We all know that feeling. The groggy head, the smear of darkness, the sounds of a partner snoring beside you or a dog stretching out at the foot of the bed — all signs that you, too, should still be asleep, and yet here you are, brain-ticking over and restless.
If you're lucky, you might drift off again quickly, but too many of us are faced with those restless hours at midnight or 3am, our circadian rhythm interrupted, and sleep eluding us.
As you probably already know, this has a real impact, not just on your day, but on your body. Sleep is, after all, as essential to your life as breathing and eating, and when you have a bad night's sleep, it can have a lot of tap-on effects.
From poor concentration and memory loss to issues with your mood, impaired judgement and reaction time, and problems with physical coordination, all of which can lead to injury, illness or emotional turmoil, those nighttime awakenings can become more than just sleep problems .
But, how do you address something like disrupted sleep, and how do you reset your routine to keep a consistent sleep schedule and get a good night's rest? First, let's try to understand sleep and how it works.
What are the sleep cycle stages?
You may have heard the term sleep cycle before, particularly with the invention of smartwatches and apps that purport to monitor the process, but the actual phases of sleep itself can often be misunderstood. Never fear though, we've got your back!
Sleep cycles are made up of 5 unique stages that the body transitions through 4-6 times each night. A complete cycle generally lasts for about 90 minutes at a time, with some phases being as short as a minute and others lasting up to an hour . These phases are:
Probably the most self-explanatory of the phases, the wake phase is when you first get to bed and aren't quite ready to drift off yet. It marks the start of your sleep cycle and the start of that drowsiness which hopefully sends you into quality sleep.
N1: Lighter sleep
Lasting only 1-5 minutes, this lighter sleep is generally the shortest part of your cycle and marks the body starting to relax and the brain starting to slow down.
It's easy to wake up during this phase, perhaps from a noise or an interruption, but it's also very easy to slip into the next phase .
N2: Deep sleep
This is the moment that your heart rate and body temperature drop. Lasting for around 25 minutes in the first cycle and gradually lengthening with each successive cycle, this is a big phase and many studies indicate that it's really important in the processing and consolidation of memories.
This makes it pivotal to your sleep hygiene and for your brain .
N3: Deepest Non-REM sleep
The deepest stage of sleep is also the hardest to wake up from, and cognitive testing shows that being woken up during this part of your cycle can impair your mental performance for up to an hour.
This is the stage when the body repairs and regrows tissue, builds bone and muscle and strengthens your immune system. This stage of deep sleep is also where sleepwalking, night terrors and bedwetting can occur .
The sleep cycle's final stage is also the stage most people know. Rapid eye movement or REM sleep is associated with dreaming and most medical professionals don't actually consider it a restful part of your sleep pattern .
The eyes and breathing muscles remain active, your brain remains very active, and you consume more oxygen which can lead to increased and variable heart rate and blood pressure. REM sleep usually starts about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and lasts for roughly 10 minutes in the first cycle, and then for longer in each subsequent cycle with the final one potentially going for an hour.
This is the phase where you dream, have nightmares, and can even get a little aroused.
All of these phases of sleep are crucial, and any of them being interrupted can cause poor sleep hygiene, leaving you feeling disoriented, groggy or just not like your best self, which can in turn lead to injury and illness.
What causes waking up in the middle of the night?
There are a lot of factors that can interfere with your sleep habits and lead to nighttime awakenings.
As with many health concerns, these can vary from lifestyle factors such as new parenthood to underlying illness or injury to environmental factors such as loud noises or extreme weather.
Other factors that might be causing you to wake up include:
- Stress, anxiety or depression
- Certain medications, particularly beta-blockers, diuretics and antidepressants 
- Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, drinking coffee late in the day, consuming alcohol, using electronic devices in bed, and an inconsistent bedtime routine.
- Sleep disorders such as insomnia, parasomnias such as night terrors and sleepwalking, circadian rhythm disorders, narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorder and restless legs syndrome, and sleep apnoea 
- Other health conditions such as acid reflux and stomach issues, chronic pain, neurological disorders or thyroid dysfunction 
How many times is normal to wake up during the night?
The short answer is: it varies. Why? well, it varies based on a whole range of factors, not just the reasons above, but also just your particular body and the genetics and history that comes with it.
While it's great to stay asleep after you fall asleep, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night can be a natural part of your body's cycle.
That said, regularly waking up for longer periods of time (up to 20 or 30 minutes), isn't normal, and is something you need to address with a doctor or mental health professional. After all, sleep quality is crucial to life quality.
How to improve your slumber and sleep through the night
From the long-term to the short-term, there are plenty of things that you can do to promote quality sleep and kick trouble sleeping to the curb. In particular, start by:
- Creating a relaxing bedtime routine with a consistent bedtime. It might sound cliche, but sometimes, the trick to getting yourself to stay asleep is really the wind-down. Play some soft music, have some chamomile tea and read a chapter of your book
- Avoid caffeine late in the afternoon and evening, and alcohol right before bedtime
- Avoid nicotine and certain medications that can cause withdrawal symptoms during sleep and lead to waking up
- Stay active with regular exercise during the day to build your sleep drive, and try and practice mindfulness 
- If you're still experiencing sleep disruption, a sleep aid such as Kin's Deep Sleep supplement might be just what you need. Designed with natural ingredients like magnesium and chamomile, Kin's Deep Sleep works to ease muscle tension, relax the mind and help induce natural sleep
- If your fragmented sleep finds you frequently waking in the middle of the night or struggling with night sweats or other sleep problems, you may find that a prescription treatment is just what you need. Pilot's prescription sleep support is a dual-action sleep medicine designed to have you falling asleep and staying asleep. Pilot’s sleep treatment contains the body’s own hormone for regulating sleep and an all-natural relaxant to tackle the stresses that keep us awake. Together, they work to regulate the sleep cycle.
Beating sleep apnoea or any other sleep disorder can be a journey, but it's one worth pursuing. Quality sleep is crucial to having quality time awake, so making your sleep routine a priority can have you living your best life.