Back to Sleep

Why Do We Wake Up at Night?

There are many reasons that wake us up in the middle of the night and don’t let us fall back asleep.


Insomnia is a sleep disorder which shows itself with difficulty falling and staying asleep, and not getting enough rest out of sleep. It is a serious clinical condition that should be diagnosed and treated by health professionals. Insomnia may be one of the reasons why you wake up at night and cannot go back to sleep. It is best to eliminate this option by consulting a doctor if this is a recurring problem that disrupts your daily life.

Anxiety & Stress

Waking up with anxiety is something that a lot of people suffer from. It might be mild and easy to overcome or it might be more severe like a nocturnal panic attack. Coping with anxiety is definitely not easy and it is even harder doing that in the middle of the night.

It is possible to experience anxiety outbursts that disrupt your sleep if you are in a stressful period. Anxiety is a way of our minds coping with uncertainty and unfamiliarity, and it is not a system that closes down at night. In fact, it is more common to experience the effects of anxiety during the night because there are less distractions and our minds wander at a higher pace.  

Sleeping Environment

It is said that we sleep best at a dark and quiet place where the distractions are minimum. However, it is not always possible to create such a perfect sleeping environment. Basically, it gets harder to fall asleep and stay asleep all night if our environment is not optimal. You might get up in the middle of the night because of a loud noise or a disturbing light. Sometimes mosquitos don’t leave us alone and keep annoying us with their buzzing sounds and itchy bites. It is also quite common to wake up because of overheating or cold.

You can have difficulty sleeping if you have an upcoming important event. We want to have a good night's sleep and to be well rested and energetic especially before an exam, a presentation, or a confrontation that we have been avoiding. We get nervous, plan ahead or wonder how it will go and ironically end up not being able to sleep or waking up at night.

Physiological Needs

Digestive problems are highly associated with sleep disturbance. You might be waking up due to a digestive symptom. If this is the case, we encourage you to visit your doctor’s office.

Sometimes your sleep gets interrupted if you eat too late, too much or too little. It is recommended to eat a balanced, light meal that is easy to digest in order to have a restful sleep. You must have had one of those nights that your stomach feels uncomfortable after you ate like there is no tomorrow. Your brain cannot prepare your body to sleep because there is so much to do: digesting the heavy food. The take home message here is to eat a light dinner which will be digested easily.

Most of us wake up several times during the night because of the need to pee. Drinking too much liquid at night might be the obvious reason here, so try to avoid consuming too much liquid before bed.

Sleep Habits

You might have acquired unhealthy sleeping habits that cause sleep interruptions. Poor sleep hygiene is negatively correlated with sleep quality: Your sleep quality decreases as your sleep habits get poorer.

Possible Reasons of Poor Sleep Quality

  • Alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Unhealthy diet, including eating large meals around bedtime
  • Exposure to blue light emitting devices
  • Irregular sleep schedule
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Disorganized or unclean bedroom  
  • Nightmares

Nightmares are defined as sudden awakening from REM sleep with a clear and vivid memory of a threatening and frightening dream. Experts say that nightmares are normal for children and adults although there is not enough evidence to answer why and how we have nightmares. Professionals might say that it is normal, but definitely it is not a pleasant experience. We wake up in sweat, frightened and shocked. It is even harder to go back to sleep than a random nighttime awakening because the fearful content still haunts us.

Tips to Go Back to Sleep at Night

Improve your Sleep Quality

Some people rarely have interrupted sleep while it is something common to wake up at night for others. It can be a good call for you to take steps to improve your overall sleep quality by making some changes in your lifestyle if this is a recurring issue. Improving your sleep hygiene will work in the long run and you will be able to sleep uninterrupted.

You can improve your sleep quality by following these steps:

Try to wake up and go to bed around same time everyday

Have a relaxing bedtime routine

Keep your bedroom clean and organized, get rid of the unnecessary crowd that distract you

Make sure your bedroom is dark when you go to sleep

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Try not to use technological devices that emit blue light close to your bedtime


Spare your bed for sleep to associate your bed with sleep in your mind

How to Fall Back to Sleep with Anxiety

Anxiety is stronger during the night now that we are alone with our thoughts. You are not alone in your anxious late nights because all of us stay awake at night with sorts of anxious thoughts. It is not easy, but there are some tips that might help you to cope with your anxiety and ease yourself back to sleep.

