Staying asleep during the night

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By Dr Simon Kyle

“How can I stay asleep through the night?”

For many people suffering poor sleep, it isn't going to bed and getting to sleep which proves to be problematic but staying asleep during the night. There are plenty of people who drift off happily and easily at the beginning of the night only to find themselves, eyes wide-open a matter of hours later, unable to get back to sleep with hours left to wait until the morning. Others still, will be able to get back to sleep but will find themselves waking repeatedly throughout the night, feeling that they've spent most of their night somewhere between being fully awake and fully asleep.

These mid-sleep wakenings will be experienced by most people at some point in their lives and it isn't unusual for people going through a particularly stressful period to report sleep disturbance of this kind. Short-term sleep problems may affect 30% of the population at any one time, though these tend to be short-lived. The majority of people find they recover from periods of poor sleep in line with other changes in their life, for example, with a work problem being resolved or their daily schedule becoming more stable or reliable. For 17% of chronic poor sleepers, difficulty staying asleep through the night persists into the long-term (> 3 months). Poor sleep of this kind may be referred to as 'sleep-maintenance insomnia'.

Repeated awakenings during the night may be associated with the sleep disorder sleep apnoea where people suffer from lowered levels of blood oxygen, most often due to physical obstructions in their airway. Individuals diagnosed with this sleep disorder will often find their sleep to be severely disrupted by numerous short awakenings as their body struggles to maintain a normal and safe level of oxygen in the blood. Problems with wakening up early (early morning awakenings) and being unable to resume sleep, have also been associated with stress and clinical depression.

For some, simple lifestyle changes may be enough to improve sleep maintenance, for example, cutting down on alcohol which, whilst encouraging sleep onset, may disturb sleep later in the night as withdrawal symptoms set in.

For those with chronic sleep-maintenance problems, and where other potential causes of sleep disturbance have been ruled out, research using cognitive behavioral techniques has shown reduction in the number of awakenings and duration of awakenings during the night. In a clinical trial of Sleepio's CBT course, participants experienced a 60% reduction, on average, in time spent awake during the night.

Find out more about the science behind the Sleepio course and whether it might be suitable for you.

Filed under: Sleep Tips