Insomnia is a sleep disturbance, whether you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Waking regularly in the middle of the night is frustratingly familiar to many of us, and can really mess up the following day. Occasional night waking usually indicates stress related to a specific situation, and doctors say it is a normal response, but if you find yourself waking at the same unwelcome time regularly, it may be a chronic condition. Chronic insomnia is generally defined as having difficulty sleeping at least three times a week for three months or more.
Night waking is one of the most common forms of insomnia, and one of the hardest thing about it is that you can immediately feel irritated and stressed, which will not help you doze back off.
Night waking can be caused by medical conditions like sleep apnea, chronic pain or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and often affects older adults. Menopause-related temperature fluctuations and some prostate conditions also disrupt sleep – consult your GP if you are not sleeping well.
How you choose to handle your night waking will have a huge impact on whether the problem improves or gets worse.
Waking to go to the toilet in the night is also normal, but to avoid ending up wide awake, try and navigate your way to the bathroom without using bright lights. You may also try limiting the amount you drink in the couple of hours before bed time (particularly caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which will interfere with your REM sleep).
Night lights in the hallway or bathroom can provide a little light if you need it, without signalling to your body that it is morning and time to rise and shine.
Sleeping in a dark environment encourages deep sleep, so if there is a lot of light outside your windows, remember to close your curtains.
If you do find yourself wide awake, get up, rather than lying in bed tossing and turning. Lying worrying about sleeping will not help – try doing something soporific like knitting, reading or Sudoku. It is best to avoid the blue light of computers and phones at this hour.
Sleep experts also suggest that if you have a bad night’s sleep – do nothing; don’t sleep in, don’t have a mid afternoon snooze – try and keep to a regular bed time and wake up time. Compensating for sleep loss can fuel chronic insomnia, because it can make it tougher to sleep the next night. Routine is your friend.
If you are up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to eat anything. Snacking in the middle of the night can quickly become habit-forming, and your body will start to wake you for food! It can also play havoc with your waistline.