5 Reasons You're Waking Up in the Night

I can safely say I have a whole new appreciation for SLEEP, GLORIOUS SLEEP. Having a bad night’s sleep, unless there’s a really cute baby waking you up, is nothing short of frustrating. It’s actually not great even if there’s a cute baby waking you up haha! It’s hard to feel positive, eat well and stay calm when you’ve had a bad night’s sleep.

Sleeping less than 7 hours a night is just not good for you. Studies show that less sleep can actually cause the body to produce more ghrelin, a hunger inducing hormone, and less leptin, a hormone causing you to feel satiated - leading to increased food intake and possible weight-gain. Studies have also shown cortisol (a stress hormone) levels to be higher following a night of lost sleep, making you more susceptible to anxiety and cravings. So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, sleep should be a major priority. :)

If you struggle specifically with waking up in the night, around the 2-4am time frame, there’s a few key things that could be causing this.

5 Reasons You’re Waking Up In the Night

1. Eating too close to bed or too heavy a meal in the evening

Scientists at Brazil's Universidade Federal de São Paulo studied the relationship between food intake and sleep patterns in a group of 52 healthy young adult men and women. They found that eating heavy meals in the evening was associated with poorer results for several measurements of sleep quality. They also found that women were more vulnerable to the negative effects of nighttime eating on sleep, including a greater likelihood to wake in the night following heavy evening meals. We find most people benefit from stopping eating at least 2 hours before bed.

There’s a caveat to this one though and a reminder that there’s no one size fits all approach to eating or sleep. Sometimes, having a small snack before bed if you have adrenal imbalances can actually help you sleep better through the night. The key is no sugar, and just something light. An example could be a rice cracker with almond butter. You can test how well your adrenals are functioning with the hormone testing we offer at HEAL.

2. Blood sugar problems

Blood sugar problems affect how you sleep, and lack of sleep affects your blood sugar control. When your blood sugar is really high, your kidneys try to eliminate it via urination, causing you to wake up to go to the bathroom throughout the night or wake up really thirsty. Every cell in your body needs sugar to work properly, so if your blood sugar is too low, you may also wake up in the middle of the night wide awake. As a response to really low blood sugar your body releases hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels, including adrenaline, glucagon and cortisol, which stimulate the brain.

To remedy this, you have to manage your blood sugar throughout the day, as well as avoid sugary foods in the evening so you don’t get a spike and then a dip in blood sugar in the middle of the night. We can give you recipes in our weekly meal plans to make sure you have balanced blood sugar.

3. Stress & cortisol imbalances

This is the main reason we help clients address their sleep. Cortisol is a stress hormone. It also regulates your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s sleep and wake cycle. Cortisol levels should be lowest in the evening, but if you are experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety, have been experiencing long-term stress or have irregular sleep patterns (i.e. night shift workers), your cortisol levels may be low during the day, causing you to feel exhausted, and elevated at night, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night feeling wide awake. One way to describe this is if you feel “tired, but wired”. You can test this with a simple saliva test through HEAL. 

An important note about stress is that staying up too late is actually a stressor on your body as well. You know that first time in the evening when you feel tired? Usually around 8:30-9pm? If you listen to that and start winding down and go to bed, you’ll have a much better sleep than if you push through another hour, get your second wind (which is actually cortisol) and THEN try to go to sleep once you’ve had a spike in cortisol.

4. Blue light in the evening

I really wish this wasn’t a factor, but it is. According to the National Sleep Foundation, blue light (from your cell phones, iPads, computers and even TVs) affects your circadian rhythm and blocks melatonin production, which is the main hormone/neurotransmitter that makes your sleep. Many people brush off blue light as a possible sleep disruptor because they don’t have an issue falling asleep, but by affecting your hormones and circadian rhythm it may be linked to your 2-4am wakeup. Depending on what you’re watching, it can also be really stimulating and lead to a rise in your stress hormones.

The ideal would be to avoid blue light 1 hour before bed, but if you must use electronics, try blue light blocking glasses and the night light setting on your devices. I know there have been nights where I don’t shut down my phone in time (scrolling Instagram a bit too long) and it takes me a lot longer to fall asleep!

5. Perimenopause and menopause

There are quite a few hormonal changes that take place, for men and women, in the 40s, 50s and 60s. If you’ve already ruled out diet, lifestyle factors and stress, your sleep problems could be linked to hormones other than ones that regulate blood sugar and stress.

Some hormones that may be affected during this time:

  1. Progesterone: Progesterone increases the production of GABA, which is your calming neurotransmitter. Low progesterone can make you more prone to anxiety, depression and a restless mind, leading to problems with falling and staying asleep.
  2. Estrogen: Declining estrogen levels can also affect sleep. In addition to its role in reproduction and other important functions, estrogen helps the body use serotonin and other chemicals that assist sleep. Healthy estrogen levels contribute to higher-quality sleep, with fewer awakenings throughout the night, and less time needed to fall asleep. Because of its connection with serotonin, declining levels of estrogen may also make you more susceptible to stressors that affect sleep.
  3. Testosterone: Unlike cortisol, testosterone levels rise during sleep, especially REM sleep, and decrease during waking hours. There's evidence of a relationship between testosterone and sleep disordered breathing, including sleep apnea. Poor sleep can lead to low testosterone and low testosterone can affect sleep. Though men are more likely than women to suffer from sleep apnea, it’s felt that sleep disordered breathing is underdiagnosed in women.

Though low levels of these hormones affects sleep, it’s not as simple as your hormones drop, so your sleep suffers. There are other symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, for example, that are linked to a surge of adrenaline, which can also be part of the problem. In order to get the full picture, you can actually test your hormones at home. Click here to view the hormone testing we offer at HEAL.

What Else You Can Do

In addition to the above, here are a few more ways you can practice proper sleep hygiene:

  • Avoid alcohol before bed
  • Reduce or remove light by using blackout curtains
  • Remove unnecessary electronics from the bedroom
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants past noon
  • Develop a relaxing wind down routine before bed
  • Exercise during the day and avoid intense exercise in the evening
  • Don’t eat too close to bed

If you are tired of not sleeping (no pun intended), there could be something you’re missing. Click here to book a complimentary 15 minute info session to learn about our hormone testing and how we work with clients one-on-one to have you sleeping through the night in no time.


Other Resources:

https://www.alaskasleep.com/blog/blood-sugar-and-sleep-problems

https://thesleepdoctor.com/2018/01/05/menopause-affects-sleep/

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/menopause-and-insomnia

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