Q&A: Do I start a new sleep cycle?

Question:

“Most nights I wake up about 3 am, go to the loo and normally fall asleep again quite quickly afterwards. I would like to know if I start a new sleep cycle then or do I restart back where I left off when I woke up at 3 am?

I seldom sleep during the day and don't particularly think that I wake up but it's more about thinking that I am not going to be able to go back to sleep again until I do! I am 68 years old and in good health. I would be grateful for your reply.”

̶ Joan Murray

Answer:

Dr Sarah Jarvis says: "Everyone goes through several sleep cycles every night. ‘Deep sleep’ actually has four stages, each deeper than the last, while during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep your body is completely inactive but your brain is very active and it’s thought that most dreaming occurs at this time. Most people have 4-5 such cycles each night, although sleep tends to get more deep towards the end of the night. In addition, most people have brief 1 to 2 minute phases of waking, which also occur more often towards the morning.

Therefore, it’s not going to do your health or level of daytime functioning any harm at all to wake at 3 am. If people do suffer from insomnia, it’s often to do with anxiety that they won’t sleep. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of heightened awareness due to anxiety preventing sleep.

As men get older, it’s very common to wake at night to go to the loo, because of the gradual increase in size of the prostate gland. This clearly isn’t an issue in women, but getting up at night to go to the loo, if it’s a new issue or becoming more frequent, can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. These include type 2 diabetes, urine infection or overactive bladder. If this habit is long-standing and you don’t have any other problems such as feeling thirsty, burning or stinging when you pass urine or needing to rush to the loo often, this is unlikely. If it doesn’t bother you, there’s no need to do anything about it. However, if you do get these symptoms you need to see your doctor. If it does bother you (even if you don’t have these symptoms), lifestyle measures such as not drinking too late at night and avoiding alcohol may help."

-Dr Sarah Jarvis