If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, there could be several possibilities for your disrupted slumber. It could be attributed to certain daytime habits, like drinking coffee too late into your day, or other underlying issues that are worth identifying. Regardless of what's preventing a restful night, it's crucial to think of sleep as a sign of your health, rather than as a means to an end. To figure out why you're waking up in the middle of the night, we looked to Terry Cralle, RN, a registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator at The Better Sleep Council, for some answers.
1. You're not cutting off caffeine early enough.
If you work a normal 9-to-5 schedule, a good rule of thumb is to switch to noncaffeinated drinks by lunchtime. To many of us, that might not sound doable, especially as soon as that afternoon slump rolls around. But caffeine can remain in your system long into the day. Also keep in mind what that third cup of coffee is telling you.
"If you're relying on caffeine all through the day, you're not getting enough sleep," Cralle told POPSUGAR.
2. It's your nightcap.
Winding down with a glass of wine before bed may initially put you right to sleep, but nightcaps typically result in a restless night. Once you're awake, you stay wide awake long enough for it to affect the rest of your evening's quality of sleep.
"[Having alcohol close to bedtime] will disrupt your sleep later on and really cause it to be fragmented," Cralle said. "And then you can get in a vicious cycle of too much caffeine during the day, so you're going to sort of self-medicate with alcohol at night. Then you wake up exhausted, which requires more caffeine."
Instead, opt for herbal tea or warm milk.
3. It's your bed.
If there's one splurge you can justify, it's a quality mattress and/or pillow. Considering that we spend about a third of our life asleep, it's important to invest in your rest.
"I'm all for getting a really comfortable mattress because it really does make a difference," Cralle said. "You want to make sure you're optimising your sleep in all ways possible — good sleep equals good wake."
4. It's your sleep environment.
Sometimes, having a supercomfy bed isn't enough. It's also important to consider how you're utilising your bedroom space. Cralle suggests thinking of your bedroom as a "sleep sanctuary," free of exercise equipment and clutter. Just as how you'd optimise your office for productivity and focus, limit all other bedroom activity to sleep and sex. Keep as much light out of the room as possible at night (the darker, the better) and even consider painting your walls a soothing colour.
It could also be factors like allowing your pets to sleep with you. "You've got to really drill down and look at everything to see what's going on," Cralle said.
5. You might have an undiagnosed sleep disorder.
To really identify the reason for your disrupted sleep, log your quality of slumber into a sleep diary as soon as you wake up in the morning. Or, if you have a sleep tracker, follow your progress for two weeks. According to Cralle, there are over 88 sleep disorders, and most people ignore sleep problems without realising how important sleep is to your health.
"I tell people to view sleep as a vital sign," she said. "I think people should bring up sleep at every single healthcare provider encounter — it's that important and fundamental to our health. If your healthcare provider doesn't bring it up, you bring it up."