It’s happened to all of us. We get into a pattern of waking and sleeping that sees us opening our eyes in the middle of the night.
The room is dark, but sure enough, the clock reads the same time as it did the night before… And the night before that, and the night before that, and… Well, you get the picture.
So, what’s happening? Why has your body decided to suddenly nudge you awake in the wee hours? It certainly can’t be good for you.
After all, waking up in the middle of your sleep, and then struggling to fall back asleep makes you tired and cranky the next day. And sometimes, it happens even if we go to bed at the right time and do all the right little tricks, like sleeping on our left side and keeping the room cool.
It’s no secret that your body needs regular and deep sleep to stay healthy. So, what gives?
There’s a theory that states that waking at a certain time of night is actually a signal from your body about something going on inside.
As you sleep, your body undergoes many states of activity. Think of it like housekeeping, while your brain takes a snooze, repairing tissue, releasing hormones for things like muscle growth.
So, if you find yourself waking up, and the same time each night, it’s theorized that your body is signaling you about a specific organ. This theory also has roots in the centuries-old Chinese practice of feng shui, which links times of day, parts of the body, and emotional states.
Read on to see what your late-night waking might mean below!
What Is An Internal Clock?
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings
Everyone’s body has an internal cycle of waking and sleeping.
The amount of sleep and times of sleep will vary from person to person and will also change with age, with most people needing less sleep as they get older.
In feng shui, certain hours of the day are believed to be linked to different body parts.
Therefore, waking up at the same time each night indicates an issue with that body part, or the emotions associated with it.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings
We spend about a third of our lives asleep, but it’s not a waste of time! In fact, it’s necessary for staying alive.
While we sleep, our bodies repair tissue, regulate our hormones, and basically tune themselves up for the next day. Without proper sleep, you’re not going to be very healthy!
So then, why would your body wake itself up in the wee hours and ruin all that? Well, it might be an underlying issue.
Nighttime Internal Clock
9pm – 11pm: Thyroid
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings
If you wake during these times, your thyroid may be acting up.
Early stages of sleep sees our endocrine rebalance itself, so if you’re waking up here, something is being blocked.
If you have trouble sleeping early on in the night, it may be that you’re having trouble calming down enough to sleep. The adrenal glands are responsible for the fight-or-flight hormone — adrenaline.
Waking up during these times could mean that something needs to be confronted.
11pm – 1am: Gall Bladder
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings
Your gall bladder produces bile, which is needed during digestion and absorption.
Bile is kind of nasty, albeit necessary, stuff, but if you’re waking up during this time, it means something is irritating your gall bladder.
Chinese traditional medicine associates the gall bladder with anxiety and resentment, so this could also mean that something is nagging at you and making you anxious.
1am – 3am: Liver
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings
Between the hours of 1 and 3 in the morning is when the body cleans itself out, removing waste materials from the blood and other tissues.
Your liver is the big organ in charge of detoxing, and so, is associated with this time.
Waking up during this time can mean that you’re backed up with “waste” in the form of negative emotions, and that you need to process them in order to flush them out.
Consider also being nice to your liver, drinking plenty of water and cutting down on alcohol and caffeine.
3am – 5am: Lungs
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings
During this time, blood and oxygen is pumped into the muscles, replenishing cells with vital oxygen. This replenishment makes sure they’re good to go again after being used all day.
Traditional Chinese medicine also links the lungs with feelings of loss and sadness.
So, if you wake up during these times, you may be feeling empty after a loss of some kind and not getting the emotional replenishment you need.
5am – 7am: Large Intestine
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings
Like the liver, the large intestine clears waste from the body and is the final stop for any unwanted food products.
If you wake up during this time, especially with the need to use the bathroom, it could mean that something is happening with your large intestine.
Waking during this time is believed to indicate that you may need to reassess what you’re hanging onto and what you should let go.
Daytime Internal Clock
7am – 11am: Stomach and Spleen
While it might be more noticeable at night, your body behaves similarly during the day.
A certain slump in energy, feeling of anxiety, or other discomfort during the day can also be traced back to certain organs and their associated emotions.
For example, from 7am to 11am is the time associated with the spleen and stomach.
It’s all about nourishment, both of yourself and others, and filling yourself up to start a new day. It’s why breakfast is so important!
11am – 3pm: Heart and Small Intestine
The late morning and early afternoon are ruled by the heart and small intestine, which both deal with communication and relationships, according to tradition.
If you feel an afternoon slump, try eating something, moving around, or talking to someone to ground yourself again and lift your spirits.
3pm – 7pm: Bladder and Kidneys
Late afternoon and evening is all about reassessing at the end of the day.
Feeling exhausted or crabby during this time may mean that you should reconsider your actions, including what you’ve been eating and doing.
These organs are associated with one’s personal resources, both physical and emotional, and remind us to take stock of what we have.
