Why You’re Unable to Stay Asleep 


February 25, 2023 5 MIN READ

stay asleep

Why You’re Unable to Stay Asleep 

When having issues with sleep, you’ve probably come across the term insomnia many times. You may not know that there are different kinds of insomnia based on what you’re struggling with sleep-wise. If you’re having trouble remaining asleep through your night, the type of insomnia you’re struggling with is sleep-maintenance insomnia. Knowing this term is one step closer to understanding your problems and finding solutions.

What is Sleep-Maintenance Insomnia?

Like other forms of insomnia, sleep-maintenance insomnia involves issues with sleep. In this case, it’s an issue of staying asleep. If you find yourself waking up often in the middle of the night or waking up only once in the middle of the night but struggling before falling back asleep, then you are struggling with sleep-maintenance insomnia. Other things that might be occurring that would be linked to this form of insomnia are waking up too early or experiencing the feeling of being “stuck in limbo” at night where you’re not quite asleep but not quite awake either.

Sleep-maintenance insomnia will be considered chronic if you experience it multiple times a week for longer than 3 months.

When During the Sleep Cycle Does Sleep-Maintenance Insomnia Occur?

Understanding the sleep cycle can help you understand your issues with sleep better, including your sleep-maintenance insomnia. There are four main stages of your sleep cycle.

In the first stage of the sleep cycle, your body is focused on falling asleep. This stage usually only lasts a handful of minutes unless you’re also struggling with another form of insomnia in which your body has trouble falling asleep, known as sleep-onset insomnia. If you can’t fall asleep even after trying for more than 30 minutes, you may be experiencing sleep-onset insomnia. It’s important to note that you can struggle with sleep-onset and sleep-maintenance insomnia.

Since this first stage has you barely asleep, it’s particularly easy for you to be woken up. Sometimes it can be an outside source that does the waking, such as a noise that startles you back to full awareness. Other times it can be internal, like a thought that brings your brain back to being alert. If you’ve ever experienced the sensation of falling and then jerking awake, you were in the first stage of sleep. This common occurrence is referred to as a hypnic jerk and is experienced in the first stage of sleep when your mind and body are trying to relax.

In the second stage of the sleep cycle, your body is beginning to prepare for deep sleep. This full-body process has your heart rate slowing, your breathing evening out, your muscles relaxing, and your body temperature lowering. You are slightly less likely to be woken up during this stage, but it’s still much easier at this point than in later stages of sleep. This is because your muscles still aren’t fully relaxed.

In stages 3 and 4, your muscles are much more relaxed. In stage 4, also known as REM sleep, many muscles that you usually control on your own – such as your arms and legs – become temporarily paralyzed. Due to this intense relaxation, you’re less likely to be woken up during these later stages.

Now, you might find yourself wondering: If stage 1 and stage 2 are so short, why am I waking up hours after falling asleep? This is because the sleep cycle doesn’t go through each stage once. The average person cycles through the 4 stages of sleep up to 6 times a night. This means that you experience stages 1 and 2 of sleep up to 6 times a night, making you vulnerable to being woken up each time your body enters these lighter sleep stages.

What is Causing My Sleep-Maintenance Insomnia?

This is a hard question to answer as there are many causes of sleep-maintenance insomnia. One thing to note is that a specific cause has not yet been discovered for sleep-maintenance insomnia. Most scientists believe this form of insomnia is caused solely by outside factors. Though everyone is different, these are the most common factors that can lead to sleep-maintenance insomnia:


Issues with stress and anxiety can easily cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, either by tricking your mind into waking in the early stages or by causing your mind to experience nightmares in the later stages that are intense enough to wake your body. Other psychological disorders like depression or bipolar disorder have sleep issues built into their symptoms, making it hard to manage a good night’s sleep. Treating these psychological issues through therapy, medication, or at-home relaxation techniques can help you break free from sleep-maintenance insomnia.


You can experience many physical things with your body that will lead to poor sleep. Chronic pain and arthritis are huge, as the pain can be bad enough to wake you up at night. In some instances, being immobile makes your pain even worse, almost guaranteeing you won’t be able to sleep.

Another common physical issue that leads to poor sleep is breathing problems, such as sleep apnea or asthma. If you have a sleep disorder known as sleep apnea, your body will stop breathing at some point while you’re asleep. This panics your body and sends signals to your brain for you to wake up so you can remember to breathe. Some people don’t even know that they have sleep apnea, thinking they just wake up randomly in the night. It takes a sleep study with a medical professional to see if a person struggles with this.

Other physical ailments linked to waking up at night are acid reflux, bladder issues, hot flashes, neuropathy, and restless leg syndrome.

If you have any of these physical conditions, you should speak with your doctor about treating them and see if that helps alleviate your sleep-maintenance insomnia.


Even if you’re mentally and physically healthy, you might still be experiencing sleep-maintenance insomnia. This is when you should look at your daily habits, and not just the habits regarding bedtime.

First, you should make sure you’re taking good care of your body. Poor nutrition, drinking alcohol close to bedtime, and too much caffeine during the day can all mess with your body when it comes to trying to fall or stay asleep. Don’t drink any beverages, even water, within an hour of bedtime. This will help you avoid needing to wake up in the middle of the night to relieve your bladder.

You’ll also want to look at any medications you’re taking that may be treating your psychological or physical issues. Even though you are pain and stress-free, the medications this possible might be the root of your sleep problems.

You’ll need to assess your sleep hygiene and make any necessary changes. Cut out naps, even if it means being exhausted at first since you’re still not sleeping at night as your body tries to adjust. Ensure your bedroom is a good sleep environment with a cool temperature (most recommend around 65 degrees F), clean and comfortable bedding, and no noise or light. Only let yourself be in bed for sex or sleep, as anything else will rewire your brain into thinking that your bed is a place to be awake. This means that even when you wake up in the middle of the night, you should get out of your bed if you can’t fall back asleep instead of spending time tossing and turning.

Finally, set a bedtime routine with a time you fall asleep and a time you wake up that remains the same every day.


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