worry. I know that’s easier said than done, but if you put your mind to it, perhaps do relaxation exercises before bed or when you wake up, you’ll get there little by little. And as I said in the article, if you do wake up in the night, don’t worry. Just read or do something relaxing for a while, then go back to sleep.
      When you go back for the review, you can fill them in with all the details. Try keeping a sleep diary too so you can tell them exactly what you’ve been experiencing.
      Regards
      Ethan

  16. i am monika, my age is 47. I have to work in home from 5.30 am to 9.30 pm. I got sometime free in noon. I tried to get some rest in noon but in the middle of sleep i wake up suddenly. Same things happens in the night. I go to bed at 11.00 pm & i wake up in the mid night with flurry & then i can’t sleep till morning. I have acidity problem. Kindly reply & advice

    1. Hi Monika
      Thanks for your comment. It’s not easy working such long shifts like that, and trying to nap in between. Some people find it works ok for them, others struggle with it. How much sleep do you think you get overall during the day and night combined? Do you know roughly how many hours? Have you spoken to your doctor about the acidity, or looked up online or in a book diet changes that you could make to help you with that?
      Regards
      Ethan

  17. I’m not sure if someone already asked this question: what if one wakes up multiple times throughout the night? Could that be problematic or is that just as natural as waking up only once in the night?

    1. Hi Chelsy
      Thanks for your comment. It really depends on why you’re waking up, how long for each time and the effect it has on your daily functioning. If it’s many times, then it’s important to check if there’s a reason for it, such as sleep apnea. Or perhaps there’s an external reason such as childcare or noise. Do you have any more details?
      Regards
      Ethan

      1. For me, sometimes it’s due to external noise like my in-laws’ dog barking or internal factors like vivid dreams or muscle jerking (I read your article about the muscle jerking). Sometimes it may only happen once or sometimes it may be 5 or more times. When I finally get up, I usually wake up fatigued and feel that my productivity throughout the day is hindered.

        1. Hi again
          Ok, I see. If it’s things like dogs barking, then trying to reduce the noise in your bedroom might be a good idea. Have a look at this article for some ideas about that. If, however, you constantly wake up throughout the night and are always tired in the day, it’s worth speaking to your doctor about it, just to rule out any sleep disorder. Has anyone ever commented that you have breathing pauses or unusual sounds when you sleep? Do you snore?
          Regards
          Ethan

  18. I have developed an unusual sleep pattern. I typically go to sleep at 7 or 8 pm and wake up around 1 to 3 am. I am awake for an hour or two and then sleep again until 5 to 5.30 am and get going for the day.

    I awake alert and energetic, feeling rested and ready to go, but it’s 2 am ! It’s strange because I’ve found that if I don’t get the deep sleep from say 4 to 5.30 AM I am really tired during the afternoon and I end up with a deficit in ‘dream time’ for lack of a better phrase.

    Running a 3 or 4 day deficit in dream time sleep really causes problems and usually results in exhaustion and a truly wonderful period of dream time catch up, with intense vivid and memorable dreams.

    I just don’t know why I feel so rested and good at 2am when I know I need that deep sleep dream time to function normally.

    Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff
      Thanks for your comment. A similar thing happens to me when I wake up in the night. I try not to see it as a case of the second part being the essential one though, and more that I need the overall quantity of sleep both halves of the night give me. I think you probably wake up feeling rested because you are – in the same way as a daytime nap can be refreshing. But you still need the whole night’s sleep to keep you charged for the next day.
      Regards
      Ethan

  19. Hi!
    Although i don’t think any of these is the problem i do kinda worry. Im 14 and don’t really sleep good, sometimes i stay awake till 5 or 6 am and go to sleep around 7, I’ve been doing this constantly but i decided to sleep normal now as it was causing alot of stress waking up at 7pm. I work Saturdays and Sundays from 8pm till 3am and 4pm till 10pm so i go to sleep when i get home. I slept around 11:30pm but awoke at 2am for no reason and couldn’t sleep till 5 or 6am. This is the second time happening today, but i awoke twice, the first i checked time and it was 11:45pm so i went back and awoke at 2:20am. I was really tired and don’t know why I’ve been waking up when im reall tired. I forgot to mention im leaving the country to see my family and friends, im kinda excited. Could that be it!? For now i guess I’ll have to deal with it.

