By Lucy Gornall
We all know that sleep is the glue that holds us together, but what happens when you start waking up at the same time every night? It’s annoying to say the least, and can seriously disrupt our day-to-day lives, particularly if you aren’t getting the recommended seven to nine hours over a 24-hour period.
There are lots of reasons this happens, but often waking at the same time every night can be solved with your diet. We asked a nutritionist to explain...
Why am I waking up at the same time every night?
Nutritionist and health expert Libby Limon explains that there are a number of reasons why we could be waking up at the same time every night including circadian rhythms, sleep cycles or even something loud waking you up.
‘None of these are really a problem unless you are then not able to get back to sleep easily or you are waking up not feeling refreshed,’ says Libby.
‘Another more disturbing reason, which may mean you can’t back to sleep or wake up feeling exhausting, is imbalance of hormones, particularly your stress hormone cortisol and sleep hormone melatonin.’
Why a cortisol imbalance stops you sleeping
Libby explains that cortisol is our stress hormone. Stress is a common factor that could cause you to wake up.
‘It can be stimulated by any kind of stress, emotional or physical like exercise or illness. It is also a circadian hormone that should be low at night before bed and then rise over night to help you wake naturally in the morning refreshed. If it is overstimulated you can become ‘tired and wired’.
How to control your cortisol stress levels
Think about ways to de-stress and restore some calm into your life. Libby explains: ‘This could be spending less time on social media (especially before bed) and making more time to read or practicing mindfulness. Or if you are being disturbed in the night, try sleeping with earplugs and an eye mask to see if you wake up less. There are some great apps that can help you get back to sleep too.
Why low melatonin stops you sleeping
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. If your melatonin levels are low you could be waking you up at night. This can happen if you don’t get enough day light or don’t make enough serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which is also the precursor to melatonin.
Finally, ensuring your circadian rhythm is in check can be a key help.
What is circadian rhythm and how does it help you sleep?
‘A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. These 24-hour rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and they have been widely observed in all living organisms. The circadian clock is internally set in our bodies but is driven by external cues such as light, temperature, meal times and redox cycles,’ explains Libby.
How to regulate your circadian rhythm
- Eat at the same times every day: Meal times can help set our circadian rhythm, so avoid eating too late at night or too close to bedtime. What we eat also has an effect on our mood, health and stress levels in the body. Sugary, processed foods can hinder our sleep, particularly if eaten just before bed.
- Exercise regularly and early in the day: Added to this, the amount of exercise and when we do can either help or hinder our sleep patterns. Try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime so your body has a chance to relax.
How diet can help you sleep
Libby explains that diet can impact our sleep and help stop you waking at the same time every night: ‘If you’re unable to get quality or refreshing amounts of sleep, then this is when it would be advised to make some diet and lifestyle changes to help or get some professional health.’
Libby goes on to explain that low levels of certain micronutrients are also needed for sleep and relaxation, and we may find that we are low in these nutrients.
‘Magnesium is commonly insufficient in the western diet yet it plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. It could make a huge amount of difference to your sleep by taking a supplement to top up your levels,’ says Libby.
Libby adds: 'Equally, high blood sugar can lead to an overproduction of cortisol, so make sure you have regular balanced meals, which include protein, healthy fats, fibres and complex carbohydrates.
'Reduce refined carbs in the form of sugars and white grains and eat tryptophan-rich foods. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to melatonin (sleep hormone) and can be found in high levels in poultry, cheese, fish and eggs as well as peanuts and pumpkin seeds.'
Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson also adds that you could try taking a herbal supplement designed to enhance sleep.
We love Unbeelievable Health’s Bee Rested (£12.99 for 20 capsules, Holland & Barrett)
'It contains nine therapeutic ingredients to help you rest and sleep, even when your brain is buzzing. Lavender helps you to find better sleep while chamomile contributes to relaxation and helps to maintain sleep, griffonia seed extract which provides 5- HTP; a substance which converts into serotonin and then melatonin – the sleep hormone', says Shona.
When to seek help if you can't sleep
Libby does add that if you feel that waking at the same time every night and poor sleep is affecting your mood or physical health then it could be a contributor to other health issues.
‘Equally there are some conditions in which insomnia is a symptom, so if it is suddenly a severe problem out of the blue it is advised to seek medical advice,’ she says.
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