Why do I awaken in the night and can’t fall back asleep?

Q:   I have no problem falling asleep, my problem is staying asleep.  I awaken most every night about 2 or 3 a.m. and then have a hard time falling back asleep after that.  I sometimes just toss and turn for hours until morning.  How can I sleep better through the night?

A:  To help understand what’s going on, look at the two primary neurophysiologic systems that control sleep:  circadian rhythm and sleep drive.

After about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness, our homeostatic sleep drive normally sends out a signal that it’s time to sleep. Basically, our brains keep track of how long we’re awake and the longer we go without sleep the stronger the urge to sleep becomes.  Conversely, getting sleep reduces the effect of the sleep drive.

It appears your sleep drive is working just fine to help you fall asleep.  But by itself sleep drive typically will not sustain a solid 8 or so hours of quality sleep.

So that’s when our circadian rhythm takes over.  Over a typical 24-hour period, our natural rhythm produces peaks and dips in what’s known as our circadian alerting system.  During normal waking hours, the circadian alerting system helps sustain wakefulness as sleep drive builds.  Those that are normally active during the day and asleep at night usually experience a dip in the alerting system in the early to mid-afternoon, often making that an ideal time for a short power nap.

More important though is the early morning dip in the circadian alerting system experienced after the sleep drive wanes.  During the night as we sleep, and as sleep drive wanes, our circadian alerting system also is progressively reduced.  This greater reduction in wakefulness is usually experienced in the early morning hours and enables us to stay asleep or fall back asleep after the effect of sleep drive wanes.

So the two systems interact and mutually support one another.  When they are in synch, quality sustained sleep usually becomes much easier, and at times practically irresistible.

To keep the two systems aligned, it’s important to have a consistent sleep schedule.  In particular, a consistent wake time has the effect of aligning sleep drive with the circadian rhythm.  For many of us, a consistent wake time is probably the single most important action we can take for better sleep.

For more on the sleep process, and more on natural drug-free ways to help yourself sleep better, feel free to visit us at www.sleeptrainingsystem.com

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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