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Why You Keep Waking Up in the Middle of the Night (And How to Fix It)

Why You Keep Waking Up in the Middle of the Night (And How to Fix It)

Why is a good night of sleep so hard to achieve?

A bad night of sleep is cumulative. The side effects of a poor night of sleep carry over into the entire day leaving your brain running off fumes feeling fatigued, unable to focus and unproductive. It’s frustrating trying to get tasks done when your brain is screaming at you to just fall flat onto your desk and just “take 5.”

If you’re someone who finds themselves waking up at odd hours of the night with difficulty getting back to sleep or waking up not feeling refreshed and energized, then listen up because these next sections are for you.

In this article, we’re going to dive into some of the most common reasons why you’re not getting a good night of sleep and what you can start doing about it.

Is it normal to wake up in the middle of the night?

Shouldn’t we always sleep eight hours straight through the night?

It’s actually not uncommon for someone to wake up in the middle of the night, even 3-4 times a night. The normal human cycle of sleep is roughly every 90-120 minutes. According to Dr. Michael Breus, a sleep expert, most people will go through three to four “cycles” of sleep per night.

Towards the end of each cycle, sleep is less deep and you have a higher likelihood of being woken up. Sometimes we are unaware that we are even awake because we just fall right back to sleep, which is normal. This may be the main reason why many people rarely have true uninterrupted eight hours of sleep.

This becomes a problem when we have difficulty getting back to sleep. If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep, it could be a sign of an issue that may need to be addressed.

Waking up at the same time every night?

If you find yourself waking up at nearly the same time every single night, don’t panic. This may actually be a sign of a healthy and dependable sleep cycle. Many people tend to find they most commonly wake up in between cycles roughly 4-6 hours from when they went to bed.

This infographic illustrates what parts of your body maybe unhealthy based on the time you wake up at night:[1]

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    If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with consistent difficulty getting back to sleep, this could be a warning signal that you may need to make a change to your sleep habits using some of the strategies below.

    Why am I waking up in the middle of the night? (And ways to tackle it)

    There are several reasons that may be the cause of why you are waking up in the middle of the night. Let’s take a look at the top 5 most common reasons why:

    1. You’re taking your stress to bed

    Maybe you had a rough day at the office or have other form of stress. Stress doesn’t take a rest when you do. Often times, stress travels with you back to your home and eventually into your sleep unless you deal with it. If you don’t properly handle your stress, you end up lying in bed mulling over your stress for hours, whether you are consciously aware of this happening or not.

    Have you ever found yourself in bed trying to sleep, only to be still thinking about the argument you had or the meeting that you wish went better?

    Our brain tends to ruminate over our stress and it can end up keeping us from deep sleep because of it or it wakes us up in the middle of the night. When you mull over your stress, you are subtly keeping your brains in a state of “fight-or-flight”. When your brain is in a fight-or-flight mode, it has an extremely tough time falling asleep.

    What to do?

    If you find yourself taking your stress to bed or waking up in the middle of the night stressed, a simple strategy to practice is box-breathing. Box-breathing is a powerful strategy that helps calm the stress signals in your brain so that it can begin to fall asleep and stay asleep.

    It’s a modern spin on “counting sheep.” With box breathing, you will count the same time on your inhale, hold at the top, exhale and hold at the bottom. It will look something like this: (you will be in bed for this)

    • Inhale for 4 seconds
    • Hold at the top of the inhale for 4 seconds
    • Exhale for 4 seconds
    • Hold at the bottom of the exhale for 4 seconds.

    This simple strategy can help you release stress from the day so that you can step into a great night of deep sleep.

    2. Bad sleep foods

    A critical hormone in regulating sleep that you may be familiar with is a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin levels rise in your body roughly 2 hours before bedtime, triggering tiredness and sleepiness, then lowers throughout the night until you wake up.

    It’s important to know that melatonin is conversely related to cortisol, your body’s stress hormone. So as melatonin goes up, cortisol goes down and we sleep. As melatonin goes down and cortisol goes up, we wake up.

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    Having too much cortisol in our body, especially as we get towards the end of the day, can have a negative impact on our sleep and can keep us waking up in the middle of the night when we really should be sleeping.

    You may be surprised to find there are many everyday foods that we are eating that are triggering a stress response in our brain by creating inflammation. Our brain is extremely sensitive to inflammation and inflammation will leave the brain more sensitive to stress.

    Some of the tops foods that may be wrecking your sleep could be:

    • Trans-Fat – Trans-Fat is a highly processed and highly inflammatory fat source that you should avoid at all costs if you want a good night sleep.
    • Highly processed vegetable oils – Oils like Safflower, Palm, and Canola oil have a few issues. First, they typically oxidize extremely quickly. Oxiditation is a form of “rusting” in fats. When these oils get heated, they “rust” very quickly which creates an inflammatory response in the body. Second, these oils are typically loaded with toxins from their processing which also makes them very inflammatory.
    • Fruit juices and yogurts – These are typically marketed as healthy foods but in reality, they are full of sugar which can disrupt healthy sleep.
    • Alcohol  – Alcohol has been seen as a way to calm down after a long day and many believe it helps them get a good night sleep. It turns out that alcohol actually does more harm than good. Alcohol has been shown to increase wakefulness during the second half of sleep and also increases cortisol levels.[2]

    What to do?

