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7 Reasons You Wake Up a Lot at Night

Sometimes, an underlying health complaint can be the reason fo a disturbed sleep in the middle of the night. Here, we explain what those wake-up calls could mean.

Mental Health By Ariba Khaliq / Apr 12, 2015

What Woke You Up?

It’s natural to wake up several times in the night without remembering – but waking up out of deep sleep so you’re left tossing and turning could be a sign of trouble. “We’ve evolved to realise that we’re easy prey when we’re asleep, so most of us get up regularly during the night – but waking up fully isn’t something that should be ignored,” says Dr Neil Stanley from the British Sleep Society. Here are some possible reasons.

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Leg Cramps

Over-exercising, fatty diet, and statins can all cause your legs to cramp. How? Hitting the treadmill hard can reduce calcium and magnesium levels. These are needed to help muscles expand and contract. Another cramp trigger is when peripheral arteries that supply blood to the legs are damaged by fatty deposits from your diet, or from high blood sugar levels in diabetics. Your heart might thank you for taking cholesterol lowering statin drugs, but a US study found a 20% increased risk of cramps. Researchers speculate it could be to do with their effect on muscle enzymes.

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Nocturnal reflux happens when the valve closing off the gullet from the stomach doesn’t work, allowing stomach acid to escape. Lying flat leaves you prone to reflux. Without gravity, acid can move up through the chest, irritating the back of the throat, leading to coughing. The problem is more common among those with excess fat around their midriffs. You might want to avoid heavy, fatty foods. These take longer to get digested in your digestive tract.

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Bad Back

Your mattress, arthritis, and disc inflammation can all make your back to ache. Change your mattress every eight to 10 years. To find the right one, lie on your back and feel for a gap between your spine and the mattress. If there is one, the mattress is too hard. If you can’t get your fingers out easily, it’s too soft. If you suffer from arthritis, you’re more prone at night because inflammatory chemicals are more active between 11pm-3am. Taking anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen before bed may help. Regular and intense pain, however, could mean spinal disc inflammation, or rarely, a spinal tumour.

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Breathing Trouble

If you have nocturnal asthma or a heart condition, your breathing could suffer at night. If you are asthmatic, sleeping can make you feel worse – lying down means mucus can accumulate in the airways, creating pressure on the lungs. In fact, of the estimated five million Brits who suffer from asthma, some only realise they have it because it wakes them up at night. Feather duvets can help, and your GP can prescribe medication. What’s more worrying is waking up gasping for air, which can signify serious heart problems.

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Muddled Brain

This is when something wakes us from deep sleep and we can’t remember where we are. Some parts of our brain remain in a sleeping state, even when we’ve woken. So while you feel awake, you might not be able to get up or speak properly. This is commonly caused by sleep apnoea, a disorder in which you stop breathing during the night, causing you to wake up from deep sleep and have loud snoring. Apart from getting help, avoid alcohol, give up smoking and lose weight.

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The Sweats

If your hormones are jinxed or you have had booze, you might wake up feeling all sweaty at night. Brandy might work, but it disrupts regenerative sleep patterns. Alcohol also causes blood vessels in our skin to widen, making us feel warmer. Sweating can also be a side-effect of antidepressants, which can increase levels of stress hormones such as noradrenaline. And in women, sweating can be a result of low oestrogen levels, which drop just before or during a period, or at the time of menopause. Men who sweat at night, even when it’s not that warm could have low testosterone.

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Going to the Loo

A weak bladder or an unstable prostate will cause you to wake up several times during the night to pee. Medication can relax the muscles in men’s prostate and shrink it. But see your GP as an enlarged ­prostate is a symptom of cancer. Also, the kidneys produce more urine as we get older, which means there’s more pressure from both sides. In addition, your bladder becomes more unstable as you age, so it feels like it needs emptying when it’s partially full. This can be treated, but causes can include kidney stones, and even cancer, so speak to your GP.

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