Some days you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep again. Your mind goes round and round in circles. Finally, you might fall asleep again at 5 am with one more hour to go until you have to get up.
Why do you have problems going back to sleep?
There are two ways of reacting to waking up during the night. If a ‘normal’ sleeper sets her alarm for 6 am, but wakes up at 3 am she probably just turns over and goes back to sleep. She might even think “Excellent, 3 more hours of sleep left!”.
If an insomniac wakes up at 3 am instead of 6 am her thought process may go “Oh no, I won’t be able to go back to sleep!”. She will start worrying about how tired she will look and feel the next day, that she has an important meeting or exam coming up and she may even have read up on the detrimental health impact little sleep has. From here it spirals downwards.
Waking up during the night is normal
We sleep in cycles. These cycles last 90-120 minutes in total. There are deep resting phases and then there are more alert phases (REM sleep) which are linked with memory and learning. It is very difficult to wake somebody during the deep resting phase, however, it is easy during REM. One explanation for this may be, that back in the cave days you wouldn’t have survived the night if you would have slept for a solid 6-8 hours. That’s why we ‘wake up’ every two hours or so to check everything is still fine and nobody is trying to get us.
What lifestyle changes can you implement
These days our circadian rhythms (our sleep and wake cycles) are being messed around by spending our days inside with bright lights, computer monitors and televisions. Our body doesn’t know when the day is finished and the night starts. To help your brain get back into its natural sleep pattern go for a walk outside at lunch time, get some sun or at least natural light. Dim or reduce your lighting from 8 pm onwards, so your brain starts to register a change. No more screens after 9 pm and how about trying to go to bed for 10 pm?
Having a consistent evening routine can help your body start winding down. Every night I drink a cup of chamomile tea (yes I used to hate it and now I love it) and when lying in bed I do a couple of stretches. Sometimes I read my book while I am doing them and sometimes I focus on my breath. Stretching can be a great way of releasing tension you are storing in your body. Try to find an evening routine that suits you. You could write in your journal, meditate or read.
What are other factors that can have an impact
Other factors which can have an impact on your sleep may be medical issues, pain, alcohol, drugs etc. For instance, a glass of alcohol can make you feel drowsy before going to sleep. However when the alcohol wears off your body actually asks for more.
Similar with caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours. Which means after 5 or 6 hours half of the caffeine is still in our system. It is only eliminated from our bodies after 10-12 hours. Please remember, even the doses aren’t as high, non-herbal teas, like green or black tea, contain caffeine as well. (By the way chocolate also contains caffeine. Sorry!)
Age can have an impact too. We may have been able to drink 3 coffees a day in our twenties, but as our bodies get older they just aren’t as efficient in eliminating these substances. Also, we may suffer from pain more regularly or have to go to the toilet during the night. Just remember waking up is normal and don’t start to stress.
These are a few things you can experiment with and see how changing them impacts your sleep. Usually, it takes about 40 days to assimilate a change. If one doesn’t work for you try another one.
You may also be interested in my upcoming course Yoga for Better Sleep