    Make sure to get rid of these foods especially before bed to avoid any interruptions in your sleep.

    3. Electronics before bed

    Our modern technology has made accessing our favorite social media, movies and T.V. episodes available at arms reach 24 hours a day. It turns out that this advancement in technology may be negatively impacting our brain’s ability to sleep optimally.

    Light from LED screens like your smartphone, computer and television has a high density of blue spectrum light.

    Your brain is very familiar with blue light. It’s most familiar with blue light around noon when the sun emits the most amount of blue light. Blue light is an important spectrum of light that helps our brains determine what time of day it is.

    When blue light is highest around noon, it helps the brain calibrate it’s circadian rhythm to the correct time of day so that we’ll be ready for bed at the appropriate time in the evening.

    Getting blue light from your smartphones or T.V. before bed can unknowingly be triggering your brain to think it’s actually earlier in the day than it truly is, which can inadvertently be affecting your circadian rhythm and optimal sleep.

    What to do?

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    Avoid all electronics use at least an hour before bedtime to avoid unnatural blue light and allow your brain to start to calm down so you can get great sleep.

    4. Working until bedtime

    You only have 24 hours in a day so you want to maximize it. Sometimes that means working late into the night. As soon as you shut down your computer or finish the call, you hop into bed, hoping to get some reprieve and recovery from the day.

    When the brain is actively engaged in mental activities or work, the brain is typically generating “beta” brain waves. Brain waves are what keep us focused and alert to the task at hand, but unfortunately being alert and focused does not lead to great sleep. It takes time for the brain to transition from an alert phase to the rest phase.

    What to do?

    The key is to give the brain a “cue” that work is over and it’s time to make a switch to a relaxed state so that we can begin the process to unwind and eventually sleep.

    Some cues you can use to tell your brain it’s time to unwind are:

    • Shut everything off and begin to take 20 slow deep breathes.
    • Read a fiction book.
    • Take a hot shower.
    • Watch an episode of your favorite show, just make sure it’s at least an hour until you go to bed.
    • Play some relaxing music

    Use whatever works best for you but the key is to stay consistent. The more consistent you are with your cues, the better the brain gets at making the transition from work to relaxation.

    5. Not making a sleep routine

    Your brain loves routine. There’s a saying in neuroscience that says “The Brain Wires The Way It Fires,” meaning the more the brain engages in the same activity or habit, the more wiring the brain lays down make it easier and simpler for the brain to accomplish.

    When it comes to getting great sleep, having a “sleep routine” is crucial to helping the brain relax from the day and begin to set the stage for a great night sleep.

    Think about the last time you went to workout, did you arrive at the gym and immediately start throwing weights around or start running? Of course not. You warmed up (hopefully) and got your body prepared to workout.

    Think of your sleep routine as a warm-up for your brain to get ready for sleep. The only difference is that the more you “warm-up” with your sleep routine, the better the brain gets.

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    What to do?

    The best way to get started is to set a specific time every night, typically an hour before bedtime, where you’ll commit to shutting down work and electronics to transition into your sleep routine. Whatever routine you chose, make sure to stick to it for a few weeks to give your brain time to adapt to the new schedule.

    If you’re looking for a good night routine to follow, here it is: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

    Your blueprint for “lights out” sleep

    If you want to be able to stay productive and have incredible amounts of energy, you’re going to need great quality sleep.

    Not sure where to get started?

    Here’s your blueprint to help you get an amazing night of sleep and keep you from waking up in the middle of the night.

    1. Create a great sleep routine and stick to it.
    2. Write down everything you need to do the next day so you can get it off your mind and let your brain relax.
    3. Avoid the sleep trouble foods, especially before bedtime.
    4. Turn your TV, phone and computer off before bed.
    5. Stop working at least an hour before bedtime to allow your brain to make the transition to get ready for bed.
    6. Get to bed at a good time.

    These strategies will help you not only get a great night of sleep but will also help keep you from waking up in the middle of the night restless and unable to get back to sleep.

    Sleep well, my friends!

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    Dr Brady Salcido

    Dr Brady is a Doctor, Podcast Host, and Brain Optimization Expert sharing how you can use your lifestyle to upgrade your life.

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    Last Updated on November 11, 2019

    How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

    How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

    Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

    To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

    Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

    1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

    Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

    Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

    To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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    2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

    Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

    If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

    Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

    3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

    Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

    Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

    4. Feed Your Brain

    Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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    This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

    Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

    Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

    5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

    According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

    Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

    Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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    6. Write it Down

    If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

    It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

    You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

    7. Listen to Music

    Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

    8. Visual Concepts

    In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

    Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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    Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

    9. Teach Someone Else

    Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

    Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

    10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

    Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

    So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

    Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

    More About Boosting Memory

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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