As a nutritionist, it’s my job to educate you on symptoms that you perhaps think are normal, but aren’t, or symptoms that you’ve simply been ignoring. These are usually signs that your body is trying to tell you something is out of balance. One that I often hear about from my clients is that they are waking up in the middle of the night. It’s usually the 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. time frame, and while sometimes they can fall back asleep, many times they painfully watch the minutes tick by for what feels like an eternity.
I’ve actually been there myself, and it was something that I shrugged off as normal, but after my nutrition training, I realized it was a signal that something more was going on. Here are three common reasons that you might be waking up in the night.
1. Adrenal fatigue
After a prolonged period of stress, adrenal fatigue can set in. Adrenal fatigue is a cluster of symptoms resulting from chronic stress, one of which includes altered cortisol levels. Cortisol, one of your stress hormones, is released during bouts of stress. When it’s only every now and again, there is no issue with it; the problem comes when it’s released chronically as it can upset your body’s natural cortisol levels, and abnormal cortisol levels can interrupt your sleep cycle.
For adrenal fatigue, while everyone is different, certain adaptogenic herbs can be a good fix and help you sleep through the night. The first is Ashwaghanda in tincture form. Take one dropper of the tincture up to three times daily, once being before bed. Another is Rhodiola, an herb that helps to lower cortisol levels over time. Take 150mg twice daily, away from food.
2. Blood sugar problems
Your body’s blood sugar levels naturally rise and fall with food. In an ideal world, if you are eating a proper diet, it stays within the normal range. If you are eating too many refined carbohydrates or sugars, though, it gets too high and excess insulin must be released. This extra insulin results in a subsequent dip below your normal levels which causes you to feel fatigued, sluggish and possibly in need of something sweet to boost you back up into the normal ranges.
When you’re sleeping, if your blood sugar levels drop too low, it is often cortisol, the stress hormone, that works to bring your blood sugar levels back up. Your cortisol levels should be low when you are asleep, and if they start to rise this can wake you up.
To solve this, focus on eating more protein throughout the day which will help balance your blood sugar and help you avoid the peaks and dips.
Many studies show there are health benefits to caffeine, but what these studies fail to look at is the effect they can have on your sleep. If you are an average person, the half life of caffeine in your body is six hours. This means that it takes you six hours to metabolize half of the caffeine in your system. If you have had a coffee at 3 p.m., you could still have half of the caffeine in your system at 9 p.m., and one quarter of it there at midnight, which may cause you to wake up in the night.
If you are a chocoholic and have sleep problems, you might want to go easy on the chocolate consumption in the evening, as it is a stimulant too and can cause you to have problems sleeping.
What you’ll notice is that your sleep quality has a lot to do with your stress levels and your blood sugar balance. By taking steps to balance your blood sugar and eat foods that help to reduce your stress, you will truly be able to start sleeping more soundly through the night.