Sleep issues: Why people wake up in the middle of the night

Good sleep is vital to maintaining optimal health. While we are sleeping, our body restores, heals and maintains proper functioning of several organ systems. Not getting adequate, good quality sleep can impair brain activity, digestion, immune function and mood. Most people find themselves having trouble initiating (falling asleep) sleep or maintain sleep (aka not waking up in the middle of the night). Here are some reasons that might contribute to poor sleep quality:


Screens – staring at screens, whether a tv screen or a computer screen, emits blue light which disrupts melatonin, a hormone that initiates sleep. Screens before bed cause troubles in falling asleep and reduce the quality of sleep making you feel tired and groggy in the morning.


Cortisol spike – Cortisol is a hormone that is regulated by stress. During the day, cortisol levels are high allowing us to stay awake. During the night, cortisol levels dip allowing our bodies to relax and sleep better. During stressful times, cortisol levels remain high consistently, even during the night, causing poor sleep. Waking up at night is also caused by fluctuating cortisol levels due to stress. Hence, managing cortisol levels and stress is important to maintaining good sleep.


Low blood sugar – When the blood sugar is too low, the body releases hormones such as cortisol, glucagon and adrenaline which help regulate the sugar in the body. These hormones also stimulate the brain and can cause us to wake up in the middle of the night. Eating foods that contain simple carbohydrates, that are easily digested, can cause the blood sugar to drop thus causing night time awakening.


Grief – Research found that people who were experiencing grief due to loss of a loved one, reported bad quality of sleep compared to those who were not grieving. Conditions such as PTSD and anxiety can also prevent people from staying asleep throughout the night. The co-relation of grief and sleep is also supported by Traditional Chinese Medicine which states that people experiencing grief have a tendency of waking up between 3 am and 5am.



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