How Can I Adjust My Body’s Internal Clock?
If you notice that you’re waking up in the middle of the night, feeling exhausted in the middle of the day, or experiencing some other unpleasantness at the same time each day or night, consider what you’ve been doing that may contribute to it.
This includes diet, habits, relationships, and stress. See if you can pinpoint what’s causing the issue, and work to solve it. You might find you’re sleeping better.
Did you know that even a improper mattress may prevent you from enjoying deep, restorative sleep? Casper beds and mattresses are the perfect fit for everyone and can help you sleep better at night. If you want to give it a try, they’re offering a risk-free 100-night trial guarantee that every night is full of slumber, or you get your money back. Try it today, and get $50 off any mattress with the code LT50.
Of course, if you’re experiencing pain or other severe discomfort, contact a doctor. Paying attention to your body’s little cues can make all the difference.
SHARE these tips to help someone else tune into their body.
What happens while you sleep?
Many major restorative functions occur while we sleep. For adults, the biggies are muscle growth, protein synthesis, tissue and cell repair. For infants and children, hormone production and brain development are key (which is why they need so much more sleep than adults).
But perhaps the most restorative function of sleep has to do with a neurotransmitter called adenosine. While we’re awake, our neurons fire and cells power us through the day, this process produces adenosine. It builds up all day long, leading to a decrease in dopamine—the neurotransmitter that keeps us alert and focused. So as adenosine goes up, dopamine goes down, resulting in that sleepy feeling you get at night.
While we sleep, we clear adenosine from the body and start fresh in the morning feeling alert . The more sleep you get, the lower the level of adenosine, and the more alert you’ll feel in the morning.
The role of adenosine in the regulation of sleep.
This paper presents an overview of the current knowledge about the role of adenosine in the sleep-wake regulation with a focus on adenosine in the central nervous system, regulation of adenosine levels, adenosine receptors, and manipulations of the adenosine system by the use of pharmacological and molecular biological tools. The endogenous somnogen prostaglandin (PG) D(2) increases the extracellular level of adenosine under the subarachnoid space of the basal forebrain and promotes physiological sleep. Adenosine is neither stored nor released as a classical neurotransmitter and is thought to be formed inside cells or on their surface, mostly by breakdown of adenine nucleotides. The extracellular concentration of adenosine increases in the cortex and basal forebrain during prolonged wakefulness and decreases during the sleep recovery period. Therefore, adenosine is proposed to act as a homeostatic regulator of sleep and to be a link between the humoral and neural mechanisms of sleep-wake regulation. Both the adenosine A(1) receptor (A(1)R) and A(2A)R are involved in sleep induction. The A(2A)R plays a predominant role in the somnogenic effects of PGD(2). By use of gene-manipulated mice, the arousal effect of caffeine was shown to be dependent on the A(2A)R. On the other hand, inhibition of wake-promoting neurons via the A(1)R also mediates the sleep-inducing effects of adenosine, whereas activation of A(1)R in the lateral preoptic area induces wakefulness, suggesting that A(1)R regulates the sleep-wake cycle in a site-dependent manner. The potential therapeutic applications of agonists and antagonists of these receptors in sleep disorders are briefly discussed.
What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?
Researchers have found that too much or too little sleep is also linked to a higher risk for overall mortality, for example. Too little sleep itself appears to increase the risk chances of developing type 2 diabetes , obesity, heart problem, respiratory disorders, depression, and cognitive and memory problems. Inadequate sleep can lead to increases in appetite because your body is compensating for a lack of energy and struggling to find fuel for your everyday activities. This can result in weight gain and obesity, which increase your risk for many health challenges. In fact, the brain is the organ that requires and benefits most from sleep – too little sleep is known to interfere with critical brain processes like memory formation, and even more importantly, it allows the brain to clear out the “brain gunk” that contributes to dementia risk.
SLEEP. We all need it. But for best cognition and memory it’s the quality that counts, rather than quantity.
Good quality, uninterrupted sleep is vital for the formation of long term memories, to deepen our understanding of what we have learned, to boost general alertness and attention, assist emotional regulation and take out the brain’s trash.
It’s also important for forgetting and freeing up valuable cerebral space for the formation of new memories and habits.
While seven to eight hours is the ideal, our sleep can be disturbed by many factors like our partners, our kids or the dog. It’s better to have four to five hours of good quality sleep rather than sleeping longer with multiple disturbances. When we are tired, the first thing that goes is our ability to recognise just how tired we are.
We push on, but find it harder to concentrate, make more mistakes, feel crabby and are at risk of creating false memories.
It’s not exactly ideal.
How to Sleep Better
18 Tips to Help boost Your sleep Quality:
1. Keep to a sleep schedule.
If you need eight hours to feel “normal” then sticking to a regular bedtime and getting up time is a must. A couple of late nights can quickly add to your sleep debt, which is best paid off by going to bed 20 minutes earlier, rather than sleeping in.