    1. Hi Darner
      Thanks for your comment. It can be quite difficult to maintain good sleep patterns when you have to work shifts, even if it’s just a couple of nights a week that you work until late. It can knock the whole week out of sync. And if you have things happening which cause excitement and/or anxiety, it can be even trickier to sleep well. I guess you’ll know when you go abroad, as you’ll have a chance to sleep more regularly, if you don’t go out too much!
      Regards
      Ethan

  20. Dear Ethan

    I came across your site as I was looking to get a smart watch as to see how much I sleep. I am currently pregnant 15 weeks, it started a few weeks after, I am not sleeping great I go to bed 11, 11.30 or 12 and then wake up again at 2, feeling very thirsty too, I am trying to drink more water in the day and then I find I am up going to the toilet because I drank water and then I am awake all night just lying there nothing going through my head sometimes I switch the TV on. I am now really exhausted and getting headaches, plus I work and the Dr tells me this is hormones, I have started to try Acupuncture. I have a warm glass of milk before I go to sleep, I have in the past had sleeping problems but it got better and feel now it’s come back at the wrong time while pregnant, it is making me very stressed as I associate it now with going to bed and getting a few hours and dread the next day, any thought’s?

    1. Hi Olivia
      Thanks for your comment. As your doctor probably told you, sleep problems during pregnancy is very common. I think in terms of the liquids, you could try making sure you drink lots during the day, but perhaps don’t overdo it in the couple of hours before going to bed. It’s also important to stay on top of the stress, and not allow this to overwhelm you – difficult as that might be at times. I recommend following all the usual sleep hygiene techniques that exist, and especially focusing on doing some relaxation exercises before bed, and again if you wake up and find yourself unable to sleep again.
      Regards
      Ethan

  21. hello!
    i’m 15 years old and recently about almost a month ago, i came back from a stressful holiday from Vancouver (where i caught a stomach flu and was so stressed out and scared because my mom wasnt with me during the holidays) and normally it was a 9 hour flight to go back to France. The first 10 days back in my hometown were very rough for me because i had a huge jet lag and indigestion (we thought it wasnt that serious in vancouver so we didnt take me to the doctor nor gave me the right medicine for my weak belly) and loss of appetit and was depressed, after a rough week my stomach was healthy and i was slowly waking up at around 6:30 where i go to school. But then all of a sudden the next week, i wake up a 3 am, and i first ignored it and went back to sleep. But the next day i woke up again at 3 am and i couldn’t go back to sleep, it was probably stress because i was panicking and crying.
    My mom stayed with me during the next night and during the night i gained conscious and had the curiosity to check my alarm; 2:15 am. I tried to go back to sleep but so many things were going through my mind, i couldn’t stop tossing and turning to try find a comfortable spot. But luckily, i manage to somehow drift to the deep slumber but gets easily awakened.
    during the following nights, i always wake up at ungodly hours, but managed to fall asleep after 20 minutes! during last weekend, on a sunday morning i woke at 4, then went back to sleep, then at 6, then at 9am. we had this idea of taking away my alarm so it would make things easier and that it could solve my problem.

    But the wierd thing is that at day, when at school, i laugh, i’m energetic enough to run, do sports and work as well! as if i rested very well.
    Ive talked about this of course with my family and friends and chiropractor and knowing me well, they told me that its normal to have sleep problems especially at my age where im developing but saying also that it could be depression or the anxiety of thinking of not sleeping well, and my friend told me that she experiences a similiar one like me, and she told me that she likes it because she likes to read!

    sorry about this long message; its just been very frustrating this month and i tend to get very stressed about it… i just want my sleep rythme to go back to normal!

