[This is a post written by Margus, https://www.betternightsleep.org%5D
A good night’s sleep doesn’t come easily to everyone. There are some people that struggle to get out of a strange pattern where they wake up at a certain time of night. While this isn’t the healthiest way to sleep – especially if you keep waking up at 3am each night – it isn’t all that uncommon either. Many of us find that we wake up, on cue, at specific times of night. We almost come to expect it. But, when this leads to sleep loss, this can have a negative impact on our health and well-being.
It is important that we identify unhealthy sleep patterns and figure out the causes of these disruptive cycles. This guide is here to help. We have identified some of the main reasons why people struggle to sleep all night without waking up at weird times. We will explore some of these common causes, as well as the idea that different wake-up times have different meanings based on our sleep cycles. From there, we will consider some of the different solution to help you address your sleeping problems and wake up at a better time. Before all of that, let’s look at the issue of normal sleep patterns and what it means to have insomnia.
- Is waking up during the night normal?
- The problem of insomnia.
- Keep a journal to understand why you wake up at the same time each night.
- What does it mean when you wake up every night at the same time?
- The Theory of the Chinese Sleep Cycle.
- How can I stop waking up at the same time every night?
- How can I stop waking up at 3am with medical assistance?
- So we have we learned about why you wake up so much in the night?
Is waking up during the night normal?
This is where we get into the science of a good night’s sleep. Sleep relies on a healthy circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive. Within that cycle, we switch between rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. The former is the deeper sleep that we all aim for. This is where we can get a good night’s rest, dream and not wake up quite so easily. We shift into lighter phases where it is easier to wake up, and then back to deeper sleep.
Ideally, we want to time the lighter non-REM sleep to when we want to wake up. The problem is that there will also be periods of this lighter sleep in the middle of the night. Those of us with a regular bedtime will experience this at the same time – for example at 3am.
The good news is that it is perfectly normal and healthy to wake up during the night. Those periods of the cycle where we enter lighter sleep are the optimal times to wake up refreshed. For many people, they can wake during this part of the cycle, fall back asleep and be none the wiser. The problem begins when this period of wakefulness is more prolonged.
If you start to become aware of being awake, and struggle to get back to sleep, this could lead to additional health problems and cognitive issues the following day. If these sleeping problems persist, you may find that you have a case of insomnia. Make sure you read our in-depth article about What is Sleep? as well.
The problem of insomnia.
There are lots of different types of insomnia depending on your experience. Some of us deal with sleep-onset insomnia where we can’t fall asleep very easily. Terminal insomnia happens when you wake up too early and can’t go back to sleep. Those of us that wake up the same time in the middle of the night may have sleep maintenance insomnia. Also, those that struggle with the problem for long periods have chronic insomnia. This classification can help when figuring out causes and solutions.
Keep a journal to understand why you wake up at the same time each night.
Whatever time of the night you find yourself waking up, it is important that you understand your patterns and behavioural traits. Those that struggle with poor sleep are encouraged to start a sleep journal. Log the times when you go to bed, your intended wake-up time and the time when you actually wake-up and can’t go back to sleep.
Over time, you may start to notice that these times are very similar. For some reason, there is a specific period of the night that is problematic for you. These journals are also important for logging any details and emotions attached to the situation. Did you have a nightmare? Was the need to wake-up accompanied by any pain, internal distress or a need to go to the toilet? Did you wake up feeling especially anxious, upset or angry?
What does it mean when you wake up every night at the same time?
One of the most common causes of sleep maintenance insomnia is anxiety. Ongoing stress and worry can stop us from getting back to sleep. Maybe something happened in the previous day to make you worried or upset. Perhaps you are anxious about something that will happen when you wake up. It can be difficult to control these thoughts, especially if you wake up with them at a time when you are more vulnerable. The same is true for those that suffer from depression.
Then there are other physical health issues that may be to blame for this problem. The body often wakes us up for a good reason. It may be trying to tell us that something is wrong. One culprit here could be a low blood glucose level. This is especially risky for anyone with diabetes. Hormone levels are another culprit. Women could find that hormonal changes disrupt their sleeping pattern and make them wake up too early. Those experiencing the menopause are at a higher risk. Other hormonal disruptions could indicate a problem with the thyroid or other glands within the body. Then there are sleep disorders that can result in patients waking up in the middle of the night, such as sleep apnea.
