This one is sure to get a lot of attention. Why am I waking up at 3am and the ensuing inability to fall back asleep. What is going on and how can you navigate it?
Surprisingly there are quite a few reasons that this could be happening to you. My goal is to get through some of the main ones and give you some pointers to try and help you understand your body and sleep more.
Let’s get some ground rules first.
It is normal to wake up at night. You actually wake up a few times throughout the night. This happens when you are completing a sleep cycle and coming back into light sleep. Most of the time you will not remember. So not sleeping “through” the night is normal.
To start off, let’s get psycho. Your brain is a powerful little beast. There is nothing more it loves to do than to anticipate things happening. It does this to save energy and be efficient. It just doesn’t always play out that way in the real world.
How does this come into play with sleep and waking up at 3 am.
Let’s give an example. Say Chad had a brief period of time where he was really stressed out at work and there was some turmoil in his life. This started to cause him to wake up at 3am. After 2 weeks everything went back to normal, but he keeps waking up at 3am.
What is happening?
Well, during those 2 weeks the brain rewired itself along with Chad going to bed already telling himself I bet I wake up at 3 am again or I am never going to sleep through the night.
Have you ever needed to be up at a certain time for something big and you wake up even before your alarm? Same thing is happening. The increased anxiety over waking up at a certain time, makes it become true.
How do you break this?
Throw out your alarm clock
The first step is throw out your clocks. Ok, you don’t need to fill the landfill with more electronic waste, but you do need to make it so your clock or phone are not visible in the room. As soon as you wake up, see that time, the negative feedback loop is completed and solidified more. I mean really?
Do you need to know what time it is in the middle of the night?
Second, if this is happening and you are unable to fall back asleep easily, have a plan. Don’t lay in bed ruminating and getting anxious and frustrated. After a perceived 20 minutes get out. Otherwise you are reinforcing bad behavior.
Your brain learns that it is ok to wake up at 3am and start worrying. Have a dim light available, throw on some blue blockers move to another room and do something boring that does not involve TV or your phone. When you feel tired move back to bed. This will take multiple attempts and consistency to rewire the brain again.
There is even more to go into with this, but for the sake of the article length let’s move on.
What else could be causing it?
Too hot at night
The number #1 reason is usually poor body temp control. The most likely culprit is you are too hot. Room temp, too warm of pajamas, too many blankets, foam mattresses all trap heat. Going to bed it feels great, but the heat builds up.
Want to know what starts happening around 3am? Your brain shifts to more REM sleep. A phenomenon happens during REM sleep. Your body stops temperature regulating. So if you are hot, it no longer sweats.
Lower your room temp to 62-65F, get breathable sheets and comforters, and performance sleepwear. Still having temp issues? A life saver for hotflashes is getting a Bedjet or Ooler cooling system.
Low melatonin levels
Another reason is low melatonin levels. We naturally produce less melatonin as we age, add to this that for the most part people obliterate their melatonin production with poor light hygiene, eating late at night, and high stress. When night comes upon us the body is supposed to have low cortisol levels and high melatonin.
If you are not producing enough melatonin, cortisol is released prematurely and wakes you up and keeps you up.
The solution for this is getting your sleep game on point. This isn’t just one magic bullet fix. Your hormones are outta whack. Having a cortisol/melatonin curve test can be helpful with this. This problem shows up with adrenal fatigue, chronic stress, or over training. I can set you up with a test if you think you need one.
Low blood sugar and sleep
Poor blood sugar control.
During the night, some people become hypoglycemic. In order to bring blood sugar back up to safe levels your body releases adrenaline to free up your stored sugar stores. Do you think adrenaline is sleep promoting? I think not. And it takes awhile for it to metabolize before you can get back to sleep.
Avoid alchohol, sugary snacky foods at night before bed.
Histamine Intolerance and Sleep
This might be a new one for you. You might have a histamine intolerance. Histamine is wake inducing. This is why so many people get knocked out on Benedryl. It is an anti histamine. Side note if you are using benedryl long term to sleep, stop, it can lead to some serious brain problems down the road.
Histamine intolerance means your body is producing too much or not able to break it down properly. Anything that can cause an allergy food, air quality, lotions, etc can trigger this.
Histamine peaks in the early morning hours.
There are some natural supplements to try, but I would take with a doctor or naturopath to fine tune this.
Liver detox and sleep
Here is an interesting one according to the Chinese body organ clock. If you are waking up around 3AM it is because your liver is overwhelmed with detoxifying your blood. This can be alcohol, drugs, environmental toxins, poor diet, or parasites.
The last one is more medical and you are suffering from sleep apnea. As sleep apnea progresses through the night your heart rate, blood pressure go up and oxygen levels go down. This can wake you up in a panic and lead also to an adrenaline release.
There is one more, but I want to read more into it as it involves your CO2 blood levels and over breathing.
Hope you find this useful.
PS after last night I forgot to add if you have young kids your SOL.