    1. Hi Alexandra
      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you had a lot going on at the time which led to the sleep problems. What often happens is that people have a cause of sleep problems, which eventually goes away (in your case being sick). But then sometimes people worry about not sleeping because of that period of time, which then gets them into a vicious cycle of worrying about not sleeping being the reason they don’t sleep.
      So as you’ve already been told, it might be a natural thing to sometimes sleep badly and/or could be because of anxiety. Hopefully though, the article will have helped you realise it’s not that bad to wake for a while in the night – as your friend also says. Perhaps the main thing for you is to try not to worry about it. If you do wake up, do some reading or other thing you find relaxing for a bit, then go back to sleep.
      Regards
      Ethan

  22. I have a question. I get to bed anywhere from 9-11pm and then get up at ~3am to help my husband get ready for work, as he has to be there by 4am. After he leaves, I get things started for getting my daughter and I ready for school and work. I read for about 15 min. and then go back to sleep about 4:30am, and then try to get back up at about 6:30am, although it usually ends up being more like 7 by the time I can get up and get moving. Is this hurting my health? I do deal with being tired and am treating some medical issues related to this….can you give me any ideas on how to research this as well?
    Thank you for your thoughts.

    1. Hi Eileen
      Thanks for your comment. Do you feel like it’s negatively affecting your health? Do you spend most days feeling overly tired? If so, then perhaps your sleep is something that needs to be addressed. If you manage to get the amount of sleep you need in those 2 phases, then it’s probably fine. So if you sleep at 9 and wake at 3, then get another 2 hours later, in theory that could be a good amount of 8 hours. But if you sleep at 11, and maybe don’t get that 2 hours later, then just 4 or 5 hours is very likely to be less than enough.
      Can I ask – does your husband really need your help to get ready for work? Perhaps he can do that himself, considering you are the one getting your daughter ready. Or maybe you could prepare things the night before, rather than in the middle of the night? Or at least prepare for your work and daughter’s school as much as possible the night before. The less time you can spend awake in the night doing things that could be done either the night before, or when you wake up at 6:30, the better I imagine!
      It sounds to me like some different planning and perhaps sharing of tasks might take the pressure off you. In terms of researching it more, well, you might want to look at some of my articles about sleep deprivation and see if the symptoms apply to you.
      Regards
      Ethan

  23. Abosede Eseigbe

    I slept early (10:45pm) and found myself waking up @ 3am and cooking and woke my hubby and the children up to start preparing them for the day’s activities!!! Even went to the kitchen and started to cook!!! It has never happened before!!! So embarassing!!!!!

  24. Hi, I found your article very interesting especially when you say that waking up in the night is normal. When it happens to me, normally after 4-5 hours of good sleep, I read on my kindle with the black backlight so I don’t bother my husband. I read for 1 hour or so and go back to sleep when I feel my eyes start to close. I sleep for 2 or 3 more hours and I wake up rested and refresh. But this schedule is not really practical for me. I miss my early morning fitness class. The thing is I’m starting to like to wake up at night because I’m an avid reader and those hours are quite and I can really enjoy reading with no distractions!
    Should I stop reading in bed because it can be addictive?
    I also take melatonin before falling asleep. Should I take an extra one when I wake up to help me go right back to sleep?
    I heard about cognitive behavioral therapy. Is it effective?
    Thanks for your help!
    Loretta

    1. Hi Loretta
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you found the article helpful. Perhaps you could just limit how long you read for? I think reading is fine, but perhaps set yourself a limit of 30 mins if you can. And if you force yourself to go to your fitness class in the morning, hopefully that will get your sleep pattern into shape, even if it’s difficult at first to make yourself go. It’s a classic technique to keep a stable wake up time though, as that’s easier to control than the fall asleep time. Taking melatonin in the night probably won’t help, so I wouldn’t do that.
      Regards
      Ethan

