Why you wake at 3 am


You’ve got the bath ready with epsom salts. Candles are lit and the Chris Botti tunes are bouncing off the bathroom walls.

Waking up at 3 am has to stop!

You’ve been researching online. You’ve been asking friends what they do

No screen use – check

No after supper coffee – check

No water after 6 pm – check

Moved the after supper walk to lunch time.

Alcohol is now reserved for special occasions….granted some Fridays are more special than others. You are well aware of the impact alcohol has on your sleep but occasionally weigh the trade off.

Eating at night was cut out because “it disrupts sleep” and supposedly “turns to fat,” and you ain’t got time for that!

The potato chips have been given to the gulls…er… coworkers at the office.

You now need a miners hat in your room because the dark out curtains and no electronics have sucked the last hint of light away.

The temperature in the room seems a fraction warmer than a hockey rink. You may have taken the recommendation of a “cool room” a little too far but that’s what feels comfortable to you.

The bed time is so regular the cat heads upstairs before you.

The breathing exercises before bed do seem to work and you fall asleep in about 15 minutes.

The hashtag #SleepHygiene is becoming the next tattoo consideration.

Maybe tonight is the night??


Waking up at 3 am has now become the new norm. It may be a few minutes before or after but the cat knows that schedule too.

Is this what growing older is supposed to look like? Your exhausted from exhausting ways to sleep.

You’ve made big changes and it has helped …”somewhat” You seem to be falling asleep a little quicker and your brain is definitely quieter with avoiding TV at night and work emails. But still you are waking!

Waking up at 3 am

Night time hormones

Most articles you’ll find on improving sleep talk about sleeping habits also known as sleep hygiene. Changing sleep habits do seem to work for some but still many suffer from the pillow polka in the early hours.

Rarely if ever are the nocturnal hormones discussed. These hormones are the true cause for disruptions in sleep.

You know that “monkey brain” that won’t shut off.

This is due to two very popular night time hormones. They are cortisol and adrenaline.

These hormones will rise for a few reasons.


This will be revelation for some but the reality is darkness is stress. Stressors of money, pollution, relationships, toxins get commonly discussed but lack of light is also stressful. This is one of the main reasons women have more hot flashes at night, more leg cramps, palpitations, anxiety and restless legs. There are more cardiac events at night. More people die in the months with the less daylight as the graph below indicates.

waking up at 3 am

I know what you are thinking. Keep the lights on?!

Definitely not. Our sleep is ideally meant to counteract that stress response. This does seem like a contradiction though.

During sleep (when we do sleep) our bodies will heal and repair. Sleep is vital to all the functions in the body including the immune system, nervous system and hormonal. These are all intertwined. Its a systems of systems.

These hormones also raise as a result of low blood sugar. A person’s ability to maintain a steady blood sugar can come into play. Blood sugar can be thrown off for various reasons.

A physical or mentally demanding day can have an impact. The brain uses a large majority of the blood glucose available. When the blood sugar has been used through physiological functions and if it gets too low the body will start the process of breaking down its own tissue to supply blood glucose. If the body is breaking itself down then stress hormones will raise.The hormones of adrenaline and cortisol being the main culprits. If adrenaline raises then the heart rate raises. If the heart rate raises then you’ll wake up and likely with an elevated heart rate. A common phrase I hear is, “I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest.”

Granted, there will be major stressful events like divorce and deaths that will cause sleep disturbance but these should be the exception, not the norm.

The third hormone in play here is estrogen. Estrogen affects the blood sugar handling. This is very evident with the reasons a female will have certain cravings cyclically. Salt and or sugar come to mind in the food preference heading. They tend to take the form of chips or chocolate. This is just the body self regulating – you are not bad. The food isn’t bad. You are trying to bring yourself closer to homeostasis. Don’t fall for the cultural belief of the things that make you feel good are inherently bad.

How to stop waking up at 3am ?

In order to stop waking up at 3 am we need to manage those stress hormones.

I talk about it in my book in more detail but we really need to keep the hormones under control. Moving up north where it’s longer daylight hours is not practical so what do we do?

A simple but effective concoction would be to have something sweet and/or salty before bed. A trainer recommending something salty and sweet ?! I can’t ignore physiology regardless of what a bunch of articles might tell you.

The goal is to supply the ‘tanks’ with enough fuel to carry you through the night and also will maintain blood sugar levels. Ideally something with fructose and sucrose. Using starchy (glucose) foods here like bread or cereal at this hour usually won’t achieve the same success. The drink could be orange juice, or another tropical juice for those with an aversion to OJ. Fructose (fruit sugar) will have a stabilizing effect on the blood sugar and lowers stress hormones. This is exactly what you want to happen.

You may have heard your grandmother mention warm milk and that drink can work too. But I would add some honey or some sugar to it to make sure enough fuel is on board. The lactose will supply the sugar and the heat will keep the body temperature up at least temporarily. Your grandmother was also correct wearing socks to bed. Keeping extremities warm will also keep those hormones in check. Cold feet and hands are also an adrenaline issue. Try not to let them get cold.

The salt also has a stabilizing effect. Salt is required to absorb sugar. Again look at this logically. After a day of increased stress some of us will reach for salt in the form of chips or crackers. Sometimes it’s habit, but sometimes its the darkness of the night why we tend to reach for those things.

These recommendations work fast. It should only take a few nights to restore the “tanks’. Another recommendation I strongly encourage is to have that same drink concoction next to your bed. This will help in case you do wake and you can take a drink and not get out of bed. Again, this will bring those hormones down and allow you to go back to sleep.

I’m sure you’ve heard friends telling you magnesium works. It can indeed but if the thyroid is not working then the cells won’t hold onto magnesium. Thyroid hormone and estrogen are also antagonists. The thyroid ideally supplies the cells with the energy required. Estrogen will try to block that process. Vitamin D and calcium will also allow to the cells to maintain energy. Pay attention to your sleep pattern to see if the end of winter is worse for sleep. This would suggest vitamin D levels and lack of light being problematic. Sleep requires energy contrary to popular belief. An energized cell is a relaxed cell. Very similar to a two year old who is over tired and then becomes hyper.

Lowering estrogen (which i’ll talk about in an up coming post) will be important. Some of the bullet points to lowering estrogen:

Daily intake of 100 grams per day for women and more for men

Bowel function working optimally. Moving freight everyday

Using food like raw carrots or cooked bamboo shoots to help eliminate estrogen

Optimal thyroid functioning

Supplements like progesterone, vitamin E, vitamin B and aspirin

Managing physical and mental stress

Avoiding plastics and topical creams that mimic estrogen

I would be remiss not to mention thyroid here as well. Most hormonal issues have the thyroid as the underlying cause. Having your TSH. (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) below 2.00 is where you want to be. Lower the better. In some cases, TSH can be artificially lowered with high cortisol so make sure a full blood panel is run with Reverse T3 and Free T3 being tested.

The good news is the “night nog” before bed works for the large majority of people who try it. Have a glass of your preferred drink before brushing your teeth and bring another to the room. Most of the drinks do benefit with a shake of salt added but not to the point of tasting it.

Give these suggestions a try and I’m very curious of your progress.

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