Waking Up at 3am: How to Solve the Problem?

Here, we’ve listed the reasons why you might be waking up at 3am and how to deal with this problem.
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Last updatedLast updated: April 30, 2022
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If you love sleep, then nighttime awakenings are undoubtedly your worst nightmare. Sleep experts claim that the most common question they get from their clients is why they consistently wake up in the middle of the night. If you occasionally wake up in the middle of the night but fall asleep right away, then you don’t have a huge problem, but if you wake up and start picking on yourself with distressing and punitive thoughts, then there is a gigantic problem.

Waking up at 3 am may occur for various reasons, including shorter sleep cycles Trusted Source Short Sleeper Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis Short sleeper syndrome (SSS) is a sleep condition characterized by sleeping for fewer than six hours each night.  www.healthline.com , underlying health conditions, and stress, among others. If not dealt with, it has dire effects. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to save yourself, like changing your sleep habits, seeing a sleep expert, and reducing stress. This article has all the answers to why you are constantly waking up at 3 am and things you can do to avert the situation.

Why Do We Wake Up at 3am?

Most people think they wake up in the middle of the night for no reason. Enduring nighttime awakenings can be stressful, especially if you desperately want to be asleep. Here are some of the main reasons you wake up at 3 am besides having underlying health conditions.

Stress

Waking Up at 3am: How to Solve the Problem?If you just started waking up at 3 am then stress, and anxiety are on top of the list of possible causes. You may be having uncertainty or pressure at work or problems with your health, finances and relationships.

Experts Trusted Source Replication of cortisol circadian rhythm: new advances in hydrocortisone replacement therapy Cortisol has one of the most distinct and fascinating circadian rhythms in human physiology. This is regulated by the central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus.  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov maintain that cortisol, the stress hormone, plays a huge role in nighttime awakenings because it gets released at around 2 to 3 am. So, if the stress hormone gets released at this hour and you are already anxious, then it is highly likely that your eyes will be wide open. Plus, your body’s sympathetic nervous symptoms will kick in, increasing your pulse rate and blood pressure. At this stage, falling asleep becomes impossible.

The only way to fall back asleep when stressed up is to practice a transition from a state of anxiety or frustration to a state of relaxation. You will fall back asleep quicker when you get calmer. Ensure you are practicing proper sleep hygiene before going to bed, then try relaxation techniques like deep breathing.

Insomnia

This is a sleep condition characterized by the inability to fall back asleep when you wake up in the middle of the night consistently. It is diagnosable, and so many people suffer from it. At least 10 to 20% of the population has the condition. The rate is worse in older adults.

Aging

Waking Up at 3am: How to Solve the Problem?Aging influences a person’s sleep cycle. Your sleep cycles change as you grow older. The human body cycles through 4 sleep stages: a transition from wakefulness to sleep, light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep. You get longer deep sleep earlier in the night and light sleep when dreams occur as morning approaches. You are likely to be awakened in the light sleep stage. Since you spend less time in deep sleep when you get older, the quality of your sleep decreases. This makes you more susceptible to nighttime awakenings from external factors like light and noise.

Another thing with aging is the shift in sleep-wake times. At an older age, you may go to bed and wake up earlier than you did when you were younger.

You need to talk to a specialist about your age-related odd sleep schedules for a solid solution. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and light therapy have been proven to improve the condition.

Medications

There are certain medications that can interfere with your nightly sleep, like corticosteroids, antidepressants, beta-blockers, and over-the-counter cold remedies. If you suspect a medication you’re on is causing you to wake up in the middle of the night, talk to your doctor to get an alternate prescription.

Medical Conditions

Waking Up at 3am: How to Solve the Problem?You may also develop a medical condition that causes you to wake up in the middle of the night. Some of the conditions are like:

  • Sleep apnea which causes you to stop breathing at night. You can invest in a full-face CPAP mask or CPAP machine to help you with breathing. The AirFit F10 Full Face CPAP Mask remains the most popular option among people with sleep apnea because it is lightweight and easy to apply with a minimalistic design for superior comfort.
  • Enlarged prostate which causes the frequent urge to urinate in a man
  • Depression
  • Neuropathy which causes tingling on your limbs
  • Arthritis which makes moving the joints painful
  • Restless leg syndrome which causes the legs to feel jumpy.

