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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 July 3, 2020

    How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

    How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

    Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life. To control your thoughts means to influence the way you live your life.

    Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affects your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality)

    I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive, and just a general waste of energy.

    You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

    Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Be someone who can control your thoughts—become the master of your mind.

    When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

    I currently have a few thoughts that are not of my choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

    Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

    Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in control of your thoughts.

    If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

    Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create unhealthy and unproductive thoughts.

    1. The Inner Critic

    This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

    • Other people’s words—many times your parents
    • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples’ expectations
    • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media
    • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

    The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance, and lack of self-love.

    Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is youwhy else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

    2. The Worrier

    This person lives in the future—in the world of “what ifs.”

    The Worrier is motivated by fear, which is often irrational and has no basis. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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    3. The Reactor or Troublemaker

    This is the one that triggers anger, frustration, and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

    This person can be set off by words or feelings and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

    The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control. He is run by past programming that no longer serves you—if it ever did.

    4. The Sleep Depriver

    This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

    The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

    • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
    • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
    • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity, and generalized anxiety
    • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

    How can you control these squatters?

    How to Master Your Mind

    You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You can control your thoughts, but you must pay attention to them so you can identify “who” is running the show—this will determine which technique you will want to use.

    Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

    There are two ways to control your thoughts:

    • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
    • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

    This second option is what is known as peace of mind.

    The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go-to” thoughts in applicable situations.

    Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

    1. For the Inner Critic

    When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

    You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

    For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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    You can also have a dialogue with yourself to discredit the ‘voice’ that created the thought—if you know whose voice it is:

    “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

    If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready.

    This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

    • They rile up the Worrier.
    • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
    • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
    • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
    • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

    Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

    Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

    2. For the Worrier

    Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

    Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind, and creates anxiety in the body. This may make it more difficult for you to control your thoughts effectively.

    You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

    • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
    • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
    • Muscles tense

    Use the above-stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time, you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

    If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

    Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

    “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

    Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense. Both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

    If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

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    Now, take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like! Do it until you feel that you’re close to being in control of your thoughts.

    Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

    For example: If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

    “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place.

    Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

    Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

    “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

    Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

    3. For the Troublemaker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

    Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers. But until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

    The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain.

    I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

    Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds—just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

    Breathe in through your nose:

    • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
    • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
    • Focus on your belly rising.

    Breathe out through your nose:

    • Feel your lungs emptying.
    • Focus on your belly falling.
    • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

    Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize. Now, you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior, and you’ll be more in control of your thoughts.

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    One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

    Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

    4. For the Sleep Depriver

    (They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher, and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

    I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

    Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

    1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
    2. Then I came up with a replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

    When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and thoughts, and I choose quiet.

    From the first time I tried this method, I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

    For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (closed, of course). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

    If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

    You can also use this technique any time you want to:

    • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon
    • Shut down your thinking
    • Calm your feelings
    • Simply focus on the present moment

    The Bottom Line

    Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or destructive purposes.

    You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable, and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

    Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. You can be in control of your thoughts. The choice is yours!

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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