Ugh, how annoying is it when your bladder forces you out of your warm cocoon of blankets in the middle of the night courtesy of a sudden urge to pee? Really annoying—like, maybe the most annoying, even. But here’s a new thing for you to think about the next time it happens and you inevitably can’t fall asleep after letting nature take its course: The underlying reason for this may have less to do with your nighttime water-drinking habits and more to do with your mental health.
It turns out there’s actually a name for waking up to urinate more than once a night: nocturia. While there are many potential causes—including “obesity, Parkinson’s disease, insomnia, and heart failure,” says sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD—one thing people don’t typically take into account is what’s going on in their head.
“Often our sleep is disrupted due to stress, anxiety, and even dips in blood sugar, or having gone to bed too late. Basically, anything that induces a stress response in the body.” —Ellen Vora, MD
“We assume we woke up because we had to pee. While that may be the case at times, oftentimes your full bladder is an innocent bystander, and not necessarily the reason you woke up,” says board-certified psychiatrist Ellen Vora, MD. “Often our sleep is disrupted due to stress, anxiety, and even dips in blood sugar, or having gone to bed too late. Basically, anything that induces a stress response in the body.” If you’re stressed out during the day or go to bed feeling anxious, Dr. Vora says your body can be put into a stress response that only allows you to get superficial sleep—the kind that makes you prone to waking up (and is not at all restorative).
And since Nate Watson, MD, a sleep specialist at SleepScore Labs, says once you are up, it can be really hard to fall back asleep, he recommends trying to tackle that anxiety before you hit the sheets. “Fill out a ‘worry journal’ before turning out the light. Put down all your concerns and stressful thoughts in writing, and tell yourself you’ll deal with them the following day,” he says. Doing so should help you stay sleeping and also minimize what he calls ‘convenience voiding’ (i.e., nighttime tinkles) during those wee hours. Avoiding food and drink two to three hours before hitting the hay can also help, he adds.
Hopefully working on lowering your stress and anxiety levels will do the trick. But if you’re still getting up in the middle of the night, Dr. Breus recommends meeting with a urologist to determine the cause. Together you can decide upon an appropriate treatment plan so your dreams can again be filled with cute puppies and matcha lattes rather than bathroom trips.
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