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Why You’re Waking Up in the Middle of the Night and 20 Fixes

You may be waking up in the middle of the night due to light exposure, caffeine, alcohol, stress, or eating too late. Improve your sleep hygiene to fix this.
Updated
2024-02-29
17 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.

Waking up in the middle of the night?

  • Waking up in the middle of the night is normal, but when you wake up regularly, it can be hard to get the sleep you need.
  • You may be waking up in the middle of the night due to late light exposure, caffeine, alcohol, stress, or eating too late.
  • To stop frequent middle of the night awakenings, improve your sleep hygiene.
  • The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits so you can fall asleep, stay asleep, fall back asleep, and, ultimately, have more energy.

Waking up once or twice during the night is normal and, most of the time, nothing to worry about. But when you find yourself spending hours staring at the ceiling, or waking up so much you can’t get the sleep you need, it’s a problem. 

Below, we’ll dive into the reasons you’re waking up in the middle of the night and what you can do to stop it from happening. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can help you get a good night of uninterrupted sleep. 

Advice from a sleep doctor:

“Waking up once or twice in the middle of the night is nothing to worry about. But if it’s happening so much you can’t get the sleep you need, it can be a problem. Try cutting down on caffeine and alcohol, getting light in the morning, and making sure your bedroom is comfortable to help you sleep through the night.”

Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

What Causes Waking Up in the Middle of the Night?

Here’s what could be waking you up in the night. 

1. Something in Your Sleep Environment 

Something in your bedroom could be waking you up in the middle of the night. This could be something obvious, like a snoring partner, or something you don’t even think about, like your bedroom getting too warm.

For undisturbed sleep, you need your sleep environment to be: 

  • Dark: Aim for as dark as possible. 
  • Cool: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Quiet: Silence may be best, but white noise may help if noises wake you up. 

When one of these factors is wrong, it’s easy for your sleep to be disturbed. This is even more likely to happen when you’re in the light sleep stage of sleep. 

2. Alcohol 

Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it fragments sleep, meaning you wake up during the night. 

A 2021 paper states, “while alcohol is initially sedating, this effect disappears after a few hours, resulting in a fragmented and disturbed sleep in the second half of the night.” 

Alcohol can also be a trigger for night sweats and it’s a diuretic, meaning it increases urination. Both night sweats and needing the bathroom could add to your nighttime awakenings. 

We’ve covered more on how long before bed to stop drinking alcohol here. 

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3. Caffeine 

You may think coffee makes it harder to drift off, but it can also wake you up once you’ve fallen asleep, too. 

One 2017 paper says caffeine can: 

  • Increase arousals at night  
  • Increase sleep latency — the time it takes to fall asleep 
  • Reduce total sleep time 
  • Reduce sleep efficiency — the measure of how long you sleep for in bed 
  • Worsen perceived quality sleep 
  • Reduce deep sleep
  • Increase light sleep 

Think coffee may be your problem? We’ve covered when to stop drinking coffee here. 

4. Light Exposure

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when to get and avoid light.

If you sleep with the lights on, research shows this can lead to more nighttime awakenings. And beyond awakenings, research from 2022 suggests light exposure during sleep can lead to health issues. 

But your light exposure before bed and during the day could also be to blame. Getting light exposure in the evening can suppress melatonin production, your body’s natural sleep hormone. This can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. 

A 2017 sleep study found evening exposure to short wavelength light — like that you’d get from electronic devices — can disrupt sleep continuity.  

When you get light in the morning also makes a difference. Research shows those who get later first exposure to more than 10 lux of light had more awakenings when they next slept. 

For reference, an overcast day is about 1,000 lux and a very dark day would be about 100 lux, so getting outside in the morning should give you the light exposure you need. 

comparison of environmental light intensity

We’ve covered when to get light and what color light is best for sleep here. 

RISE can take the guesswork out of it and tell you when to get and avoid light each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their get bright light reminder.

5. Stress

Stress — from work deadlines, family obligations, or financial worries — can wake you up in the night and then make it hard to fall back to sleep. 

