Difficulty sleeping through the night – why do we wake up at night?

One in four Germans has difficulty sleeping through the night. The fact that we keep waking up at night can have different causes and have a negative impact on our health and well-being. Here you can find out why we often wake up at night and what you can do to improve your ability to sleep through the night.

Table of Contents

      1. Night awakening
      2. Why we wake up from sleep
      3. Common reasons for sleep interruptions
      4. Use awake phases correctly
      5. Conclusion

        1. Night awakening

        Good sleep is the basis of a healthy and productive everyday life. According to a study by the Techniker Krankenkasse, almost one in four people in Germany suffers from problems sleeping through the night and waking up frequently at night. In fact, we all wake up up to 30 times every night naturally and completely independent of external stimuli. Experts believe this is due to our ancestors and evolution, and short breaks in sleep at night served to protect against potential dangers and check the surroundings for safety. However, we usually cannot remember this because sleep is only interrupted for a short period of time.

        Only longer periods of wakefulness lasting three to five minutes remain conscious and disturb our sleep, especially if we cannot fall back asleep straight away and we therefore lie awake for longer periods of time. Ultimately, not only the duration of sleep suffers, but also the quality of sleep, which is particularly important for our health, performance and well-being during the day. But what reasons can there be if we wake up at night and what can we do to avoid frequent sleep interruptions?

        2. Why we wake up from sleep

        When we sleep, our body works at full speed and can be disturbed by internal or external stimuli. You can find out exactly what happens when you sleep here. Every night we go through several sleep cycles, which in turn consist of different sleep phases.


        Schlafmagazin: Durchschlafprobleme, Hypnogramm, Schlafphasen


        In the REM sleep phase, i.e. towards the end of each sleep cycle, our brain is particularly active and reacts more easily to disturbing stimuli because they are transmitted far into the brain regions and processed directly. If the activation of the nervous system triggered in this way (also called arousal) is strong enough, the body becomes active and is brought into a waking state.

        3. Common reasons for sleep interruptions

        #1 Stress

        Stress, Stress, fears and worries often lead to us thinking a lot and having difficulty relaxing before going to sleep. Stress also leads to a high release of the stress hormone cortisol, which wakes us up and inhibits the production of melatonin, which is important for sleep. An increased cortisol level due to stress can lead to sleep being disturbed at night, us waking up more often and, above all, not being able to get back to sleep as easily. Therefore, try to avoid stress and excitement during the day and evening and to calm down and relax before going to bed. And even if you wake up at night or have problems falling asleep again: Don't put yourself under pressure, as this further promotes the release of cortisol and thus counteracts sleep.

        #2 Bright Light

        Light and darkness function as an external impulse that adapts our internal rhythm to the natural daily routine. Bright light signals the body to reducemelatoninproduction and prepare to wake up. In order not to wake up early during the night, it is advisable to keep the bedroom generally dark and avoid disturbing light sources, such as thick curtains or roller shutters. Avoid bright lighting or screen light even when you are awake at night so that your body can calm down again and fall asleep.

        #3 Noise & Sounds

        A snoring partner, annoying neighbors or street noise at night – loud or unusual noises can disrupt sleep and make it difficult to fall asleep again. Especially when a noise stands out in an otherwise quiet sleeping environment, our brain reacts quickly and wakes us up. Therefore, make sure to remove potential sources of noise from your sleeping environment before going to bed. For example, you can keep the window closed at night, put your cell phone on silent, or use earplugs.

        Wieso wachen wir nachts auf: Wach in der Nacht

        #4 (nightmare) dreams

        Due to the increased brain activity, we wake up particularly often when we are in REM sleep. During this period, not only numerous processing processes take place in the brain, but also our dreams. Depending on the intensity of the dream, the processing and visual experience during REM sleep can also disrupt sleep and lead to interruptions in nighttime sleep. We know this especially when we experience dangerous situations or states of anxiety in our dreams and the emotional experience triggers a strong arousal. Unfortunately, it is usually not possible to influence your own dreams. However, nightmares are believed to be caused by anxiety or severe stress and mental strain.

        You can find out more about dreaming in the article Why do we dream?

        #5 Wrong diet

        Heavy, sumptuous meals in the evening can have a negative impact on sleep quality and should be avoided as the digestive process disrupts sleep and can prevent sleeping through the night. It is also recommended to avoid drinks and foods containing caffeine in the last 3 - 4 hours before going to bed, as caffeine has a stimulating effect and stimulates the nerves. Also make sure not to drink too much fluid in the evening, as a strong urge to urinate at night can also lead to interrupted sleep.

        #6 Unfavorable indoor climate

        During the night, our body temperature initially drops and is coldest around three o'clock in the morning, before slowly rising again. Sleep experts generally recommend a medium to cool room temperature between 16 and 18 degrees. However, studies have shown that, in addition to hypothermia of the body, overheating is also a common reason for periods of wakefulness at night. It's best to try to keep your bedroom cool and avoid overheating, for example by wearing sleeping clothes that are too tight or using incorrectly set radiators.

        4. Use waking phases correctly

        Ultimately, it is completely natural that we wake up from sleep every now and then and usually very banal reasons, such as street noise or an overly large meal in the evening, are responsible for the sleep interruptions. In order to lose as little sleep quality as possible, it is important to make the right use of unavoidable waking phases so that you can fall asleep again as quickly as possible and start the new day feeling refreshed.

        So if you wake up at night, you should first try to stay calm and relaxed. Don't put pressure on yourself and avoid looking at your watch or smartphone. Because the increased melatonin levels at night also have a negative effect on mood, you should not try to think about problems or worries during this time.

        If you can't fall asleep after a while, it's better not to toss and turn in bed, but rather to get up briefly. With the lights dimmed, you can read a book or use the time to write down your thoughts and clear your head. This way you can get the most out of an unwanted interruption in your sleep and ensure a rested start to the day despite being awake at night.

        5. Conclusion

        • Even if we can't remember it, we wake up up to 30 times every night.
        • The cause of frequent awakenings at night can lie in external stimuli such as noise, lighting conditions or room climate as well as in internal stimuli such as stress, poor diet or experiencing dreams.
        • Avoid stress before going to bed and do not put yourself under pressure even when you are awake at night.
        • Make sure your sleeping environment is dark and avoid bright screen lights.
        • Minimize potential sources of noise or sleep with protective earplugs.
        • Eat light meals before bed, reduce fluid intake, and avoid foods containing caffeine in the last 3 to 4 hours.
        • Prefer a rather cool room climate between 16 and 18 degrees and avoid overheating while sleeping.

        Greetings and see you soon!

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