2. Prepare your brain for sleep.
Allow around 90 minutes to wind down with a hot bath, a relaxation routine and unplug from your technology. The blue light emitted by our screens fools the brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
While it’s possible to change to a yellow backlight, continuing to engage with our laptops and phones means we are not allowing our brain time to quieten down to be ready for sleep.
3. Learn to meditate. Clear your mind.
When practiced regularly, meditation has been shown to improve sleep. If you’re tossing and turning after switching the lights off, you may need to hit the reset button on your mind. Here are a few things to try. Before going to bed, journal—jot it all down. You could also try a guided meditation or Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique tutorial here). If you can’t fall asleep after lying in bed for 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing for 15-30 minutes before returning to bed. Don’t give up. You’ll find a strategy that works for you.
4. Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only.
That means no TV or Netflix binges in bed, though reading using a warm light is OK. Having sex helps — it makes us feel more relaxed and sleepy through the extra prolactin released after orgasm.
5. Say “No” to a Nightcap
Alcohol disrupts the pattern of sleep and brainwaves that help you feel refreshed in the morning.
A martini may help you doze off initially, but once it wears off, you’re likely to wake up and have a hard time getting back to sleep, according to Mayo Clinic
6. Change diet – Avoid other stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine (smoking).
Cut out the food and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate, by mid afternoon. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, so that cup of coffee drunk at 4pm in the afternoon means 50 per cent of the caffeine is still in your system at 10pm. Caffeine competes with adenosine, a naturally occurring brain chemical that drives sleep. Nicotine is similar to caffeine in that it’s a stimulant and may cause insomnia. Smoking also exacerbates sleep apnea and other breathing disorders such as asthma, which can make it difficult to get restful sleep. And even once you fall asleep, you’ll have decreased slow wave sleep, which means it’s less restorative . Tough love: stop smoking. Make dinner your lightest meal, and finish it a few hours before bedtime. Skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion.
7. Exercise- Be active enough during the day.
People who exercise regularly find their sleep quality improves.Try to fit in 20-30 min of moderate exercise daily, but make sure to do it several hours before bed. Ideally, 20-30 minutes of cardio in the morning with some restorative yoga in the afternoon.
8. Create the perfect sleep environment.
Keep your bedroom cool between 19-21 degrees, dark and quiet. Avoid putting a sheet between you and the doona as it reduces the breathability of the quilt and can make you feel too hot.
9. Choose your sleeping partner carefully.
A study performed by Mayo Clinic’s Dr. John Shepard found that 53 percent of pet owners who sleep with their pets experience sleep disruption every night. And more than 80 percent of adults who sleep with children have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Dogs and kids can be some of the biggest bed hogs, and some of the worst sleepers. Everyone deserves their own sleeping space, so keep dogs and kids out of your bed.
As for your other partner, if they snore, have restless legs or sleep apnoea, a gentle prod to encourage them to get their sleep challenges fixed will help you get a better night’s sleep too.
10. Turn on some soothing sounds.
Use a sound machine or a fan to drown out what may be preventing you from falling asleep within 15 minutes of laying down.
11. Snooze-inducing smells.
Wearing lavender lotion or using a diffuser with lavender essential oil may help you hit deep sleep sooner. Plus, who doesn’t love the smell of lavender?
12. Rest in cozy comfort.
A quality mattress, soft blankets and cool temperature will reduce annoying distractions (too hot! achy back!) and help you relax.
13. Develop a Sleep Routine
It might seem tempting, but sleeping until noon on Saturday will only disrupt your biological clock and cause more sleep problems. Going to bed at the same time every night ¾ even on weekends, holidays, and other days off ¾ helps to establish your internal sleep/wake clock and reduces the amount of tossing and turning required to fall asleep.
14. Turn off tech at least 1 hour before going to bed.
A National Sleep Foundation (NSF) survey found that nearly all participants used some type of electronics, like a television, computer, video game, or cell phone, within the last hour before going to bed. That’s a bad idea. Light from these devices stimulates the brain, making it harder to wind down. Put your gadgets away an hour before bedtime to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. Or meditate to let your body naturally make some sleepy melatonin (the hormone that is produced as it gets dark out, and regulates sleep and wake cycles).
15. Keep It Temperate, Not Tropical
Eighty degrees may be great for the beach, but it’s lousy for the bedroom at night. A temperate room is more conducive to sleeping than a tropical one. The NSF recommends a temperature somewhere around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Striking a balance between the thermostat, the bed covers, and your sleeping attire will reduce your core body temperature and help you drift off to sleep faster and more deeply.
