Six steps to stop waking up at 3 a.m.

'Don't sleep in. Don't nap. Don't go to bed early the next day'

Waking up in the middle of the night and failing to fall back asleep is the most common form of insomnia, Andrea Petersen reports for the Wall Street Journal

Every year, about 30% of adult Americans suffer from some sort of insomnia symptoms. Middle-of-the-night insomnia is a normal, appropriate response to stress, according to doctors. But there are ways to keep it from becoming a chronic condition.

Older adults are more likely to get up overnight, as hot flashes and frequent urination can wake up sleepers. Chronic pain, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and sleep apnea can also contribute to the wake ups.

Petersen spoke with several sleep doctors and experts to determine the best way to handle a 3 a.m. wake-up.

1. If you're awake, get out of the bed.

Try to limit the amount of time you're tossing and turning in bed. Instead, get up and read or do a puzzle.

2. Watch out for light.

Bright light in the middle of the night can suppress melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep cycle. Light may also mess up your circadian time system, says Daniel Buysse, a professor of psychiatry and clinical and translational science at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. 

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Use a night light instead of overhead lights, and if you must watch TV, put on sunglasses. Avoiding all screens, including computers and smartphones, is best.

3. Ignore your stomach.

Eating in the middle of the night may condition your body to get up at that odd time, and it may contribute to weight gain.

4. Don't check the clock.

It makes you "start to think, 'How many more hours until I get up?' That tends to create a lot of anxiety. You can't sleep when you're anxious and you can't sleep when you're doing math," says Jennifer Martin, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

5. Eliminate noise and discomfort.

Mix up your sleeping arrangements—try relegating pets to the floor instead of your bed.

6. Resist the urge to rest more in the morning.

"Don't sleep in. Don't nap. Don't go to bed early the next day and everything will turn out fine," says Michael Perlis, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.

It's better to lean on caffeine for the day than to compensate with more sleep, Perlis says. Otherwise it may be harder to get back on a normal schedule (Petersen, Wall Street Journal, 6/27). 


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