Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I wake up in the middle of the night?”
There could be various reasons for this and I have previously discussed one particular issue in my article – Why Do I Keep Waking Up at 3am?
Before I go any further though – What if waking up in the middle of the night is a regular occurrence for you?
What if there seems to be no rhyme nor reason for this?
It could be possible that you have sleep maintenance insomnia, often referred to as middle of the night insomnia.
It wasn’t until I researched this subject in great detail that I discovered there are actually 5 different types of insomnia.
This isn’t a one-size- fits-all sleep disorder. It isn’t just about “having trouble sleeping”. I will of course discuss sleep maintenance insomnia (and the other 4 types of insomnia in a future article).
In the meantime, If insomnia is an issue for you I have linked to an interesting review at the end of this article – please do check it out.
For now, let’s focus on the matter in hand – some more popular questions asked about waking up in the middle of the night.
Why Do I Wake Up in the Middle of the Night Scared?
You awake with a jolt. Your heart is literally beating out of your chest. You feel absolutely terrified and look over at the clock, which reveals it’s 2.38am.
Your mind is awash with negative thoughts and emotions – your children’s health, your partner’s job, did you reply to your friend’s, “we’ve split up” text, have you got enough money to pay the mortgage this month, the fact that the house may fall apart brick-by-brick and you’ll be buried alive.
To be honest, we’ve probably all experienced a rude awakening in the middle of the night at one time or another. It is estimated that 1 in 3 people suffer from some form of insomnia, and many of these people are jolted from their slumber by worry, anxiety, or deep-down fear.
So, what exactly is happening here?
How can a perfectly normal person wake up in the middle of the night flooded with fear and anxiety?
Experts agree that the fast-paced, stressful factors of modern life play a massive role in sleep deprivation and sleep disorders in general.
We sleep in cycles, typically lasting from 90 minutes to 2 hours. You probably don’t even realize that you wake up, turn over, swap positions, (steal the duvet from your partner), and then fall fast asleep again, ready for the next sleep cycle.
Believe it or not, this is down to evolution. Our ancestors generally woke up numerous times during the night to check for any signs of danger.
So, perhaps it’s completely normal to activate our fight or flight mode in the middle of the night.
Let’s say you’ve had a particularly stressful day at work and this has played on your mind all evening in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Instead of passing seamlessly from one sleep cycle to the next, you awake with a jolt and feel scared out of your wits.
This is simply the stress and anxiety of your day passing into the unconscious mind, and it can manifest itself into some ridiculous thoughts and emotions I have mentioned above.
One of the best ways to deal with this feeling of waking up scared is to try to slow your mind right down well before you go to sleep.
Spending time on social media, aimlessly watching hours of TV, or raking over negative scenarios in your mind is not the way forward.
I would suggest approximately 60-90 minutes before you go to sleep, spend 10 minutes with pen and paper (yes they still exist) and write down everything that has bothered you about your day.
List everything you can think of – the barista at the coffee shop getting your order wrong, again. The argument you had with your partner just as you were leaving for work, the crappy way a client spoke to you at work, just get it all down on paper.
This is going to be like a negative emotion brain dump.
Then spend 10 minutes writing about things you were grateful for in the day, things that made you smile.
The lady who smiled at you and thanked you for holding a door open, the taste of wrongly poured coffee was actually quite nice, even though it was cold the sun felt glorious against your face.
Once again, just write anything positive that comes to mind.
This is a way of getting all those negative thoughts out of your head and trying to fill your mind with positive, happy experiences.
Try it, you may find that you’re no longer waking up scared in the middle of the night.
Why Do I Wake Up in the Middle of the Night Hungry?
Okay, I could leave you with the sarcastic answer, “Because you’re actually hungry”, but let’s delve a little deeper.
1. You’ve changed your workout or exercise program
The human body adapts fairly quickly to a specific exercise regime and over time you may find that you’re burning fewer calories by completing the same workout.
In fact, the workout becomes stale and you don’t feel as though you’re getting as much benefit. So, you decide to follow a more intense or harder routine.
You may still be exercising for the same length of time, but you are potentially burning more calories.
A simple fix would be to add an additional (but small) meal a couple of hours before bedtime. Nothing more than about 200-300 calories, say a couple of dollops of Greek yogurt and some berries.
2. You’re eating large, carb-ladened meals too close to your bedtime
If you’re eating a large meal less than an hour before you go to sleep, especially a meal with a lot of carbs, this can typically lead to a drop in blood sugar levels.
This is why you generally wake up with an insatiable hunger in the middle of the night even though you’ve probably eaten more than you usually do.
I always thought this was because my stomach had “expanded” from the huge meal, but it turns out that my blood glucose had dropped just as I was going to sleep.
Once again, stick to a small meal before bedtime and aim for lean protein, a bit of fat, and some complex carbs.
