Dr. Doni explores how waking up to go to the bathroom disrupts your sleep, leaving you feeling tired the next day—and offers tips for avoiding night time wake-ups.
In the most recent article, we talked about how important your sleeping environment is to getting a good night’s rest and how some simple changes can make all the difference to the quality of your sleep. This week, we’ll focus on the common problem of waking during the night because you need to use the bathroom: what causes it, how to avoid it, and what you can do to fall quickly back to sleep once you’ve relieved yourself.
Sleep is essential to health, as we have established in the prior posts in this series, which is why I consider it to be one of the seven essential pillars of total wellness and why I frequently ask patients, “how is your sleep?”
It is also why it features heavily in my book, The Stress Remedy, where you’ll also find questions about sleep in the stress symptoms questionnaire, including, “do you wake at night, even just to use the bathroom?” This question is very important because one of the most common reasons for a person’s sleep to be disturbed is waking up to pee (referred to as nocturia).
Men, women, and children alike often find they wake at night needing to use the bathroom. Interestingly, back in history, people slept in two phases, each about four hours long, with an hour or two in between to get up, use the loo and take care of other activities. When electric light was created, we started staying up later, and as a consequence, the two sleeping periods became condensed into one.
The body produces less urine at night, so it is possible to sleep 6 to 8 hours without having to urinate. Some people, however, do experience wake ups to pee for various reasons which we’ll discuss more below. Keep in mind that it is completely normal, and not necessarily a health concern, if you wake once or twice a night to use the bathroom. Still, waking up for any reason interrupts your sleep cycle, so if you can prevent it, that would be a good thing.
What causes you to wake up to use the bathroom?
If you find you are waking more often than every 3 hours, then it could be reason to have bloodwork done (including a metabolic panel to check glucose and calcium levels), as well as to visit with an urologist. For both sexes, the most common cause of newly developed frequent urination is a bladder infection, although it can also be a result of inflammation in the bladder (known as interstitial cystitis, which can be caused by food sensitivities). For men, waking to pee can be a sign of an enlarged prostate. For women, it can be due to menopause (hormone changes, which I’m going to cover in more detail in a few weeks), a fibroid or baby (for pregnant women) pressing on your bladder, or a prolapse of the bladder or uterus. It can also happen if you have diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease.
There are natural solutions that help with all of these issues, so best to find out the cause so it can be addressed. Once you sort out the root cause, you’ll be able to enjoy improved sleep as well. Be sure to discuss this with your naturopathic doctor, or if you don’t have one, I’d be happy to help—find information about phone and in-person consultations here.
You are also more likely to need to use the bathroom in the night when you are under stress. To find out more about stress and ways you can help your body de-stress, keep an eye out for my upcoming companion guide to The Stress Remedy called Stress Remedies (if you want to be among the first to know when it launches, subscribe to this blog or my newsletter here, and I’ll send you notification direct to your inbox).
What can you do to prevent night time wake-ups?
In many cases, it is not a full bladder that causes you to wake, but some other disturbance (such as a noise, movement, temperature change, night sweat, or pain). Once awake, you feel the need to pee and can be left wondering what came first, waking up or needing to go to the bathroom. Regardless of what woke you, the key is to be able to fall back to sleep again. Once you need to pee, it’s hard to ignore so what can you do to avoid it in the first place?
- Decrease your fluid intake for 2-3 hours prior to going to sleep
- Avoid drinking fluids that contain caffeine (such as tea, coffee, or soda) or alcohol within 6 hours of bedtime—these are diuretics and increase your need to pee
- Use the bathroom right before you jump in bed
- Do Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles—this will help increase the amount of time between feeling you need to urinate and actually having to go.
Once you’re awake, if you decide you really do need to pee, it can also create further problems. Once you stumble to the bathroom, turn on the lights, pee, and deal with whatever else may catch your attention, it can be so stimulating that you become too awake to go right back to sleep. So what can you do to be sure that you get back to sleep quickly?
- Keep the lights off or as low as possible (while still staying safe)
- Don’t talk or engage in any other activities
- Try to not let your mind start to think or work—just focus on getting straight back to bed
As I explained in the introductory article in this series, you ideally need between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night in order to get the maximum benefits for your immune system, metabolism, and more. Obviously, having to get up to pee is a disruption to your sleep—especially if you wake up several times a night. So, while it may not be anything serious by itself, it would be better if you could eliminate this simple (in most cases) cause of insomnia.
If you have any thoughts, comments, or tips on avoiding the night-time run to the bathroom, please share it in the comments box below. And, if you are interested in finding out more about sleep and insomnia, be sure to stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will be about how imbalanced blood sugar levels (which is especially relevant during the holidays) can disrupt your sleep. To be sure you don’t miss it you can subscribe to this blog (in the “Stay Connected” box below) and it will be sent direct to your inbox.
28th November 2014
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