The Reason You Keep Waking Up at 3 am

why do i wake up at 3am
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It’s not uncommon to wake up several times in the night. Whether you are changing positions or must use the bathroom, it always seems to be sometime around 3 am. What is up with that?

Most of the time people wake up briefly during transitions in the sleep stages. The average person can do this up to 15 times during the night. Because it is brief, we often don’t remember it in the morning.

Unfortunately, if you naturally wake around 3 am, it can be a little harder to get back to sleep.

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The Reason You’re Waking Up at 3 Am

The Reason You're Waking Up at 3 Am

Waking up around 3 am most nights might be caused by historical reasons.

In fact, it can be traced back to before the industrial revolution. During this time, Europe and North America broke their sleep into two parts: first sleep and second sleep.

With the invention of artificial lighting, many people stayed up later in the evenings. This change disrupted our circadian rhythm. 

This is our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Now sleep has become essential for us to do our 9-5 job, causing us to lump our sleep into one single block of time.

The reason for the 3 am wake-up call is because that is when we typically switch from deep sleep to lighter sleep. This lighter sleep stage is known as REM sleep. 

Your brain is more active during this sleep stage. This makes it easier to wake up.

Other reasons you may be waking at 3 am include stress, insomnia, medications, or aging.

The Sleep Restriction Method

If you struggle with constantly waking up at 3 am, you may want to try the sleep restriction method.

This is a treatment for insomnia that works by decreasing the timing of sleep while increasing deep sleep (1).

Although it can be frustrating, it’s normal to experience this pattern of waking in the early morning.

Sometimes simply acknowledging it and trying to relax and wait for sleep to come again can help.

Sleep Tips

Good sleep hygiene is the key to getting a good night’s rest. Practicing these tips can ensure restful sleep with minimal disruptions. Below are a few tips to help you get the most out of your sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine before bed as these can impact your ability to fall asleep.
  • Skip large meals and spicy foods before bed as these can result in indigestion and discomfort.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. Although it may seem to help you relax, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
  • Get in plenty of movement. Exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep, even if it’s just a short walk around the block. Avoid exercising right before bed though or it may have the opposite effect. 

Bottom Line

Everyone loves their sleep. Nothing is more annoying than finding yourself waking up at 3 am every night. 

Although it may have historical reasons, you can help to avoid these wake-up calls by improving your sleep hygiene. If you continue to have challenges with sleep, you can try the sleep restriction method. 

Speak with your healthcare provider if you continue to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

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Meghan Stoops, RD

Meghan is a Registered Dietitian and freelance content writer in the beautiful New Smyrna Beach, Florida. She takes an all-foods-fit approach to nutrition and is dedicated to freeing others from diet culture and simplifying healthy eating.

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