3. You’ve skipped meals
The obvious reason I guess. Your schedule is so packed and busy you have literally “forgotten” to eat.
This will wake you up because your brain is prioritizing eating over sleep.
I know this can happen from time-to-time, as we all live busy lives, but try not to make a habit of it.
4. You’ve changed your sleeping habits
If you’re sleep-deprived this can play havoc with your hormone levels.
Ghrelin levels will typically go up, while leptin levels will fall, thus leading to increased hunger.
This is often why you find yourself inadvertently snacking throughout the day. It’s not because you’re overly hungry, but has more to do with the sleep you’re missing out on.
Every single cell in your body requires water to function normally.
Often this can lead to confusion in the middle of the night. You are actually dehydrated rather than hungry.
To test this theory, always have a glass of water by your bedside, take a drink and see if those hunger pangs disappear.
6. It’s your blood sugar again
If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic it could be because of your blood sugar levels.
The cells of the body aren’t responding to insulin and are therefore unable to absorb glucose for energy.
So, even if you are eating the right amounts and at the right times, your body will still feel hungry because you aren’t getting enough “fuel” from glucose.
And a bonus reason…
Night Eating Syndrome
Oh yes, it’s a thing!
Night eating syndrome is actually an eating disorder. Unfortunately, not much is known about what causes it, although there is speculation that it is linked to lower night-time levels of melatonin.
The main symptoms include, urges to eat during the night, a lack of appetite in the morning, and difficulty sleeping.
The condition is also linked to lower levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses hunger by telling the brain that you’re full.
Unfortunately, night eating syndrome isn’t consistently recognized by doctors, so there is any specific course of treatment. With that being said, antidepressants are occasionally prescribed to help improve the condition.
Why Do I Wake Up in the Middle of Night Sweating?
Nocturnal hyperhidrosis – or the “night sweats” to you and me.
The body’s temperature control system is actually extremely efficient and we typically sweat around a liter of fluid every day in order to maintain our core body temperature (approximately 37C).
Often this can be caused simply because your bedroom or your sleeping attire is just too warm.
However, you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night sweating without explanation:
- Menopause – Possibly the most common cause of the night sweats. If you’re a woman and of menopausal age, this could be an early sign and it is best to consult with your doctor.
- Alcohol – The widening of the blood cells to increase blood flow (known as vasodilation). This will make the skin flush and is the body’s way of saying that it needs to lose heat. This is a common side effect of drinking heavily.
- Infections – A high temperature and excessive sweating may be the sign of an infection.
- Medication – A side effect of certain medications can cause sweating at night. This is especially true of antidepressants.
- Cancer – If you speak to your doctor about the night sweats they will want to make sure there isn’t a more serious issue. Lymphoma is a type of cancer which develops in the lymphatic system and causes the lymph nodes to swell. This is known to cause night sweats.
If you are unsure what is causing your night sweats please consult with your doctor or another medical professional.
Why Do I Wake Up in the Middle of the Night Feeling Sick?
It’s our good old friend, nausea.
You can experience nausea at anytime, but some people are more prone to waking up during the night and feeling sick.
I’ve discussed above the effects that stress have on your night’s sleep and waking up feeling nauseous could be a sign of anxiety.
You may have things on your mind throughout the day or even an anxiety disorder, but anxiety does tend to get worse at night.
I would hazard a guess that this is because your mind is less preoccupied at night and you have far fewer distractions.
Unfortunately, this can set the wheels in motion for you to start overthinking and this will generally interrupt your sleep.
Waking up and feeling sick could also be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is often referred to as acid reflux.
GERD generally occurs because the band of muscles between your esophagus and stomach don’t close or tighten how they should. Unfortunately, this will allow digestive juices to move from the stomach to the esophagus.
The feeling of nausea will usually be accompanied by heartburn and sometimes a bitter taste at the back of your mouth.
Waking up and feeling sick could often be because of the side effects of any medication you may be taking.
This is especially true of aspirin, antibiotics, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and certain types of medication for blood pressure.
You are more likely to wake up feeling nauseous if you’ve taken your medication just before bed.
The increase in hormones will typically cause nausea from week 6 till about week 12 in pregnancy.
Waking up in the middle of the night and feeling sick could be down to some reasons I’ve mentioned above.
Perhaps you’ve eaten a heavy meal before bed, maybe you are dehydrated, it could be your blood sugar levels going crazy, and you may even want to consider how much alcohol you consumed before going to bed.
RELATED POST ====> How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Briefly to Conclude
As you can see there are various reasons why you may be waking up in the middle of the night.
Some of these reasons may be due to an underlying medical condition (in which case please do contact your doctor), whereas other factors may be pretty innocuous.
I mentioned in my introduction that waking up regularly throughout the night could be a sign of sleep maintenance insomnia.
If this is the case, please take some time to read my review of the Six Steps to Sleep program. A fantastic guide, which guarantees to cure insomnia naturally once and for all.