Is Waking up at 3am Normal?


Silhouette of sleepy woman above her bed - waking up at 3am
Silhouette of sleepy woman above her bed – waking up at 3am

It happened again. It’s 3am and you’re left staring at your ceiling in the dark. Waking up at 3am is unfortunately all too common and doesn’t always resolve on its own. The good news is if you have plenty of strategies and resources at your disposal to help you fall asleep faster and stay that way. Set a goal to wake up refreshed without the 3am interlude. 

Understanding Sleep Cycles

We often think of sleep as one continuous event, but nighttime sleep goes through many different sleep cycles. You likely wake up many times during these cycles; however, you probably go back to sleep quickly and don’t remember stirring. 

Here’s the type of sleep cycles you can expect each night:

  • Transition from wakefulness into sleep
  • Light sleep
  • Deep sleep
  • REM sleep (causes random rapid movement of the eyes, low muscle tone, and tendency to dream vividly) 

The different stages of sleep happen over 7 to 9 hours of sleep, which is also the amount most adults need regularly. You’re likely to experience deep, quality rest earlier in the night. REM cycles usually occur earlier in the morning. 

However, sleep cycles aren’t always predictable or consistent, and it’s common to keep waking up at 3am. When you miss out on sleep cycles or continuously awake, you may feel groggy and tired throughout the day and eventually develop nightly waking habits or insomnia. 

Other Reasons You’re Waking up at 3am

Beyond sleep cycles, there are several reasons you may be stirring in the middle of the night. Stress, indigestion, age, medical issues, medicine, and depression can all cause you to wake without warning. The problem isn’t so much awakening every night; it’s the inability to go to sleep and get the quality rest you need.

So now that we know why waking at 3am can happen, what’s next? Here are some ways you can stay asleep and feel more rested.

Reduce Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of life and impacts us physically, emotionally, and in how we act daily. Stress can also lead to issues that keep us waking up at 3am, like depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, one of the best ways to reduce stress is to sleep more, which isn’t helpful if you’re already waking all night.

Work towards identifying your stress triggers and practicing some self-care through exercise or choosing a quiet activity like reading a book. Improving your diet can also help reduce your stress and anxiety. But if you’ve tried everything or feel your stress is spiraling towards the inability to function, you should seek the help of a medical professional or therapist who can help.

Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

You may already be familiar with CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which addresses everything from stress to unproductive behaviors and unhealthy thinking patterns. CBT can also be used to help you sleep better and restore your well-being. CBT-I, or CBT for Insomnia, offers an evidence-based approach to sleeping better. 

A therapist trained in CBT-I may focus on breaking negative thoughts and anxiety about sleep, relaxation training, and strategies of what to do when you are continuously waking up at 3am.

Check Your Bed and Sleep Accessories

Tackling health and lifestyle changes is necessary to quality rest, but your sleep issues may point to your bed and sleep accessories. A good mattress that offers support and comfort is a must. So are pillows that keep you cool and comfortable all night long. Browse our selection of comfortable pillows here

Beyond the mattress and pillows, tidy up your linens or invest in a new set altogether. Vacuum your floor to make sure there aren’t any allergens bothering you, put your electronics across the room to avoid temptation, and pick out some soft and luxurious pajamas to entice relaxation.

Check Your Medications

Despite our best intentions to live a healthy life and take recommended meds, they could be the culprit for waking up at 3am. Antidepressants, cold medicine, steroids, ACE inhibitors, and beta-blockers are all known to prevent a good night’s sleep. Your doctor may be able to adjust your prescription, or offer up interventions to sleep better. In some cases, your practitioner may suggest therapies like CBT to provide some relief. 

Get Help for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea causes your breathing to stop and start repeatedly and could turn into a harmful disorder. Snoring loudly is a sign of sleep apnea and can also be complicated by obesity. If you’re continuously waking up at 3am, not sleeping well, or are tired all day, you may need a breathing assistance device called a CPAP machine. 

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you’re suffering from sleep apnea. Doctors will typically recommend a weight check and trying relaxing activities like yoga. Changing up your sleep position, adding one of CuddlePedics’ pillows between your knees, and avoiding alcohol and smoking could also help.

Change Up Your Diet

Your diet could be part of the reason you’re waking up at 3am and cause indigestion, gas, and bloating. Skipping the fried foods can help, as well as surprising culprits like raw veggies that could cause gas.

There are also more reasons to skip late-night snacks than weight gain and a sluggish metabolism. Eating late activates our digestion and forces our muscles to keep working on breaking down food instead of resting. The results are an inability to sleep or continued waking at 3am. If you need a snack before bedtime, try warm milk, walnuts, almonds, and chamomile tea that could help you find your way to a good night’s rest.

Skip the Naps

A nap may be a preferable solution to caffeine to stay awake during the afternoon slump. But naps can also lead to clinomania, or nap addiction, that creates a similar feeling of withdrawal as addiction. All that napping also interferes with your ability to get deep rest at night and could lead to waking up at 3am.

Instead of grabbing a nap, reach for a glass of cold water instead. ​​Dehydration is known to make you feel drained and tired, whether you’re an athlete or sitting in an office all day. An afternoon apple is nutritious and also provokes a similar response to caffeine as its fiber, and other vitamins and minerals are released in your body.

Create a Rock-Solid Bedtime Routine

Waking up at 3am could trace back to your bedtime routine. It’s common to experience sleep issues if you’re bringing your electronics to bed, keeping your bedroom lights on, eating late, and not sticking to a consistent schedule.

Create a relaxing schedule that works for you. Diffuse some relaxing essential oils like lavender, turn down the lights, read a book, put on some sleep music, or meditate before you try to shut your eyes. The more consistent your nighttime schedule is, the more likely you’ll associate it with sleep and avoid waking up in the middle of the night.

Get More Exercise

Getting in more exercise helps you get fit, stay healthy, and sleep better. Studies from Johns Hopkins University show that exercise helps you fall asleep faster and improve the overall quality of your sleep. 

However, the type of exercise and when you do it matters to sleep quality. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins and could keep you awake. It also elevates your core temperature and makes you more alert. The earlier in the day you can exercise, the better. Put away the gym accessories at least one to two hours before you go to sleep, and 30-minutes is all it takes. 

Ready to Get a Good Night’s Sleep?

Waking up at 3am is a pain, but doesn’t have to be a permanent struggle. A good night’s rest is within reach. Ready to try one of these strategies? Pair your favorites from our list with comfy, cool Cuddle Pedic pillows for a good night’s rest. 

Happy family cuddling their super cool comfy Cuddle Pedic pillows.
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