You suddenly realize you’re no longer in a deep sleep.
You can sense the world around you.
You can’t remember exactly what you were dreaming about because you’re no longer in suspended animation.
You slowly peel your eyes open in the hope that it’s light outside and that you’ve managed to sleep through the night.
Suddenly, you’re wide awake, you can hear your partner gently resting (or heavily snoring), it’s pitch black outside, and you slowly let your eyes wander in the direction of the clock.
“Please don’t let it be… Say it’s not… It can’t be… Jeez, it is, I knew it!”
Oh yes, once again for the gazilionth time in who knows how many days, it’s quite obviously, 3am.
“Why do I keep waking up at 3am?”
Factors That May Be of No Relevance
During my research there were a couple of things that I found interesting. I’m not sure how much relevance they have to the “3am factor”, but who knows.
Firstly, the average person wakes up 6 times each night, but each time is so brief that they don’t usually notice it or even remember.
That makes a lot of sense to me, as I know we tend to sleep in cycles, such as light sleep, REM sleep, deep sleep, etc. So, possibly shifting from one form of sleep to another will wake us up, but it’s hardly noticeable.
Another explanation could be that you’ve passed your cycle for deep sleep and are now moving into lighter sleep.
I once read (but for the life of me cannot remember where) that the deep sleep stage typically encompasses the first four to four-and-a-half hours of sleep.
So, let’s say you go to bed between 10pm-11pm (which seems to be the average time for most people), and depending on how long you take to fall asleep, 3am is possibly when you are moving from deeper to lighter sleep.
Again, there’s a lot that can be said for this justification.
That said, here are a few more explanations for the 3am anomaly that is causing you so much grief.
It’s Bathroom Time
There could be various reasons for this, ranging from being pre-diabetic, to having an enlarged prostate, or simply that you have taken on too much fluid during the day.
The first thing I urge you to do before visiting the bathroom is NOT look at the clock.
I’ll be honest with you, no matter how much you may think there is, ninety-nine times out of one hundred, there isn’t anything significant about the time being 3am. Yet, this won’t stop an overactive imagination coming up with all sorts of conspiracy theories.
You will probably also become extremely anxious if you do glance over at the clock, as you’ll soon realize that you have to be up in a few hours anyway.
I don’t need to tell you that an overactive mind and anxiety will make falling back to sleep extremely difficult.
If you can, leave the bedroom and go to the bathroom without turning any lights on and definitely don’t switch on the lights once you’ve arrived at the bathroom.
The addition of bright lights will decrease the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, thus literally telling your brain to wake up.
It may help to have some strategically-placed night lights for any future “middle of the night bathroom visits”.
I will admit, that in my case, I know my way around every inch of my house in the dark, so I often sneak in and out of bed without having to use any unnatural light.
With that being said, it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that everyone tries searching for and going to the bathroom in the dark. You could be liable to having an accident, and for those of you with young children, I don’t need to tell of the pain of stepping on a stray Lego.
When Did You Last Feed Your Brain?
Another extremely common reason as to why you may be waking up at 3am is your blood sugar levels.
The brain is very active throughout the night while you’re asleep. It requires fuel for energy to keep it going.
The brain typically takes this energy from your liver’s glycogen stores.
The liver can hold between 75mg-100mg of glycogen at any one time and the body consumes around 10mg of glycogen per hour. So, realistically you have a maximum of between 7.5-10 hours for your brain and body to use these glycogen stores.
However, you top up these stores whenever you eat, If you’ve ever gone for this amount of time without eating you’ll now understand why that, not only were you hungry, but also you couldn’t seem to concentrate or think straight.
Right, let’s say you have your evening meal at 7pm, in 8 hours time at 3am, your liver will almost have completely depleted its glycogen stores.
Your brain then believes it has run out of fuel, causing a chain reaction of events. It literally goes into panic mode and starts producing the stress hormone cortisol. Your blood sugar levels will decrease significantly, and your metabolism will be kick started.
Low and behold, your brain and your body decide it’s time to wake up convinced that it’s time to eat.
But please don’t get up in the middle of the night for a snack. And please don’t be tempted to eat your evening meal a lot later or even just before bedtime.
This will cause all sorts of other issues related to sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
There is a much safer and easier way to stop any of this happening during the night.
You can find out more by reading my article Does Honey Help You Sleep?
I’m Sorry to Tell You It’s An Age Thing
If you never suffered from this “3am phenomenon” until you got older, then I’m afraid to say this may just be down to age.
More specifically, as a woman, this may be because of menopause.
There are many frustrating aspects associated with menopause. Nevertheless, getting the “night sweats” and the effect this has on your sleeping patterns can be horrific. It probably makes you want to cry, scream, and throttle the person nearest to you.
The night sweats occur when the hypothalamus (this is the region of the brain that regulates body temperature and releases hormones) becomes confused by the drop in estrogen levels.
There are various remedies for the night sweats, including estrogen replacement, SSRI and SNRI antidepressants, and even certain enzyme dietary supplements.
However, I feel it is completely out of my jurisdiction to discuss any of these. I would therefore suggest that you consult with your doctor or other medical professional about potential treatments for the night sweats, and menopause in general.
Could The Chinese Organ Body Clock Have The Answer?
It is divided into 12 two-hour intervals and each two-hour period represents a specific organ of the body.
Do you wake up slightly before 3am, just after, or dead on?
1am-3am is the two-hour period that symbolizes the liver. It is during this time that toxins are released from the body and fresh new blood is made.
If you wake up during this interval it may signify a problem with the liver.
According to Chinese medicine, the liver, and this specific time period is associated with anger, rage or frustration.
So, is there anything currently going on in your life that is causing you to feel angry or frustrated?
This may be the key.
3am-5am stands for the lungs.
Interestingly, the Chinese organ body clock suggests that if you wake up at this time you should practice soothing breathing exercises to help relax the lungs. The use of breathing exercises is extremely popular in the western world as a way to treat certain sleep disorders.
Chinese medicine tells us the lungs are associated with feelings of sadness or grief.
Once again, does this hold true for you.
I know it may difficult not to overthink this, especially if you seem to wake up on the dot a 3am every single night, but the reason could be something completely insignificant.
I have provided various explanations for this phenomenon, and you are welcome to make certain changes to your lifestyle that you deem fit.
I will say that the more you worry about this “3am” thing, the more likely you are to have a terrible night’s rest in general.
If this is something that is of a major concern to you then please do speak to your doctor.