Waking up in the middle of the night is normal right?



Do you not remember the time when you used to go to sleep and wake up with your alarm screaming at you and wonder where the night went?

Do you remember the time when you used to go to sleep and wake up feeling like you could have slept through an earthquake?

Why did you start to accept getting disturbed in the night?

When did your bladder become so small that you couldn’t go all night without needing the toilet?

Here’s a clue – unless you’ve started to drink 1-2 litres of anything within 2 hours of going to sleep it didn’t.

But many people now think that it is normal to wake up in the early hours because they need the loo.

Here’s another true fact for you – your bladder is huge and capable of expanding to take up to four times the amount of urine that you usually pass. This is because the urge to urinate during daytime occurs when the bladder becomes ¼ full. However during deep sleep this urge does not occur.

Now don’t get me wrong there are some pretty serious conditions that can cause urinary incontinence. Prostate issues are the most significant in men whilst urinary tract infections, bacterial overgrowth, childbirth and menopause are all causes of urinary incontinence in women. I would strongly encourage anyone who suffers from urinary incontinence consistently throughout a 24 hour to consult their doctor, however what we are talking about here is people who have no issues during the daytime yet consistently have to get out of bed to pee during the night.

The first step is to accept that this is not normal and that you don’t want to put up with it. If you are happy to put up with it and happy to accept that this is your lot then please stop reading or forward this onto someone who does not share your sentiments.

drinking too much before bed

For those of us who want and deserve to sleep like kings here is the key:

  • It’s not to do with liquids. It’s to do with your blood sugars.

I have lost count of the number of people who have improved their sleep quality when their diet has improved. When they’ve stopped spiking their blood sugars with processed foods, imbalanced meals, sugary snacks and yes alcohol. But it’s gone further than that. We have been able to help people with real sleep challenges and in a handful of distinct cases this has been achieved solely by transforming the persons diet.

The science behind this is that when you eat poorly throughout the day but particularly in the evening you cause an imbalance in your blood sugars. Initially they spike but then they come crashing down. The body then works hard to increase the blood sugars again (see my article on the blood sugar roller coaster) but goes too far giving you another blood sugar surge which is again then followed by a slump. All of this happens over a period of about 5-7 hours.

At some point in the night (often about 2am – 4am when the liver is at its most active) the level of sugar in the blood drops to a level that is considered by your body to be dangerously low. Your body registers that if this trend continues there is a very real threat to the health of the brain. The risk of brain damage is obviously greater than the importance of sleep.

So your body asks itself where it can access more sugar. The most accessible energy store in the body is in the muscles so you get woken up. It is only at this point that you realise that your bladder has passed the ¼ full mark so you now feel the urge to urinate. You get up and troop off to the bathroom completely unaware that you are now giving your body the chance to access all of the sugar stored in the muscles (it is actually stored as glycogen not glucose). Once the glycogen is accessed (and your bladder is now empty) your body can go on with the essential repair and regeneration processes that occur each and every night. And you are able to go back to sleep.

Therefore, if you can improve your blood sugar balance throughout the night you can get back to sleeping like a king!

One of the best examples of this in action is the story of Francis.

Francis is a very petite lady in her early fifties who was putting her sleep issues down to the menopause. She had tried many different actions to help improve her sleep – stopped caffeine, started winding down early, avoided TV before bed, reduced her intake of water from about 7pm, was sleeping in a pitch black room – but had not managed to consistently improve her sleep. So we started to look at her diet and within a few weeks she noticed improvements and eventually was sleeping through the night and sleeping much more deeply and consequently waking up more refreshed. Job done, happy all round.

Until she changed jobs. The new job was awesome, she was more challenged, more independent and felt more secure. And on top of that she saved 30 mins each way on her commute! So she was able to eat her dinner a whole 30 minutes earlier which to her meant that she’d burn more calories before going to bed and improve her overall health.

Until she stopped sleeping through. Try to imagine just how demoralising that was, to take such a step back just at the time she thought things were moving forward. Fortunately it didn’t take us too long to identify the problem. Francis had also taken it upon herself to change the balance of her meals that she was eating in the evening. She had reduced her protein intake and increased her carbohydrates (in the form of good vegetables) volume despite knowing that she did better with higher levels of protein.

This is not a criticism of her. When we are bombarded with best mixed messages about what we should be eating, anyone who is remotely health conscious can be drawn into trying something they ‘should’ do rather than sticking with what they know works for them.

food to help you sleep better

So Francis did something completely unorthodox to the majority of the population. Francis started eating a protein heavy small meal at about 9pm – 9.30pm after having her dinner at her earlier time of 5.30pm – 6pm. And she started sleeping again. It really was that cut and dried. Now Francis and I knew a lot about her metabolism, how her body responded to different meals and she had already addressed the 7 most common pitfalls of a good night’s sleep. But the message is clear get the blood sugars right and get all the sleep you want.

This happened several years ago now and Francis still comes in occasionally and comments about her sleep not being ideal and every single time she does we can trace it back to a change in her diet. It’s a bit boring a repetitive for us both now but it still works. So for those of you who are after that full night’s sleep, whether you’re suffering the menopause or not, look at your blood sugars. If you can manage these (alongside your menopause management from places like Advanced Gynecology if you’re going through menopause) then your sleep will improve.

Sleep well,


P.S. There are loads of articles on this site relating to blood sugar balance, creating individual diets and metabolic typing. There are also plenty on sleep, but if you would like to speak to us personally about your sleep problems simply email us at jimthorp@jtethos.com.

tips for helping you sleep better