Three medical conditions linked to frequent nocturnal awakening

Dr Amir gives sleep advice for clock change

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The body’s natural circadian rhythm is responsible for several of the body’s biological processes, including its sleep-wake cycles. By allowing time for uninterrupted sleep, this rhythm manages several important systems in the body. Frequent nighttime awakenings can therefore become problematic if poorly managed. Identifying the cause of the issue may also prevent severe outcomes like disability and death.

The Sleep Foundation explains that waking up in the middle night is medically termed “nocturnal awakening”.

Studies conducted in several European countries have shown that nearly a third of people wake up three or more nights per week.

“While it is not always possible to pinpoint the exact reason a person wakes up at 3am, understanding common causes of sleep disruptions may help people sleep more soundly through the night,” explains the Sleep Foundation.

According to the health body, the causes for nocturnal awakenings are wide-ranging.

When medical conditions are the cause, however, the ailments may fall into one of three major categories; heart and vascular diseases, airway diseases, and neurological disorders.

“High blood pressure, heart disease and stroke are associated with poor quality sleep, including waking up during sleep,” explains the Sleep Foundation.

These conditions hinder sleep quality due to poor circulation, as the body relies on increases in blood flow during both non-rapid eye movement and rapid eye movement sleep stages.

Another disorder linked to nighttime awakening is airway diseases like sleep apnea, according to the health body.

“In addition to obstructive sleep apnea, other breathing disorders like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can disrupt sleep through the night,” it says.

Common indications of airway disruptions include waking up with a dry mouth, and morning headaches.

Finally, neurological disorders are a third common cause of nighttime awakening, but should not be confused with common changes in sleep patterns as a person ages.

“Although it is normal to undergo a number of changes to sleep patterns as people age, those with conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are more likely to experience a nighttime awakening and have trouble returning to sleep,” explains the Sleep Foundation.

In fact, there is mounting evidence that sleep disturbances could be an early indication of cognitive decline.

Studies suggest that such symptoms may show up years before a formal Alzheimer’s diagnosis is made.

Other causes of nocturnal awakenings

Often, fleeting mental health conditions linked to temporary stress are the cause of frequent awakenings throughout the night.

More importantly, it should be noted that one can have trouble sleeping but still be in perfect health.

Some other health conditions that cause 3 a.m wake-ups include having an enlarged prostate, neuropathy or gastrointestinal reflux disease.

Are nocturnal awakenings harmful?

Some experts suggest that going to bed late and waking up late, can correlate with health problems.

This is partly due to the fact that the body clocks of these individuals do not align with the rhythms of modern society.

Paying attention to the body’s natural rhythms and adjusting the sleep schedule accordingly may help tackle some of the health risks associated with nocturnal awakenings.

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