The cause of these sleeping problems is most certainly medical or at least physiological. However, we also want to note a different school of thought on this subject. There are those that see waking up at 3am as a sign of a more spiritual, emotional issues. Apparently, 3-5am is when the veil to the spirit world is thinnest. Those that question why the wake up crying at 3am – or become overly emotional at this time – may find some comfort in this theory. We can’t prove that your insomnia is the work of something paranormal. It is entirely up to you how you choose to view this idea.
The Theory of the Chinese Sleep Cycle.
Then there is the idea that there are different reasons why we wake up at different times. It can help to look at these issues from a different perspective. There is a theory in Chinese culture that the sleep cycle is split into different sections – with each section corresponding to a bodily function or system. The idea is that if you identify the reason for distress or dysfunction during the time when you wake up, you can treat it accordingly. Further action to prevent that issue in the future should then help you to sleep more easily. Those looking for natural solutions shouldn’t be afraid to test out this theory.
The sections of this sleep cycle are as follows 1) 9-11: difficulty sleeping due to worry and stress 2) 11-1: digestive issues as the gall bladder becomes more active 3) 1-3: the body start to come down from the effects of any alcohol 4) 3-5: spiritual and emotional issues. This links back to that idea of the thinning veil. This theory suggests we are more in tune with emotions and anger at this time. 5) 5-7: detoxification and hydration. The liver begins to work a little harder and we may feel any effects of a lack of hydration. If you find yourself asking why do I always wake up at 3am to pee, this may be the answer.
How can I stop waking up at the same time every night?
Whether you believe in this approach or not, it may be worth testing out the theory. That is because some of the solutions for these sleeping problems related to the sleep cycle also relate to healthy sleep more generally. It is all about figuring out the cause of your strange sleeping patterns and building a new nightly routine to reflect that. In some cases, you may find that you only need a few small changes for some results. Others with severe cases of insomnia may find that it is better if they try a few solutions or seek further help
Work on techniques that can aid with stress relief and anxiety before bed. They say that we should never go to bed angry. Well, the same rule applies to any other negative emotion or stress. It is best to let go of everything, leave the day behind and let the mind get into a calm state. This is ideal for those that struggle with sleep in that 9-11 slot mentioned above. Try and find some relaxing things to do to forget about your troubles. Read a book, enjoy some colouring-in, listen to some music or have a bath. Consider some aromatherapy as an additional aid for relaxation.
You can also look at making improvements to your diet and substance intake. These changes can help those that struggle in both the 11-1 and 1-3 slot. A poor diet can lead to an upset stomach, indigestion or heartburn as the body struggles with certain food. Spicy or rich food too close to bedtime can be a problem. Also, be careful with your alcohol and caffeine intake. This is true for anyone waking up at any strange time of night.
You may also be surprised to find that you can make some noticeable changes to your sleep schedule and wake-up time with better sleep hygiene. There may be something about your bedroom environment that is a hindrance during those periods of lighter sleep. The temperature of the room may be an issue, as many of us struggle to sleep soundly if it is too hot. Light levels are also a problem, too much light from outside may make it difficult to go back to sleep. Also, try and limit screen time before bed so that the blue light from the screen doesn’t disrupt your cycle. If noise is a problem, try and fall asleep to some white noise or a soothing sound.
How can I stop waking up at 3am with medical assistance?
Finally, you may find that you benefit from some additional, medical help of some kind. Those with chronic or terminal insomnia can struggle to get out of this pattern – even with some of the changes above. Doctors can help you get to the root of any medical conditions that may be to blame. You may need to see a specialist about a sleep disorder and require sleeping aids to help correct the problem. If the underlying issue is more psychological or emotional then you might benefit from some sessions with a therapist. They can help you deal with stress and anxiety so you have a calmer mind at night.
So we have we learned about why you wake up so much in the night?
The first thing to take away from this guide is that while the sleeping pattern isn’t ideal, you are far from alone. Disruptive sleep and frequent wake-up times of 3am are common and treatable. It will take a little time and self-care to stop and reflect on your own sleeping pattern. Once you start to look at the times, triggers and emotions involved, you can then start to address the problem. Each cause has a solution – and sometimes one that is actually easily rectified – you just need to find the right path.
Don’t be afraid to try new things and talk to someone about the sleeping problems you are experiencing. There is no shame in struggling with poor sleep – whatever the reason. If you feel that your partner can help with a journal or sleep hygiene then tell them. If you think that therapy might unlock the causes of chronic insomnia then make that call. If you are struggling to find the ideal solution then talk to sleep specialists, nutritionists and other medical professionals. The answer is out there. There is no point fretting and losing more sleep when you can make that change today.
I am soliciting Guest Posts not only because I will be moving again soon–third time in 2.5 years–but because I think my readers will benefit from them.