If you find yourself lying awake for hours at night trying to sleep, you are not alone. According to the Sleep Health Foundation's 2016 sleep survey, 33-45% of Australian adults surveyed suffer from inadequate sleep – a problem that has been on the rise for Australians since 2010.
Naturally, no one is at their best after a night of disturbed slumber. It can affect your work, your relationships, your safety and your overall quality of life. Thankfully, it’s not too hard to identify the reasons as to why this might be occurring, and make simple changes to improve your sleep and your lifestyle.
Here are some of the more common reasons as to why you might be waking up throughout the night.
Screen Time Before Bed
Whether you're watching Netflix, checking Facebook updates or working late, checking your phone before bed can stimulate the mind and prevent you from falling into a deep sleep. Additionally, the screen impacts your brain’s normal functioning. Blue light in particular delays melatonin production, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall – and stay – asleep.
According to the survey above, 44% of Australian adults use the internet during the hour before bed almost every night; 26% of those adults also have sleep difficulties or impairments during the day. Furthermore, 52% of Australian adults watch television during the hour before bed.
It’s true that screen time before bed has become a common habit in Australia as well as the around the globe. If you are one of the 52%, try replacing this habit with a different activity like reading (a real book, that is!), taking a bath, stretching or talking with loved ones. If you simply must use your screen, consider using an app that reduces the emittance of blue light (like this one).
It’s worthwhile considering that the reason you are waking up at night could be due to a more serious problem. The Sleep Health Foundation’s survey has found that a whopping 20% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia; 18% have restless leg syndrome and 8% have sleep apnea.
The most common sleep disorder, insomnia, is defined by a person regularly having trouble falling asleep, waking up before they would like to or waking up and failing to fall back asleep. Signs also include difficulty focusing and remembering things, depression and tiredness. If symptoms occur more than three nights per week for at least a month, it is considered chronic insomnia.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition in which you feel an uncomfortable sensation in your legs that is only temporarily relieved by moving or rubbing them. This often gets worse when trying to relax or sleep.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (or OSA) is a condition in which the airway at the back of the throat gets blocked while you are sleeping. Signs often include loud snoring, pauses in breathing while you sleep, feeling tired in the day, waking up in the night and choking or gasping for air when you wake up.
If you have noticed any of these signs in yourself or your partner, it’s best to talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options. Learn more about other sleep disorders.
Cognitive or Emotional Issues
There are several cognitive and emotional issues that can contribute to an interrupted sleep – and they’re more common than you might think. According to the sleep survey, 24% of Australian adults surveyed wake up at night because they are thinking about work; 28% awaken from stress and 24% have nightmares. Kimberly Hershenson, Therapist and Licensed Master Social Worker, says, "Stress, anxiety, depression, and just plain worrying can influence your sleep habits. When your mind is racing, and negative thoughts are going on a loop, sleep becomes impossible!"
Here are Kimberly’s tips for relaxing your mind before bedtime:
- Make a daily gratitude list before bed by writing down 10 things for which you are grateful. Anything from your family and health to your job.
- Read affirmation statements every night. Ending your day with positivity helps reduce stress and anxiety.
- Have a night time routine where you wind down, whether it's reading a book, having some decaf tea, putting on lotion, or stretching for 10 minutes. Doing something just for yourself every night is crucial to reducing mental stress.
- Start a nightly meditation practice. Meditation often makes people feel very relaxed and even tired which is not the greatest way to start your day. Meditating at night helps you wind down. Search guided meditation on YouTube.
Practicing these exercises can help relieve any racing or anxious thoughts so you can get the proper rest you need.
Other Physical or Health Reasons
Other common causes of a sleepless night might include physical pain or other health issues. According to the sleep survey, 25% of Australian adults surveyed reported waking up because of pain. While you’ll want to speak to your doctor about treatment, another vital factor to consider is the type of mattress you are using. We spend a third of our lives in bed, so the support and comfort we have during that time determines how well we sleep and how much pain we feel. Look for a mattress that will provide proper support. Furthermore, look for comfort layers that will help to relieve your pressure points.
If you need help figuring out which kind of mattress is right for you, try our online Mattress Selector tool.
Other physical and health reasons that wake you up can range from being thirsty at night, using the bathroom, or experiencing acid reflux and taking medications that disrupt sleep. As a general guideline, your last meal should be eaten several hours before bedtime to allow for digestion – and avoid spicy or heavy foods. Additionally, stop the consumption of liquids in the last hour before bed. It’s also best to avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening and be sure to speak with your doctor if you suspect your medication(s) may be causing your sleep problems.
Lastly, in the survey, 50% of respondents woke up from noise and 27% from light. To help prevent any environmental disturbances, consider using blackout curtains, ear plugs or an eye mask.
Find Your Reason and a Solution for Better Sleep
If you are one of the many Australians getting an inadequate amount of rest, the good news is there are simple steps you can take to get relief. Understanding the reason why you are waking up in the middle of the night will help you make the right changes to your health, lifestyle or sleep environment to give your body the deep, restorative sleep you need.