  25. Hi I wake 2-3 times a night I’m assuming I come into my light sleep but seem to manage to go straight back to sleep I also dream a couple of times a night I don’t always remember them when I wake up but I do remember I’ve dreamt. I am being treated for anxiety and have just increased my medication I was sleeping like this before I started medication then it was getting better until the night before I increased it. When I wake up I’m not feeling anxious or panicking but could this be happening due to my anxiety and the side effects from it and the medication??? I started on 5mg Lexapro was on that for 9 days and increased to 10mg on day 10 im now on day 11. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Oh and I generally fall asleep around 9:30/10pm and get up for my day around 5:30/6am and I wake up feeling ok, it’s not a struggle to get out of bed.

    1. Hi Mel
      Thanks for your comment. It’s difficult to say, but if you noticed a definite change in your sleep after the change in treatment and anxiety levels, it’s possible it’s affecting your sleep. However, it’s actually quite common to wake up briefly in the night a couple of times. If you fall asleep again easily afterwards, it’s nothing to worry about really. You could mention it to your doctor next time you see them, but if you don’t have any trouble during the day with your energy levels, then it’s probably all good.
      Regards
      Ethan

  26. I am so happy to find your site today, you have pinpointed the issues and have explained it in a way that is reassuring, that I don’t need pills right away and I can work on my healing , will soon work out on breathing exercise and mindfulness and to not to worry about not be able to sleep enough, and sure with lots of prayers!

  27. Ethan, have you ever explored the organ clock in traditional Chinese medicine? The idea is that waking up in the hour associated with an organ means that this organ needs. attention.

  28. I have had very bad tinnitus for five years and it has disrupted my sleep pattern. I have got better at getting to sleep but wake up after about two to three hours and then find it hard to get back to sleep. I feel exhausted all day. There is no therapy , either NHS or private in the Scottish Borders re tinnitus. Any ideas ?

    1. Hi Mary
      Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’ve been bothered by the sleep problems and tinnitus. I also have tinnitus, but over time have learned to accept it – more or less! Probably the best advice I ever got was from an audiologist who told me to try and see it in a positive way. She said I can use it as a kind of ‘early warning system’ that I’m ill, stressed, sleep deprived etc since it gets worse with these things. In that way I can try to use it and take action, rather than feel it’s a problem in itself. Perhaps seeing it that way might help you to worry less about it?
      As for the waking in the night, again, as I say in the article accepting it is one of the best things you can do! If you learn to relax and not worry that you’re awake, you’re more likely to fall asleep again quicker.
      I hope that helps a little.
      Regards
      Ethan

  29. ya..dear informer I would like to say that I have know very well and much. what’s the real psychology of the sleep. and how can we aware of this real fact. our routine busy life create this nusiones.I like happy to say that reading following commenter reading this. tnk u.

  30. Hi Ethan,

    I have a terrible sleeping problem where I sleep walk but I also eat! I have tried so many different thing’s to stop myself and I’m at the point now where I’m fed up! My doctor gave me sleeping tablets for 2 weeks, some days were better than others, I lost weight and this was great. The thing’s I eat in the night aren’t stuff like an apple or a healthy option.. it’s cake, crisps and fizzy pop. I’ve tried taking Nytol and it doesn’t even knock me out. My doctor has now given me Anxiety tablets, they aren’t making my sleep any better. It’s like I’m awake when I’m getting up but I can’t control what I do!? You’re my last resort right now and if you have any advice that could help I’d really appreciate it.

