Waking up at the same times each night

Q:  For the past few nights I have been awakening at very close to the same times each night, about 1:30 a.m., 3:00 a.m., and 4:30 a.m.  Now I’m beginning to worry I’m getting locked into this pattern.  Is this kind of thing normal?

A:  Awakening at the exact same time for multiple nights is unusual, and likely coincidental.

However, if you keep a consistent sleep schedule, it might not be all that surprising to awaken at similar times each night.  That’s because our mind-body system generally works in roughly 90 minute sleep cycles, with 4 or 5 such cycles typically per night.  Each cycle consists of several predictable sleep phases, including deep or slow wave sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement), also known as dream sleep.  Each cycle normally ends with a REM dream phase, and that’s when sleep typically is lightest.

Even the best sleepers will awaken to some degree during the transition from one cycle to the next.  However, good sleepers usually fall right back asleep and by morning do not remember these transient awakenings.

Those with insomnia — who are often lighter sleepers anyway — tend to be awake longer during these sleep cycle transitions, and that’s when conditioned negative sleep thoughts and anxiety or stress from the previous day can hit hard.  Then it can understandably take longer than a few minutes to fall back asleep.

In the Sleep Training System, we counter this by using specific in-bed relaxation methods that can help you move naturally back to a drowsy state more conducive to falling  asleep.

As we age, we also tend to spend less time in the deepest sleep phases, and more time in what’s known as stage 2 sleep.  Stage 2 is true sleep, but lighter than the slow wave sleep phases.  Also, the elderly may reach a REM dream phase much faster than younger persons, sometimes entirely skipping preliminary phases.  These are just a couple of changes that often occur as we age.

So if you awaken in the night and can recall a vivid dream, it’s likely you’ve just completed one of these typical sleep cycles.  This kind of awakening is therefore normal, and by itself nothing to worry about.

You might benefit by becoming less of a clock watcher.  Some of us can become somewhat obsessed with checking the time when awakened in the night, but if that only works to remind you of how much sleep you’re losing, then your clock can become yet another conditioned cue that reinforces insomnia.

By using proven cognitive and behavioral methods for better sleep, you can help naturally strengthen your inherent sleep system to the point where these middle-of-the-night awakenings, while common and normal, are no longer bothersome.

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

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