16. Turn off the light
Light tells your brain that it’s time to wake up, so make your room as dark as possible for sleep. Even a small amount of ambient light from your cell phone or computer can disrupt the production of melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles) and overall sleep.
17. Make Your Bed a Restricted Area
Your bed should be associated with sleeping, not working, eating, or watching TV. If you wake up during the night, skip turning on your laptop or TV and do something soothing like meditating or reading until you feel sleepy again.
Sleep is a beautiful thing. If you feel you’re not getting enough sleep, or not enjoying quality sleep, these simple adjustments can help contribute to a more restful night.
18. Still can’t sleep?
Rather than fretting, it’s better to get up, make yourself a warm milky drink — the tryptophan helps induce sleep, or camomile tea and undertake an activity that will keep you occupied but not over stimulated, until that next surge of sleepiness revisits and you can go back to bed.
Dr Jenny Brockis specialises in brain health and is the author of three books, including Future Brain: The 12 Keys to Create Your High Performance Brain.
How much sleep do you need and when?
Stop Trying to Get Eight Hours of Sleep
“Once upon a time, you could sleep like a baby. Now you’d be lucky to get a full eight hours of peaceful, uninterrupted slumber.” By Dr. Mehmet Oz
Instantly I knew where this message had come from and what it was about. The message was from an insomnia patient I had seen earlier in the week. He had significant difficulty getting to sleep every night. I was struck by how long it took him to fall asleep when he retired.
“Why do you go to bed at 9:00 p.m. if it takes you an hour to fall asleep?” I asked. “Why not go to bed at 10:00 p.m.?”
“Because I need my eight hours.”
Eight hours. This number is spoken like gospel in this country when it comes to sleep. “How much sleep do I need?” Eight hours. “How can I feel like the people in Old Navy ads?” Get eight hours. “Why did that Spanish nun ruin that fresco?” She wasn’t sleeping eight hours.
Where did this number come from? Most likely it originated from self-reporting data gathered years ago from young adults who reported sleeping an average of 7.5 hours during the work week and 8.5 during the weekend. As time has passed, this average amount of sleep has somehow morphed into the target we should all strive to achieve. And because everyone likes definitive answers to difficult questions, the answer has stuck. Eight hours. Done. Easy. Simple question, simple answer. What else can I help you with?
Sadly, the answer to that question is far from simple. How much sleep an individual needs is a complicated question to answer because it depends on the individual and many factors including genetic traits. It is no different than asking, “How many calories should I consume?” That depends on a list of factors including age, body size and composition, activity level, medical history, and whether or not the patient is seeking to gain or lose weight. All of these things need to be accounted for before the answer can be given. Imagine the backlash if a sleep doctor proclaimed that we should all be eating 2,000 calories per day. Funny there is no uproar when a cardiovascular surgeon tells the masses that they need to be getting eight hours of sleep.
So how much sleep do you need? At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, you need as much sleep as you need. For every person reading this article, the answer is different. The idea that we as a nation are not sleeping as much as we used to is well documented. Medical specialists with a public voice like Dr. Oz should absolutely be encouraging people who are sleepy to sleep more. However, arbitrarily applying “eight hours” to everyone is actually harming people who simply need less sleep, or those who actually need more than eight hours.
So how can you figure out how much sleep you need? Here are some tips to see if your sleep is on the right track, or if a change is needed.
- How long does it take you to fall asleep? We usually consider a normal sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) to be about 15-20 minutes. If you are asleep before your head hits the pillow, you might not be sleeping enough. If it takes you an hour or more to fall asleep, you might be trying to sleep too much.
- Do you awaken during the night? There are many serious sleep conditions that can disrupt sleep, but trying to sleep too much can be equally problematic to sleep continuity. Imaging coming home from work at 5:00 p.m. and immediately attempting to sleep until 7:00 a.m. Most of us cannot sleep for 14 hours straight, so that night would be punctuated by numerous awakenings. Think of it as your brain saying, “Sorry, but I can’t stay asleep that long.”
- Do you frequently wake up before your alarm? Even if you go back to sleep, it might be your brain’s way of telling you that it’s gotten what it needs in terms of sleep. Try starting your day when you first wake up instead of continuing to snooze. Patients are often very surprised to find that over time, they actually feel better.
- Finally, and most importantly, how do you feel during the day? Are you sleepy? Try to ignore feelings of fatigue or low body energy and instead focus on how likely are you to fall asleep sitting and reading or working after lunch. If you feel driven to sleep, you might need more sleep. If not, your sleep might be perfect, even if you are only sleeping seven hours.
So with that, I hereby grant anyone reading this article (including the patient who sent me the misguided email) absolute and complete permission to not sleep eight hours every night so long as you feel like your sleep is healthy, and you feel energetic and awake the following day. I furthermore promise never to perform open-heart surgery on a patient. Maybe this will encourage heart surgeons everywhere to back off on the sleep recommendations.