    Regards,
    Abby

    1. Hi Abby
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand your distress. You could try keeping the goodies locked up and the key somewhere safe, and then have healthier food easy to find in the kitchen. And more radically, just don’t buy any more things you wouldn’t like to be snacking on in your sleep until you get a handle on this.
      Did your doctor refer you for a sleep study? That might be useful as you’d also get access to professional advice and support.
      And if you think that anxiety is playing a role, there are lots of good self-help options you can try. My personal favourite, which I think is great for anxiety is mindfulness.
      All the best
      Ethan

  31. I wake up throughout the night – I can usually get right back to sleep. It is worse with alcohol (even a little glass of wine!) but it happens anyway, I roll over – wake up, my husband snores – wake up, the dog moves – wake up, pillow shifts – wake up – thirsty, need the bathroom etc etc – maybe 10 times a night – I go right back to sleep but am I ever getting good rejuvinating sleep? I have my sleeeping ears out for my kids so that might be part of the conditioning but I have done this for a long time. My concern now is I feel my memory is getting way worse and I think there is a link to loss of rejuvinating sleep. I am 53… cant take sleeping pills as I have high anxiety the next day if I do…. help

    1. Hi Michelle
      Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’re having sleep problems and now the memory problems too. The two could well be connected. It’s thought that one of the main reasons we sleep is to process memories. However, many people often do sleep more than they think they do, something known as sleep state misperception. So it might not be quite as bad as you fear, especially if you do generally fall asleep again. It’s likely that you’re just waking up when you cycle through the lighter sleep stages naturally during the night. That doesn’t mean that you’re not getting the more restorative sleep which comes with other stages in the cycle.
      I think it’s very common for parents to have an ear out for their kids. But it’s a shame you’re waking up from so many different things. One idea is that you could agree with your husband that some nights he has to keep an ear out. Then you could perhaps put some earplugs in, shut the world out and get some less disruptive sleep, and make sure you don’t drink that evening. I also think it’s important not to stress about it. I used to worry terribly about the fact that I woke up so much. Now I just accept it and try not to allow stress about sleep to add another level of worry. Finally, if you’re really worried about your memory, then you could always talk to your doctor about it. They might be able to give you some peace of mind that it’s just sleep deprivation and suggest ways to tackle it.
      Regards
      Ethan

  32. Hi Ethan! I just stumbled upon your site today and was so happy to find it! You have such an incredible amount of helpful information here. I have had sporadic times of insomnia throughout my adult life but for the last month or so it has been a nightly occurrence. Some issues with headaches have started at the same time as the insomnia and I seem to be in a vicious cycle with both. I have found the sleep hygiene section helpful and plan to be more consistent with my sleep/wake times. If I sleep 2-4hrs, wake, but never fall back to sleep is this still considered sleep maintenance insomnia?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Jessie

      Thanks for your comment, and for your kind words. I’m really pleased you found the site helpful. Sorry to hear you’ve been having slep problems and headaches. Perhaps one is causing the other? Or maybe something else is causing both. Are you under a lot of stress at the moment?
      It could be sleep maintenance insomnia, yes. Regardless of the name, the important thing is to get enough sleep every night, and waking so soon clearly isn’t going to do that. When I go through bouts of that problem, it’s usually because I’ve been doing less exercise and spending too much time in front of my computer working on this site. A few days of serious exercise usually does the trick! As for the headaches, my advice with that is always to make sure you drink lots of water. Many headaches are caused my dehydration. If it continues though, perhaps get yourself checked out by your doctor just to be sure.

      Regards
      Ethan

  33. hi!
    I’m 16 and I’ve been having this problem for a while now. for at least eight months now, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night for absolutely no reason. usually between 1 am and 4 am. I go to bed around 9:30 almost every night. when I wake up, I can not fall back asleep to save my life. I have to wake up every morning at 5:30 am for school, and I usually don’t fall back asleep until maybe an hour before I need to wake up. I’ve tried going to bed earlier, and going to bed later so maybe I wear myself out and I can stay asleep. but it just never works. I really don’t know what it could be. I’ve read that this can happen from stress, and I feel like that’s a factor. it’s been happening every single night for almost a year now though. any thoughts??

