You’re snoozing away soundly when you suddenly awaken—with the urge that you have to pee right now.
So you shuffle off to the bathroom to do your business before climbing back into bed. If you’re lucky, you’ll fall right back asleep, and stay in dreamland until your alarm rings. But if you’re not, you’ll either end up tossing or turning—or falling back asleep, only to waken with the must-pee-now urge a couple hours later (Here are the 7 worst things you do when you can’t sleep).
“It’s bothersome waking up at night to urinate,” says Daniel Shoskes M.D., urologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Not only does it directly harm your sleep, but it can be signaling something more serious, too.
The medical term for excessive urination at night is nocturia. It’s generally defined as the consistent need to wake up to pee once or more each night.
There are two basic reasons why you wake up at night to pee: The first is that you’re making too much urine. If that’s the case, you’ll usually urinate a full amount each time you go, says Dr. Shoskes. This can be due to drinking too much fluids, drug side effects, or even from serious conditions like heart failure, kidney injury, or liver failure.
The second for waking up to pee is that your bladder just thinks you need to go, even if it’s not full. In this case, you’d be peeing a lower volume. This can be due to things irritating your bladder, like inflammation from an infection or an enlarged prostate, he says.
Only your doctor can know for sure what’s causing your nocturia, so if you’re bothered by your nightly habit, make an appointment to have him or her check things out. But here are some things you can try to stop waking up so much to pee.
Your cutoff time for liquids should be a few hours before you go to bed, says Dr. Shoskes. This should give the fluids you take in ample time to be processed through your body and pass through your bladder, so you can pee while you’re already awake and not have to disturb your sleep to do it.
Caffeine irritates your bladder, causing you to pee more frequently. Plus, if you drink it too close to bed, it can mess with your sleep, too.
And alcohol isn’t your friend when it comes to keeping your bladder functioning normally, either. When you drink alcohol, it suppresses your body’s level of the ADH (antidiuretic hormone), which prevents the production of urine. As a result, you make a larger amount of pee.
This suppression of ADH can carry on into the night, meaning you make more urine than usual when you’re sleeping, as we reported. As a result, you’ll feel the urge to pee.
“If you take a diuretic, try to take in the morning rather than bedtime,” says Dr. Shoskes. Diuretics include meds to treat high blood pressure. These help your kidneys eliminate sodium—and water—from your body, decreasing your blood volume so your heart doesn’t work as hard to pump it.
Taking them in the morning is better, since though they still will make you pee more, at least you won’t have to wake up to do it.
Other medications that might make you have to pee during night include some antidepressants (like lithium), anesthetics, prescription pain relievers and antibiotics.
Nocturia can also occur because of gravity-induced fluid accumulation in your lower extremities when you lay down. This creates pressure against your legs while decreasing pressure on your veins, which allows fluids to be redistributed and reabsorbed into your bloodstream.
Compression socks may prevent fluid accumulation in the legs, thus helping to diminish the need to pee at night.
What you do well before bed can help, too. “If your legs are swollen, take time during the day to raise your legs, not just when you lie down in bed at night,” says Dr. Shoskes.
A 2017 study found that cutting salt intake helped participants stop waking up in the middle of the night to pee. In fact, those who cut their sodium from 10.7 grams per day to 8 grams per day woke up an average of one fewer time each night to pee.
They also experienced improvements in their quality of life overall, probably because their sleep was less fragmented, helping them feel more refreshed.
Excessive snoring can signal sleep apnea, a condition where you actually stop breathing in your sleep. Another sign of the sleep problem? Waking up to pee.
With sleep apnea, you often jolt awake when you stop breathing, even if you don’t consciously realize it. But those breaks in your deep sleep may be enough to allow your body to recognize the subtle gotta-go signal, rather than simply waiting until morning to relieve yourself, as we reported.
If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, treatment with a CPAP machine, which helps you breathe, can also help reduce your bathroom trips, says Dr. Shoskes.