Another restless night? How many times of waking up is normal?

Do you remember waking up last night? How many times? Dr Nerina Ramlakhan tells in her great book Tired But Wired that on average, a human being might wake an incredible 10-15 times a night! One theory relates back to caveman days when it might have been helpful to stay semi-alert even while we slept, simply to avoid being eaten by predators. Tossing and turning is natural part of our sleep. Sleeping like a log night after night is far more abnormal for us.

Awake at night

Don’t get mad at night for waking up. Waking up, even many times, is pretty normal. If we get angry in the night, it will be nearly impossible to fall asleep again.

Many of us expect to go to bed and sleep without waking throughout the night (this is me before). This is an unrealistic expectation because the sleep is about elasticity between different sleep stages and not about non-stop deep sleep. In fact, we are constantly rebounding between sleep and wakefulness. Getting angry and/or irritated at night because of waking up will only worsen the possibilities to fall back asleep quickly. In contrary, realizing the sleep stages and accepting awakenings as part of normal sleep can radically speed up the nerves calm down and body system drop off.

When we go to bed with anticipatory anxiety that we will wake many times during the night and that we will struggle to fall back asleep, this fear will eventually come true. The anxiety leads to an adrenalized racing heart and mind, muscle tension and a body that becomes hyper-vigilant to perceived, yet not real threat. This way we create a self-fulfilling prophecy that feeds itself repeatedly. However, realizing this and the fact that we can easily survive with 3 hours sleep once in a while will help us cope with this anxiety. I wake up every night and stay up for a while – sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes even 2 hours. I rarely get mad about this any longer (except last night….oh dear, we do get our setbacks, don’t we?) as I know that is preventing me to sleep.

Different sleep cycles repeat during the nights. Every cycle lasts around 90 minutes. One night contains around 4-5 cycles. We speak about doze, light sleep and deep sleep. When we go to sleep, we first doze which initiates other sleep stages/phases. We are still aware what happens around us but level of brain performance has been lowered. From light sleep (muscles relax and metabolism balances) we fall into deep sleep and then we sleep like a log. Breathing is heavy and heart beat is slow. We renew ourselves during the deep sleep and our energy storages start to fill up.

It’s is expected that we wake up when the sleep is in a lighter phase and cycles are ending/starting. I have noticed a clear pattern that I wake easily to noise, light, pee urge or something else after ~90 minutes or ~3 hours. I have also noticed that staying asleep is harder for me in the latter part of the night (between 3-7 am) than earlier at night. This is good and bad news. Good in a sense that first part of the night is critical to my overall body renewal, bad because second part is critical to my mind renewal. Also, strong tendency to restless/divided sleep means that the sensitivity to sleep poorly is often persistent.

Normal sleepers stay wake around 22 minutes every night. Waking up couple of times a night is not abnormal if you fall back asleep in around 10 minute. Middle aged people get least sleep. As we get older we tend to sleep less during the night but a bit more around the clock. Sleep requirements vary by age and different life situations. More about ‘normal sleep’ in here.

What’s my catch with this blog? I wish sensitive sleepers to put more realistic expectations for their nights. Waking up a few times per night and even staying up for a while is not necessary impacting the quality of the sleep at all. I don’t feel it’s impacting mine as long as I don’t get angry and frustrated. Keeping my calm is the key to refreshed feeling in the morning and lovely dozing in the early hours.

Is waking up and staying up a problem for you too? How can you manage it?

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