HealthOvernight wakeups: Understanding the why and how to prevent them

Overnight wakeups: Understanding the why and how to prevent them

Do you wake up at 3 AM? That's a warning sign.
Do you wake up at 3 AM? That's a warning sign.
Images source: © Getty Images | KatarzynaBialasiewicz

8:24 PM EDT, June 5, 2024

Do you often wake up at 3 AM and cannot go back to sleep? Pop culture usually associates this time of night with the so-called "witching hour," but there is no need to worry. It's not ghosts responsible for our nighttime awakenings but much kinder and relatively pure biology. Moreover, biology provides a few tips to help us avoid these nocturnal awakenings.

Understanding the causes of waking up at 3:00 AM

To understand why we wake up at a particular time, we must first understand how our internal biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, works.

Our bodies operate on a rhythm that drives us to sleep at night and stay awake during the day. Many of us experience a so-called "physiological dip" between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM when our bodies are naturally programmed to lower their temperature and slow down metabolism, which can lead to waking.

However, reducing stress, managing or curing coexisting conditions, and developing healthy sleep habits can prevent us from experiencing nighttime awakenings.

Illnesses causing regular nighttime awakenings

Among the health problems that can lead to regular nighttime awakenings are insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome.

However, not only typical "nighttime" conditions can cause such awakenings. Sometimes, individuals suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease and asthma, as well as those taking certain medications (such as beta-carotene or antidepressants), can experience nighttime awakenings.

How to sleep through the night without waking up?

To improve the quality of sleep and reduce the likelihood of waking up at night, it’s worth trying out a few simple strategies.

First, regulating the internal biological clock requires maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, which means we should go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day.

Second, we should sleep in conditions that are comfortable for our bodies. This means the bedroom should be dark and cool, and the pillows and mattress should be comfy.

Before bed, we should avoid using devices that emit blue light and drinking fluids that could turn a nighttime awakening into a bathroom necessity. Additionally, we should maintain a balanced diet (and avoid eating right before bed) and engage in regular physical activity.

If nighttime awakenings still frequently occur despite implementing the above advice, it is worth consulting a doctor or specialist. Treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or significant lifestyle modifications may be necessary.

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