And stress affects us all differently. The higher your sleep reactivity, the more stress is likely to disrupt your sleep, and the more at risk you are for insomnia. 

Research suggests once you’ve been exposed to stress and developed insomnia, your sleep reactivity may increase and not return to pre-insomnia levels — meaning even more nighttime awakenings. 

6. Eating Too Close to Bedtime 

You may have digestive problems if you eat too close to bedtime. A large meal before laying down can increase your risk of acid reflux, for example. But that’s not all. 

A 2021 study found eating or drinking an hour or less before bed increased the odds of waking up during the night. 

It’s not clear why, but eating can lower your arousal threshold, which is how easily you’re woken up from sleep. So if your arousal threshold is lowered by a late-night dinner, you may find things that don’t usually wake you up — a warm bedroom, a noise outside, etc. — do. 

On the flip side, hunger pangs can wake you up in the middle of the night, too.

Not sure when to eat dinner? We’ve covered what time to stop eating before bed here, including what to eat if you need a pre-bed snack.  

7. Hormones 

When it comes to sleep, women (and those assigned female at birth) have drawn the short straw. 

Fluctuating hormones can cause hot flashes, insomnia, sleep-disordered breathing, mood changes, and an increased body temperature — all of which can wake you up in the night. 

You may have trouble sleeping when: 

Women are also more likely to have a sleep disorder or mental health disorder (which makes it harder to sleep). 

We’ve covered the many factors impacting women’s sleep here.

8. Insomnia

Insomnia comes in many forms. 

  • Sleep onset insomnia — when you have trouble falling asleep. 
  • Sleep maintenance insomnia — when you struggle to stay asleep.
  • Early morning awakening insomnia — when you wake up too early.
  • Mixed insomnia — when you’ve got a combination of the above. 

Insomnia can be caused by many factors including caffeine, alcohol, late-night light exposure, poor health, pregnancy, pain, daytime naps, and shift work. 

9. Obstructive Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea is when your airways close and your breathing is cut off during the night. When your brain detects low oxygen levels, it wakes you up to kickstart your breathing. 

You may notice some of these awakenings and struggle to get back to sleep. 

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10. Other Sleep Disorders 

Beyond insomnia and sleep apnea, other sleep problems can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. 

These include: 

  • Periodic limb movement disorder 
  • Narcolepsy 
  • Night terrors 

11. Medications 

Certain medications can mess with your sleep and wake you up. 

These include: 

  • Antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers 
  • ADHD drugs 
  • Decongestants 
  • Diuretics to lower blood pressure 

12. Pain 

Whether it’s from laying on an injured shoulder or rolling over in the night and tweaking your back, pain can wake you up from sleep. 

You may also have a painful health condition that gets worse at night such as: 

  • Arthritis 
  • Heart failure 
  • Sickle cell anemia 
  • Chronic pain 
  • Cancer 

13. Discomfort 

Sometimes it’s not full-on pain waking you up, it’s discomfort. But this can be enough to disrupt your shut-eye. 

You may get discomfort from: 

14. Digestive Problems 

Digestive problems can wake you up, either in pain or needing to use the bathroom. Once you’re awake, discomfort and anxiety over these digestive issues can make it hard to fall back asleep. 

These include: 

15. Needing the Bathroom 

Waking up needing to pee is called nocturia. When it happens once or even twice, it’s nothing to worry about, but if it happens regularly, it can easily add up to sleep loss. 

You may need to pee a lot at night because: 

  • You drank a lot of fluids during the day 
  • You drank too close to bedtime 
  • You’ve consumed diuretics, like caffeine, alcohol, or salty foods 
  • You’ve got a health condition like diabetes, heart disease, a urinary tract infection, or an overactive bladder 

We’ve covered more reasons you pee so much at night here. 

16. Mental Health Problems  

Mental health issues can make it hard to stay asleep through the night. These include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Schizophrenia 

Some mental health conditions can become a vicious circle, too. For example, anxiety can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. But sleep loss can increase anxiety. 

