Why do we wake up at night?
One in four Germans has trouble sleeping through the night and regularly suffers from disruptions to their sleep at night. The fact that we keep waking up at night can have different causes and have a negative effect on our health and well-being. Here you can find out why we often wake up at night and what you can do to improve sleeping through the night.
Table of Contents
- Nocturnal awakenings
- Why we wake up from sleep
- Common reasons for sleep disruption
- Use waking hours correctly
1. Nocturnal awakening
Good sleep is the basis of a healthy and efficient everyday life. According to a study by Techniker Krankenkasse, almost every fourth person in Germany suffers from problems sleeping through the night and frequent waking up at night. In fact, we all naturally wake up up to 30 times every night, completely independent of external stimuli. Experts believe that this is due to our ancestors and evolution, and that short sleep breaks at night served to protect against potential dangers and to check the environment for safety. Most of the time, however, we cannot remember it because it only interrupts sleep for a short time.
Only longer waking phases of three to five minutes or more remain conscious and disrupt our sleep, especially when falling asleep again does not work right away and we consequently lie awake longer. Ultimately, this not only affects the length of sleep, but also the quality of sleep, which is particularly important for our health, performance and well-being during the day. But what can be the reasons for waking up at night and what can we do to avoid frequent sleep interruptions?
2. Why we wake up from sleep
When we sleep, our body works at full speed and can be disturbed by internal or external stimuli. You can find out exactly what happens during sleep here. Every night we go through several sleep cycles, which in turn consist of different sleep phases.
In the REM sleep phase, i.e. towards the end of each sleep cycle, our brain is particularly active and reacts more easily to disturbing stimuli because they are transmitted far into the brain regions and processed directly. If the activation of the nervous system (also called arousal) triggered in this way is strong enough, the body becomes active and awake.
3. Common reasons for sleep disruption
Stress, burdens, fears and worries often cause us to think a lot and find it difficult to relax before going to sleep. In addition, stress leads to a high release of the stress hormone cortisol, which wakes us up and inhibits melatonin production, which is important for sleep. For example, an increased cortisol level due to stress can lead to sleep being disturbed at night, we wake up more frequently and, above all, it is not so easy to find our way back to sleep. Therefore, try to avoid stress and excitement during the day and in the evening and to calm down and relax before you go to bed. And even if you wake up at night or have trouble falling asleep again: Don't put yourself under pressure, because this also promotes the release of cortisol and thus counteracts sleep.
#2 Bright Light
Light and darkness function as an external impulse that adapts our inner rhythm to the natural daily routine. Bright light signals the body to reduce melatonin production and prepare to wake up. In order not to wake up early at night, it is advisable to keep the bedroom generally dark and to avoid disturbing light sources, for example through thick curtains or roller shutters. Avoid bright lighting or screen light even when you are awake at night so that your body can calm down and fall asleep again.
#3 Noise & Sounds
The snoring partner, annoying neighbors or street noise at night - loud or unfamiliar noises can disturb sleep and make it difficult to fall asleep again. Especially when a noise stands out in an otherwise quiet sleeping environment, our brain reacts quickly and wakes us up. Therefore, make sure to remove potential sources of noise from your sleeping environment before going to bed. For example, you can keep the window closed at night, mute your cell phone or use earplugs.
#4 (nightmare) dreams
Due to the increased brain activity, we wake up particularly frequently when we are in a REM sleep phase. During this period, however, not only numerous processing processes take place in the brain, but also our dreams. Depending on the intensity of the dream, the processing and visual experience in REM sleep can also disrupt sleep and lead to interruptions in nighttime sleep. We know this above all when we experience dangerous situations or states of anxiety in a dream and the emotional experience triggers a strong arousel. As a rule, unfortunately, it is not possible to influence one's own dreams. However, it is believed that nightmares are caused by anxiety or severe stress and mental strain.
You can find more about dreaming in the article Why do we dream?
#5 Wrong diet
Heavy, sumptuous meals in the evening can negatively impact sleep quality and should be avoided as the digestive process disrupts sleep and can prevent you from staying asleep. It is also recommended to avoid caffeinated drinks and food in the last 3 - 4 hours before going to bed, since caffeine has a stimulating effect and stimulates the nerves. Also, make sure not to drink too much liquid in the evening, as a strong urge to urinate at night can also lead to sleep disruption.
#6 Unfavorable room climate
Our body temperature initially drops at night and is coldest around 3 a.m. before it slowly rises again. Basically, sleep experts therefore recommend a medium to cool room temperature between 16 and 18 degrees. However, studies have shown that, in addition to hypothermia, overheating is also a common reason for being awake at night. It is best to try to keep your bedroom cool and avoid overheating, for example through tight sleepwear or incorrectly adjusted radiators.
4. Use waking hours properly
Ultimately, it is quite natural that we wake up from our sleep from time to time and usually quite banal reasons, such as street noise or the overly sumptuous meal in the evening, are responsible for the interruptions in sleep. In order to lose as little sleep quality as possible, it is important to use unavoidable waking phases correctly so that you can fall asleep again as quickly as possible and start the new day refreshed.
So when you wake up at night, the first thing you should do is try to stay calm and relaxed. Don't put yourself under pressure and avoid looking at the clock or your smartphone. Because elevated melatonin levels at night also have a negative effect on mood, try not to think about problems or worries during this time.
If you still can't fall asleep after a while, it's better not to toss and turn in bed, but rather to get up for a moment. With the lights dimmed, you can read a book or use the time to write down your thoughts and clear your head. This is how you get the best out of an unwanted sleep interruption and ensure a relaxed start to the day despite being awake at night.
Even if we can't remember it, we wake up up to 30 times every night.
Strong internal and external stimuli can disrupt sleep, especially towards the end of our sleep cycle, by activating the nervous system.
The cause of frequent waking up at night can be both external stimuli such as noise, lighting conditions or room climate and internal stimuli such as stress, poor nutrition or dreaming.
Avoid stress before going to bed and don't put yourself under pressure even when you're awake at night.
Make sure you sleep in a dark environment and avoid bright screen lights in particular.
Minimize potential sources of noise or sleep with protective earplugs.
Relax before sleep and reduce stress and mental strain to avoid nightmares.
Eat light meals before bed, reduce fluid intake and avoid caffeinated foods in the last 3 to 4 hours.
Prefer a cool room climate between 16 and 18 degrees and avoid overheating while sleeping.
Greetings and see you soon!