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are very effective in relaxing your mind as well as your body. Our breath is a strong bridge with our mind and our body. Our breath helps us when it gets harder to catch the flow of our running mind. You can bring your attention to the present moment and calm yourself down by observing your breath or try breathing exercises that are shown to be effective for anxiety. 4 7 8 breathing or square breathing techniques certainly have a relaxing effect both on our minds and on our bodies.

Sleep meditation

Research shows that meditation is an effective method to reduce anxiety with its relaxing and calming impact on us. Mindfulness meditation helps us to stay in difficult moments, such as an anxious night. You have a closer and non judgemental look at your anxiety while meditating, which allows you to accept and have compassion towards yourself. As you focus on your breath and your body, your heart rate slows down, the automatic negative thoughts seem less powerful. Meditation opens a figurative window and lets the relaxing and refreshing air in.

You can try all kinds of mindfulness meditation, as well as sleep meditations that are specifically designed to guide you to a peaceful sleep. Meditopia has a broad repertoire containing sleep meditations, sleep musics and sleep stories.

Progressive muscle relaxation & body scan

Progressive muscle relaxation is a method in which you contract and relax your muscles by scanning your body. Research shows that progressive muscle relaxation is as effective as sleep hygiene in treatment of insomnia. A study specifically found that progressive muscle relaxation had a positive effect on anxiety, psychological distress and sleep quality of hospitalized older adults. It has also been used with COVID-19 patients around the world to help their anxiety and sleep disturbances.

You can try this exercise by lying down on your bed and contracting and relaxing your muscles one by one. For example, you can make a strong fist with your hands while breathing in and then relax and let your hand return to its neutral position with your exhale. It is relaxing, isn’t it? It helps you to release the tension in your muscles with each move and eventually you feel relaxed enough to go back to sleep.

Empty out your mind

Note down the things that keep you awake at night. Writing down the ideas that bothers you during the night makes them seem more clear. And, seeing them written down in front of you will make it easier to accept and let them go. Mostly, there is nothing we can do to cope with those things but we keep thinking about them over and over again anyway. Writing them down might have another function in that sense: You can deal with them tomorrow, because it will not go anywhere since you put it out there. It is as if you put down a heavy bag until you have a rest and catch your breath on a journey. You spend the night as light as a daisy and you will gain your strength to carry the heavy bag in the morning.

Don’t look at the clock

It is already very frustrating that your sleep is interrupted in the middle of the night and that you cannot go back to sleep. Most of us unintentionally watch the clock as the time goes by and get frustrated while we realize how long we stayed awake and sleepless. It becomes a vicious cycle: We cannot fall asleep, we look at the time and notice how long we are awake and that drives sleep away even more.

Keeping track of the time won’t help you go back to sleep and it is likely that it will annoy you even more. There is no use crying over spilt milk. Keeping your eyes and your mind away from the time passing by will help you to accept this unpleasant situation without judging or fighting back.

Avoid screens

Research shows that day and night use of phones have negative health implications. Overnight phone use is found to be associated with sleep interruptions. There is an interesting finding that shows students who use their phones while sleeping (Yes, you heard correctly. Sleep texting is real.) and put their phones in their bed have poorer sleep quality and more interrupted sleep.

Technological devices emit blue light, which disturbs the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Another reason why you should put your phone away is that the messages or social media posts engage your attention and wake your brain up.

You might unintentionally be reaching for your phone when you wake up at night, but be aware of the fact that it makes it harder to go back to sleep.

Don’t force it

Think of something that you enjoy doing. Now, say this to yourself: “I must do …. no matter what.” Isn’t the joy sucked out of it? We don’t enjoy doing something obligatory as much as doing something voluntarily. Similarly, saying that you must sleep is not going to help. An accepting and non judgemental attitude works better during those sleepless nights.

It is not the end of the world to spend a sleepless day, even though it feels like it. It is annoying to toss and turn in bed for minutes or even hours. Remind yourself that it happens to everyone and it is normal. You will be tired the next day, but you will get rest at some point. Your body works in a way that it always cares for you. Not all days and nights in our lives are perfect. Some days and some nights are harder because life is not the same everyday. Clearly, this is one of the difficult nights, but the sun will rise again as it always does.

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