Here’s Why You Keep Waking Up At 3am

why do I keep waking up at 3am

Picture this.

It’s been a long week full of ups and downs and you’re totally dead.

Nothing would feel better than getting a full night of deep, restorative sleep… right?

Welp, it’s 3 a.m. and you’ve randomly sprung up from your slumber again and can’t fall back asleep.

So much for awakening nice and refreshed.

Before you throw in the towel and just accept these midnight wake ups as the universe telling you to finish that pint of Ben and Jerry’s while binge watching some Animal Kingdom — let’s get to the bottom of this.

You can absolutely still do those things, don’t get us wrong.

But if you’re ready to rejuvenate that sleep cycle, keep on reading and we’ll explain a thing or two.

Why do I keep waking up at 3am?

You’re probably wondering: “why do I wake up at 3am?”

Trust us when we say this: you’re not the only one with these nighttime awakenings.

Yep, thousands if not millions of people deal with this same problem night to night.

While it might seem mind-boggling, you don’t need to hire a psychologist to get to the bottom of this.

Sleep stages

The reason for this common time of the night has to do with how sleep cycles work.

The main categories of sleep that you go through are Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, deep sleep and light sleep.

Typically when you sleep, REM sleep stage occurs during the beginning and end of your sleep in which you can experience vivid dreams.

Somewhere in the middle, is typically when your body cycles into deep sleep where the brain waves slow down.

And in between those you’ll transition between being awake and experiencing the light stage of sleep.

Towards the latter part of your slumber is typically when you begin to go out of deep sleep and move towards REM stage and light sleep.

In these sleep stages, you are more prone to external disturbances that can wake you up and take your sleep rhythm out of wack since you’re experiencing lighter sleep.

As your circadian rhythm(internal clock) moves towards the end of your sleep, cortisol levels increase to jumpstart the metabolic process which can cause an elevated level of blood pressure and heart rate which are possible reasons for waking up at 3am.

Another possible culprit could be low blood sugar. Blood sugar controls energy levels and if it’s low, your body may send signals to eat which could wake you up.

Let’s talk about some potential external disturbances that might be robbing you from your precious sleep.

Common external disturbances

When it comes to common external disturbances that could be waking you up, two typical ones are noise and/or light.

For noise, it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Any additional noises or sounds that occur in your room or from outside could definitely interrupt your sleep and cause you to wake up during the night.

On the other hand, if your room isn’t optimized to stay dark, light from outside could be causing your body to wake up sooner than you’d like.

Street lights, car lights, or any other types of lighting triggers your circadian rhythm to tell you it’s time to wake up.

One more common external disturbance is waking up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This one can really put your sleep cycle in a funk.

Having to fully wake up to go to the bathroom causes your body to have to go through all the motions again to fall asleep which is very inefficient for quality sleep.

How to combat these common interruptions

Here are some perfect tactics to avoid these sleep mishaps.

Combatting noise

Sound proofing your room can be as easy as making sure your door is closed in case there are any noises occurring in other parts of your house.

If it’s still an issue, experts recommend investing in some ear plugs or ear muffs can be the best choice to keep things muted during sleeping hours.

Combatting light

The first thing you should do to keep your room dark is to get some blackout curtains.

These curtains are made to keep out all light and also works to deaden noise coming from outside your window as well.

If you deal with light coming from inside your house, placing towels under your doorways can block out the light that comes from the space between the bottom of the door and the ground which lets in some light.

This will help in reducing longer periods of lighter sleep.

Combatting bathroom midnight bathroom trips

Avoid eating heavy meals and drinking excess amounts of liquid before bedtime.

It’s very hard fro your body to recover when it needs to digest large amounts of food throughout the night.

This means less time recovering and more time digesting.

This is also the most common culprit for taking bathroom trips in the middle of the night.

Chinese medicine also believes that 1-3am is the time that liver carries out it’s functions.

So, if your liver is having difficulty dealing with large food amounts, it can cause discomfort and thus disrupt your sleep.

Try finishing meals 2-3 hours before bedtime and stopping excessive fluid intake about 1-2 hours before bed.

This will surely improve your quality of sleep and reduce the number of toilet visits per night.

A win-win.

Common internal problems

There are some internal problems that could also be hindering your sleep quality and make you keep waking up in the middle of the night.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious medical condition in which the person has irregular breathing patterns during slumber.

Loud snoring and feeling tired the next day after a good night of sleep are both a common symptom of sleep apnea.

Typically, this affects obese males.


Through lifestyle changes of becoming healthier and getting in better shape, this condition can be treated.

Chronic insomnia

Chronic insomnia is a long-term pattern of difficult sleeping.

Sometimes it’s having a hard time falling alseep and sometimes it’s a hard time staying asleep.

If this happens at least 3 nights of the week, this may be a sign of insomnia.

Typically a change in sleep routine can fix this condition to get better sleep and more efficient sleeping patterns.

You are stressed

Having pent-up stress could result in sleep difficulty.


Maybe you’re having difficulties with finances, loved ones, relationships, or something else in your life.


It’s important to set aside time each day to reflect and also be grateful for the things you do have.


Dealing with so much stress can pay a toll on your overall health. Making small lifestyle adjustments to relax can help this tremedously.

Spiritual reasons

Some people believe that around 3am is considered the “witching hour” in which the veil between the spirit world and reality is at it’s thinnest.


While this might sound scary, it doesn’t mean that these spirits are necessarily bad.


So if you are spiritual, this might be something to consider.

Additional sleep habits for easy slumber

While sleeping seems like it should be an easy thing, if you don’t prepare your body for it, your nighttime sleep quality will always fluctuate.

Our bodies love routine so it’s a good idea to make sure you create a sleep hygiene routine that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

Here’s a list of some adjustments to try for next time:

  • Sit in dark/dim lighting for 1-2hrs before bed
  • Do a light stretching routine on a regular basis to relax your body.
  • Listen to soothing sounds as relaxation techniques to calm your mind.
  • Include sleep inducing cereal to your dinner
  • Take sleep medication such as melatonin
  • Same sleep-wake times daily
  • Avoid a late-afternoon cup of coffee (or any caffeine)
  • Practice consistent deep breathing before sleep
  • Avoid heavy blue content/blue light before bed (screens, laptops, TV, etc.)
  • Invest in sleep products such as an Oura ring to track your sleep

Adding some (or all) of these things to your nighttime routine will surely boost your quality of sleep!

Why sleep quality is important

At the end of the day, sleep is something society tends to sweep under the rug as if it isn’t important.

A sleep study from sleep experts have shown that sleep is one of the most important factors to functioning optimally in day to day life. It’s also crucial to recover both mentally and physically.

If you sleep well, you will likely notice an instant improvement in mood and performance in your daily life.

Also, sleep deprivation is linked to increased high blood pressure levels, heart disease, increased cortisol levels (stress hormone), and other medical issues/health conditions that can put your health and hormones in danger.

This could easily mean good grades, a promotion, or some other form of success coming your way.

Done are the days of walking around like a brain-fogged zombie acting like everything’s okay.

Take the time to care for yourself and give your sleep the attention it deserves!

Sources

  1. Patel, Aakash K. “Physiology, Sleep Stages.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 22 Apr. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526132/.
  2. Worley, Susan L. “The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research.” P & T : a Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, MediMedia USA, Inc., Dec. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6281147/.

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