Poor Sleeping Hygiene

Waking Up at 3am: How to Solve the Problem?You need to prepare yourself for quality sleep. Failure to practice proper sleeping hygiene can cause rampant nighttime awakenings. Some of the things that cause poor sleep hygiene include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol or caffeine before bedtime
  • Looking at computer or cellphone screens immediately before bedtime
  • Taking naps late in the day
  • Eating too close to bedtime
  • Sleeping in unconducive environments

What to Do?

There are a couple of approaches you can take to avert your annoying nighttime awakenings. There isn’t a formula, though. You first need to identify your reason for waking up at 3 am. If you can’t do it yourself, consult a sleep expert or your general doctor. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Avoid going to bed hungry and eating right before bedtime- You should not go to bed with a full stomach because the human body is not built to digest food lying down. You shouldn’t be starving either. You can have a 250-calorie snack about 30 minutes before bedtime. It should be 30% protein and 70% complex carbs. Here are examples of the best foods you can snack on before bedtime.
  • Create a sleep-wake schedule and stick to it. Sleep at a certain time and wake up at a certain time every day. You can also adopt a nighttime routine that helps you relax, like meditation or reading. Meditation works pretty well, especially if you wake up for spiritual reasons, and it’s the most accessible thing in the world. You can meditate in the bath or in bed before you lie down.Waking Up at 3am: How to Solve the Problem?
  • Avoid external destructions that may wake you like light and noise by sleeping in a comfortable, dark, and quiet space. You can invest in high-quality black-out curtains to help with the lighting. The Moment Black Blackout Curtains for Bedroom is a prime example. The set of 2 curtains comes in 24 colors and is 63 inches long. The curtains can block 85% to 99% of sunlight and UV rays.
  • Ensure you are sleepy enough before going to bed. Avoid lying in bed for more than 20 minutes if you are unable to fall asleep.
  • Turn off all the screens before you switch off the lights.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages later in the day.
  • Exercise during the day and not right before you go to bed.
  • Avoid taking naps late in the day as it may interfere with your sleep schedule. If you are sleeping too much during the day, your body won’t need much sleep at night. Waking up in the dark at night will confuse your body’s circadian rhythms. Instead of napping during the day, go for a walk or eat healthy sugars for energy to get a boost.
  • Quit smoking.

When Is It Time to See a Doctor?

If you find yourself waking up at 3 am frequently and you have difficulty falling back asleep, then you should see a doctor. The doctor may refer you to a sleep expert who would suggest a sleep study to find out more about your sleep cycles.

Further, if the nighttime awakenings cause problems for you during the day like having trouble remembering things, feeling very sleepy during the day, and being unable to function normally, talk to your doctor.

Final Thoughts

Waking up at 3 am can be frustrating, especially if you love to be highly productive during the day. If you wake up and fall back asleep, then you shouldn’t worry about anything. Temporary stress, change in the sleep environment, or medication can wake you up in the middle of the night occasionally. You should only get worried if you wake up and stay up for a significant amount of time. This may be a sign of Insomnia or another health condition.

The best thing to do when you realize you are regularly waking up at 3 am is talk to your doctor to find out about the underlying reasons. If the problem is persistent, then seek further help from a sleep expert. You also need to practice sleep hygiene before bedtime to be able to fall and stay asleep.

References

1.
Short Sleeper Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis
Short sleeper syndrome (SSS) is a sleep condition characterized by sleeping for fewer than six hours each night. 
2.
Replication of cortisol circadian rhythm: new advances in hydrocortisone replacement therapy
Cortisol has one of the most distinct and fascinating circadian rhythms in human physiology. This is regulated by the central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. 
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