The phenomenon of waking up at 3 in the morning, or even a little later is really common. Far from being a mystical or supernatural occurrence, it’s actually a very common problem caused by sleep disturbances related to anxiety.
However, it’s a phenomenon that needs to be explained in better detail to be better understood and confronted. Waking up at these hours in the early morning and not being able to fall back asleep can become a very serious problem if it keeps happening over the course of a few days. Therefore, it’s important to know how to properly manage the situation.
Waking up at 3 AM: associated symptoms
There are many publications covering this common phenomenon. However, we must remember that there is nothing strange about it; it’s actually the brain’s reaction to an elevated level of anxiety that we’re currently experiencing. When it begins to consistently impair our sleep, it needs to be dealt with.
It’s important to keep in mind the symptoms that often accompany waking up between 3 and 4 AM:
- Waking up to intense anxiety and restlessness.
- Heart palpitations and a sense of danger.
- Getting back to sleep is impossible. This increases nervousness, negative thoughts and sleeplessness.
- If you do manage to get back to sleep, it’s very light and you wake up feeling tired.
- Repeatedly waking up between 3 and 4 AM a few times per week.
Anxiety and waking up during the early morning hours
Why do I always wake up at 3 in the morning?
If during the week you suddenly wake up in the early morning and almost always during these hours, the first thing you need to ask yourself is if you’re worried about something, if there’s something bothering you, if you’re working too much, or if you’re facing an emotional problem.
All these factors can cause anxiety that we might not always be aware of and the way the brain reacts to these problems is through sleep. We start to have problems falling asleep, and when we do, the accumulated anxiety causes us to wake up with a sense of threat.
Let’s take a closer look:
- Anxiety directly alters the central nervous system (CNS), which begins to make small changes in the bio and neuro-chemical systems involved in the sleep-wake cycle. This all directly alters stages of sleep (REM and non-REM).
- Generally, we go to bed and have a hard time getting to sleep. We end up falling asleep around midnight, but anxiety causes our sleep to be fragmented and it’s harder to reach the REM stage, where sleep is deep and restorative. Our brain interprets this anxiety as a threat and something that we have to get away from. Feeling this alert causes us to violently awake after just a few hours around 3 in the morning.
- This is our body’s natural reaction to anxiety and our neurotransmitters are altered causing changes in sleep.
What can we do about this problem?
If the cause of sleep disturbances is anxiety, we need to confront these sources of stress and the problems that are causing anxiety if want a good night’s rest.
- It’s important to acknowledge that something is going on. Waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of dread or threat is a sure sign that something is not right. Ask yourself why that is, what’s going on in your life that’s bothering you, making you unhappy and why you feel threatened.
- Make small changes in your life, set priorities, and try establishing new habits to stimulate your brain and vent stress.
- Try taking a walk after dinner for at least a half hour. Walk, breathe deeply, put things into perspective. Relax
- When you get home, take a relaxing bath and go to bed. The last thing you need to be thinking is, “I need to sleep well all night in order to perform tomorrow.” This thinking creates stress in your brain because it sees it as an obligation: “I have to sleep.”
- Clear you mind and quiet your thoughts.
- Make sure your room is clean and well ventilated and fresh smelling. According to experts, the best temperature for sleep is 68°F. Once the temperature rises beyond 77°, it’s hard for the body to get comfortable. Keep that in mind!