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Do you want to scream when someone asks “How’d you sleep?” Staring at the ceiling in the wee hours of the morning is a plight many of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. Here are some common causes of middle-of-the-night insomnia and what you can do about them.
Are you a chronic worrier? Middle-of-the-night worriers recognize that in order to get back to sleep they need to relax. Unfortunately, anxious thoughts and a never ending to-do list constantly bounce around in their heads. What can you, a chronic worrier, do when you wake up? First, keep the room dark. To avoid waking up your spouse or significant other, keep a mini flashlight or small book light next to your bed so you can navigate your way to the bathroom. Once you’re in the bathroom, don’t turn on the overhead light either. Use a dim night-light in the bathroom or leave your bathroom door cracked so you can see you’re way there.
Second, chronic worriers should keep their alarm clocks out of reach and turned so they can’t keep checking the time when they do wake up in the middle of the night. Feeding anxiety by using a clock to count down the hours until it’s time to wake up is the last thing a chronic worrier needs.
Third, it’s a good idea for chronic worriers to keep a notebook and pen on their bedside tables. Creating a worry list of things that are bothering you will ease your mind, especially if you cross it off the mental list in your mind. The next morning when you wake up you can take action and transfer the item that’s bothering you over to your to-do list. Over time you’ll feel better writing worries down because you’ll know you can rely on yourself to get them done or address your concerns the next day.
Another reason why for not sleeping well is having to use the bathroom and then not being able to get back to sleep. Having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night disrupts your sleep cycle and disturbs restful REM sleep. The best way to attack this problem is to make every attempt to prevent having to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. This can be accomplished by drinking liquids during the day but not after dinner or at night. If you go to bed early, you should lay off the liquids by 7 or 8 pm. If you’re a tea drinker, have your last glass in late afternoon. You’ll also want to avoid an after dinner glass of wine or any alcohol which actually stimulates your central nervous system, the last thing you want to do before going to bed.
You may also have an overactive bladder. Consult with your family physician for bladder retraining or physical therapy that can strengthen pelvic floor muscles. Men who frequently go to the bathroom in the middle of the night may suffer from prostate problems and should seek help from a doctor. Ask about an anti-diuretic called desmopressin that the American Urological Association found to help double the amount of sleep time between trips to the bathroom. Foods high in liquid content like soup or fruit can also contribute to frequent bathroom use in the middle of the night and should be avoided close to bedtime.
In “Common Causes and Cures for Middle-of-the-Night Insomnia Part II,” we will investigate three other cause of middle-of-the-night insomnia — pain, sleep environment and your digestive system.