Medications to treat mental health issues, like beta-blockers and antidepressants, can also mess with your sleep. 

17. Smoking 

Smoking can affect your sleep in more ways than one. 

Research shows smoking can lead to: 

  • Increased difficulty maintaining sleep 
  • Less total sleep time 
  • Longer sleep latency — or time to fall asleep 
  • Waking up earlier than desired 

Smokers are also more likely to report daytime sleepiness as well as depression and a high caffeine intake (which may add to your nighttime awakenings). 

The good news is former smokers report sleep disturbances similar to non-smokers. 

18. Breathing Problems or Mouth Breathing 

Breathing disorders like asthma or bronchitis could wake you up, as can snoring, sleep apnea, congestion, or allergies

But even the simple act of mouth breathing can wake you up as it lowers your arousal threshold, making you more vulnerable to other factors disrupting your sleep. 

We’ve covered more on mouth breathing here, including how to break the bad habit (mouth taping may help).

19. Being Out of Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural internal clock. It runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and helps to control your sleep-wake cycle. If you’re out of sync with it, you may find yourself waking up at odd times and struggling to fall asleep when you want to. 

You may be out of sync if: 

  • You work night shifts
  • You’ve got social jet lag — or go to sleep and wake up at irregular times 
  • You’re living at odds with your chronotype — like a night owl trying to be a morning person 

RISE can predict your circadian rhythm each day and show you when your body naturally wants to go to sleep and wake up. If you try to sleep in beyond your natural wake-up time, you may find yourself waking up. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

20. Aging 

As we age, many factors that can cause nighttime awakenings get worse. These include: 

  • You may have more health issues  
  • You may be on more medication 
  • Pain can be worse  
  • Age is a risk factor for snoring, sleep apnea, and insomnia 
  • Your circadian rhythm shifts earlier, so you may find yourself waking up earlier, and it “flattens,” or sleep-wake signals become weaker, so you may have less consolidated sleep 

How to Sleep Through the Night?

RISE app screenshot showing when to limit caffeine intake
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Want to make it through the night without waking up? A few lifestyle changes may help. 

This is where good sleep hygiene comes in. Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of daily habits you can do to fall and stay asleep at night. With good sleep hygiene, you’ll be avoiding many of the triggers for nighttime awakenings we’ve mentioned above. 

Plus, you’ll be less vulnerable to sleep disruptors you can’t control, like a noisy neighbor or health issue. 

Here are the good sleep habits to develop: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Sunlight signals to the brain that it's time to wake up, which helps keep your sleep cycle in check. Aim for at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up or 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window. 
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: About 90 minutes before bed, dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses (we recommend these).
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: You don’t have to give them up altogether — check RISE for when to avoid each one daily. 
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: This will help keep stress and anxiety low. Try reading, listening to music, journaling, or doing yoga or breathing exercises before bed. RISE can walk you through relaxation techniques, too. 
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, as dark as possible, and keep noises below 35 decibels, which is about the sound of a whisper. Use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask to help.
  • Avoid sleep aids: As tempting as it can be to turn to sleep aids to sleep through the night, they come with many risks and side effects, and can make your insomnia worse when you stop taking them. 
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule: Find the best time to go to sleep and wake up for you, and then stick to it, even on your days off. 

To help you remember all this and prevent poor sleep, RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do them.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.

What to Do When I Wake Up in the Middle of the Night?

Improving your sleep hygiene can help reduce how often you wake up in the night, but here’s what to do when it does happen. 

  • Keep the lights low: If you need to get up, keep the lights as low as possible to avoid waking yourself up further. Use a red light night light if there’s not enough ambient light to get around. Research shows red light doesn’t disrupt your melatonin production or circadian rhythm as much as other wavelengths of light. 
  • Avoid looking at the time: This will only stress you out, which can spike cortisol levels and make falling back to sleep even harder. 
  • Do a sleep reset: If you’re still awake after about 20 minutes, get up and do a relaxing activity, like reading or meditating, until you feel sleepy again

We’ve covered more tips on how to fall back asleep here. 

