We all need regular, good quality sleep for all elements of health, from heart health through to metabolic health, plus good sleep helps to ensure we can live through each day being the best version of ourselves: alert and energised.
However, it’s important to remember that waking up in the night is normal, and very rarely does someone experience completely unbroken sleep.
Before we delve into a few reasons why you might be waking up in the night, let’s quickly touch on the circadian rhythm. This is essentially our body’s sleep/wake cycle: different hormones are released at various times of the day to either help us sleep, or to keep us energised throughout the day. Plus, during the night when we’re asleep, there are various stages of sleep- some lighter than others - so it’s common to wake up when our body isn't in such a deep state of sleep.
But there are some things we can change in our lives to help improve our sleep and avoid the constant wake-ups. In this article, we’ve rounded up some of the most common sleep disruptors, along with some easy tips to help stay asleep longer…
Certain medications Sometimes, although they might be making us feel better, certain medications can intrude on our sleep. One of the side effects of antidepressants is disrupted sleep, and diuretics - a medication aimed at helping to lower blood pressure in the body - also disrupt sleep as they can cause you to wake up for the bathroom more often than normal.
Alpha-blockers can also disrupt sleep, as they’ve been linked with lower levels of deep REM sleep, whilst Beta-Blockers have often been renowned for causing nightmares, which naturally will wake a person up!
Speak to your doctor if you find that your medication is ruining your shuteye: they may be able to offer help.
Too much stress
Stress is good in small amounts, however too much can lead to chronic stress, which doesn’t sit well with our bodies and can have a huge impact on our sleep.
Cortisol - our stress hormone - puts our body into fight or flight mode, which means our body won’t be able to shut down. Chronic stress means long term, high levels of cortisol.
Cortisol doesn’t just affect sleep, it can mess up our digestion, breathing and even muscle health.
It’s super important that stress is dealt with before it becomes a bigger issue. Meditation and restorative exercises such as yoga can help, as can devoting time to a digital detox: essentially, coming off technology. Technology before bed can keep our minds very alert, and if you’re on emails or in a negative conversation, it can further add to the stress.
Ladies, your time of the month can play a big part in the quality of your sleep. As can stages of big hormonal changes such as pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause.
During menstruation, fluctuations in the hormones progesterone and estrogen can really wreak havoc on sleep and you may find that just before menstruation itself, your sleep suffers.
When a woman is pregnant, not only does she have the hormone changes to deal with, but a growing bump itself can make it hard to get comfortable.
Hormones are hard to control, however, a healthy diet and low-stress levels can help.
Eating sugary foods right before bed? Or is spice your favourite addition to your dinner plate? It might be time to think again. Sugar can wreak havoc with blood sugar levels, causing peaks and crashes. If this is still going on when you sleep, well you can guess what the result will be; a big old wake up, and a real struggle to get back to sleep.
Eating rich foods before bed, as well as spicy foods can cause issues with your digestion. If your body is still digesting food when you go to bed, it will struggle to shut down and sleep.
Try to limit sugars before bed, and if possible eat food about two hours before sleeping, to let the food digest.
You could also try to eat foods that promote good sleep. Turkey is one such option as it contains tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin, our ‘sleepy’ hormone.
Other tips to help boost sleep
A good sleep routine can have a massive impact on your whole night’s sleep.
As well as ditching technology before bed as mentioned, wind down with a caffeine-free herbal tea, a warm bath and a calming activity such as reading. Be sure that your bedroom is cool and that there is a limited mess surrounding you. Mess and clutter can actually disrupt sleep.
It’s also a good idea to make a to-do list for the next day, so you aren’t going to bed with thoughts rushing around your mind. In addition, if you find that you are someone who often wakes up worrying or thinking about the workday ahead, keep a pen and paper next to your bed. This way, you can write down any bothersome thoughts; once they’re on paper, they’re out of your mind.