    1. Hi Kayla,
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand the frustration, believe me. It can be caused by stress I think, yes. And even more so when you wake up and then get stressed because it’s happened again!
      Having read this article, you might find that you start to feel a little less worried when it happens. And that in itself can make a big difference to how much it affects you. When I first worked out that I was my own worst enemy by getting upset when I could’t sleep, it made a massive difference almost immediately.
      My advice would be to think about the concept that it’s ok if it happens. Maybe have a couple of relaxing things you can do during that time, which in itself might help you fall asleep again sooner. For example, have a look at the article discussing relaxation techniques for sleep.
      If it continues to be a problem and is affecting your ability to study or lead a normal life, then you could speak to your doctor about it. They might take a medication approach, or they might try and help you find out why it’s happening and see if there is another cause.
      Regards
      Ethan

  34. Hi there,
    This is a great article. It is hard not to stress about waking up at 3 am, however, when your alarm is set for 6.45 because one has a Full time job to get up for. I know not being able to sleep is made worse by worrying about it, but its hard to not get frustrated…when to chill for an hour or so…means there is ‘hardly; any time left for PRECIOUS sleep. I dread the 3 am wake up…! Any tips for those that need to get up to work..?!
    Thanks

    1. Hi Oona
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I completely understand how frustrating it is. I’ve been in that situation many times, waking up at some horrible hour, knowing that I only have a few hours to sleep before waking up early for work. It’s stressful, I know.
      I think really there are two key things to do.

      First, try to work on everything possible to improve your sleep – have a look at the sleep hygiene section for lots of valuable advice about that.

      Second, work on accepting the fact that it does just sometimes happen to you. I know this probably sounds easier said than done, but I do feel it’s very important. Personally, since I found about this whole thing about it actually being ok to wake up, I found that helped me stress less. And that in turn has shortened the time I wake up for. I used to wake up, get stressed by calculating how much time I had left to sleep, then stay awake for an hour or two. Nowadays, I simply get up, have some milk and a banana, or a cup of herbal tea, read for 20 mins then close my eyes again. And 9 times out of 10 I find that I drift off again without problems.

      I won’t lie and say it was an overnight change, but it has happened to me. So I think with time, you might be able to get to the same point as well.

      Regards
      Ethan

  35. Thanks, Good article.

    I am having same issue, sleeping at around 11:00pm waking at around 2-3 am. I can feel that its sudden and fully wake. Miles away from getting into sleep again. My eyes always swelled in the morning. if I try to sleep again, then i fall into a situation where you are not either sleeping or awake.

    Regards

    1. Hi Nizaam
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you liked the article. I can understand the frustration if this happens to you regularly and its affecting you the next day. Perhaps reading this will help you to not worry about it so much. If you try getting up and doing something relaxing for a while, then going back to sleep, you might find that by accepting it’s quite normal, you do fall asleep again.
      All the best
      Ethan

  36. I find myself waking up every night at 3-4am after having shifted my sleep schedule heavily, i.e going to bed at 4-7am in the morning.. I expect this behavior to pass as i get back in my normal schedule.

    1. Hi Nikolai,

      Thanks for your comment. Hopefully yes, once you get back into your normal rhythm things will settle back down. Keeping a stable sleep schedule is very important for getting a good night’s sleep!
      Regards
      Ethan

  37. I have consistent, constant sleep maintenance insomnia. I wake after 5 hours, and lately not able to fall back asleep. Sometimes I do fall back to sleep but it’s very light sleep. I still feel extremely tired the next day. Have felt tired every day for 4 weeks.

    1. Hi Jules

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sleep maintenance insomnia can be quite disruptive, so I’m not surprised you’ve been feeling tired. Hopefully reading this article will help a little and you’ll perhaps be able to relax better when you do wake up, knowing that it’s not such an unusual thing to happen.
      All the best
      Ethan

    1. Thanks Ryan

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – I have no idea how your comment escaped my attention!
      Anyway, I hope you’ve found a way of dealing with your sleep problems now and thank you for the compliment.
      Regards
      Ethan

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