Is Waking Up in the Middle of the Night Normal?

Yes, waking up in the middle of the night once or twice is normal. In fact, most of us experience micro-awakenings (sometimes up to 10 to 20 per hour) that we often don’t remember.

You may wake up because you need the bathroom, because you’ve changed sleeping position, or just naturally in the second half of the night. 

You’re more likely to wake up in the second half of the night because: 

  • You experience less deep sleep and more light and rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM sleep, so it’s easier to be woken up. 
  • Your body has less adenosine in its system, a chemical that makes you feel sleepy, as this is cleared while you’re sleeping.

As long as you’re meeting your sleep need (the genetically determined number of hours of sleep you need), waking up once or twice isn’t anything to worry about. 

If you’re not meeting your sleep need, you’ll be building up sleep debt, the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. And this can cause low energy, mood, and productivity the next day, as well as long-term health issues, like diabetes, obesity, and depression. 

RISE can work out your sleep need and how much sleep debt you have, so you can see if your nighttime awakenings are causing sleep deprivation. 

For a sleep doctor’s take, we turned to our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu. 

“Waking up once or twice in the middle of the night is nothing to worry about. But if it’s happening so much you can’t get the sleep you need, it can be a problem. Try cutting down on caffeine and alcohol, getting light in the morning, and making sure your bedroom is comfortable to help you sleep through the night.” Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need and here to view their sleep debt.

When to Speak to a Doctor About Waking Up in the Middle of the Night?

Waking up in the middle of the night can stop you from getting enough sleep if it happens often. 

If you’ve improved your sleep hygiene and still find yourself waking up often throughout the night, it may be worth speaking with your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist. 

They can test for an underlying sleep disorder or medical condition and recommend treatment options to help. 

Sleep Soundly Through the Night 

Waking up once or twice throughout the night is nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s normal! But when you wake up regularly, it can be hard to get the sleep you need. 

Try improving your sleep hygiene to cut out many of the things that can cause nighttime awakenings. This includes getting light at the right times, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and large meals close to bedtime, and making sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. 

To stay on top of everything, the RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits. The win-win of sleep hygiene is it’ll help you fall asleep quicker, too, meaning even more sleep and better energy day after day. 

You don’t need to wait long to see the benefits — 80% of RISE users report better sleep within five days. 

Summary FAQs

Waking up in the middle of the night

If you’re waking up in the middle of the night, it’s probably due to caffeine, alcohol, light exposure, stress, anxiety, discomfort, eating too close to bedtime, or being out of sync with your circadian rhythm. Improve your sleep hygiene to reduce how often you wake up at night.

Waking up in the middle of the night to pee

Waking up in the middle of the night to pee is called nocturia. It’s normal to wake up once or twice. But waking up often to pee can happen when you drink too much fluid, drink too close to bedtime, or have a medical issue or bladder problem.

Waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety

Waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety or with a panic attack can be caused by stress, mental health issues, or medical conditions. To fall back to sleep, try doing a sleep reset where you do a relaxing low-lit activity until you feel sleepy again.

Waking up in the middle of the night hungry

If you wake up in the middle of the night hungry, you may not have eaten enough during the day. Sleep deprivation can also increase the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Try having a light and healthy snack before bed such as a piece of fruit or portion of Greek yogurt.

Why do I keep waking up in the middle of the night?

You may keep waking up in the middle of the night due to getting light exposure or having caffeine, meals, or alcohol too close to bedtime; having a bedroom that’s too bright, noisy, or warm; stress, anxiety, or hormones. Improve your sleep hygiene to reduce how often you wake up at night.

How do I stop waking up in the middle of the night

Stop waking up in the middle of the night by improving your sleep hygiene. This includes getting light first thing and avoiding light, caffeine, large meals, and alcohol close to bedtime; keeping a consistent sleep pattern; and making sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.

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