The Real Reasons You're Waking Up at 3am

Dec 10, 2020

Why Am I Constantly Waking Up at 3am?

In my coaching practice, I see a lot of people that are waking up at 3am. I mean A LOT of people. Three AM is such a universally popular time to wake up, in fact, that I decided to write a blog about it. This means that you can stop your Google search right now because I’ve got you covered. I did the research and came up with 8 common reasons this is such a prevalent wake-up time.

But before I give you the scoop on why people wake up at 3am please know…

You Are Not Alone

One of the things that seriously sucked for me during my decades-long stint with insomnia was the unshakable sense of loneliness I felt being wide-awake in the middle of the night while everyone else was sleeping. I positively yearned to be a part of the larger collective.

But here’s the thing… you are so NOT alone. It's a surprisingly common sleep challenge. Whether your time is 3am, 1:30am, or any other time, you’re one of many who experience regular nighttime awakenings.

So, the next time you wake from a sound sleep and open your eyes to those familiar numbers on the clock, know that many others are doing the exact same thing. (It’s like a middle of the night happy hour.)

Now, let’s take a look at some of the reasons this could be happening.

What is the Significance of 3am?

Here are the most noteworthy theories about WHY people wake up at 3am:

1.That’s when we cycle from deep sleep into lighter sleep. Humans wake up roughly five to seven times a night. Most of the time, these waking’s are so brief we don't even remember them. The deepest stage of sleep occurs in the first 4 to 41/2 hours of sleep. So, if you go to bed at around 11pm, by 3am, you're mostly out of deep sleep and shifting into lighter sleep (the REM stage). The brain is more active during light sleep, so rolling over to snooze again may not be as automatic as it is earlier in the night. 

2. There's some spiritual significance to the 3am wake-up. Coined the "witching hour," it's been said that the hour between 3am and 4am offers the most access to one's natural state of being. There's less noise, less use of electronics, and personal vibrational states are calm and at ease making it easier to connect with the spirit world. Our minds and bodies are simply more attuned to our spiritual nature because we’re not distracted by the chaos of the physical world we experience during other hours of the day. Some say that it’s during this hour that spirit guides and angels try to establish spiritual connections with us. To send messages or provide higher guidance.

It’s also been suggested that following those 3am spiritual messages, we may suddenly start to notice double-digit number sequences in our lives. Numbers like 11:11 or 7:07 may start popping up frequently. Considered “signs,” they indicate that you’re beginning new life experiences and developing your spiritual path.

3. There's historical significance to waking up at 3:00am. Another reason for the 3am wake up can be traced back to the advent of artificial light. The Industrial Revolution allowed people to work much later into the evening, pushing bedtimes back later and later.

Robert Ekrich’s extensive research suggests that humans slept in two shifts for hundreds of thousands of years! Sleeping in shifts evolved out of safety but researchers say that the time in between sleeps was often also used for reflection and meditation. It’s only been a very short period in our history that we’ve asked ourselves to sleep for one solid stretch of time.

4. What does 3am mean biblically? While there’s no specific reference to 3am in the bible, it’s mentioned often that God sends people messages in their dreams. The “witching hour” is sometimes referred to as the “Devil’s hour.” Some people equate Christ’s time of death, 3pm, with its opposite, 3am, as a time of evil presence. You can read more on the biblical meaning of 3am here.

5. Lifestyle choices affect sleep. We hear it so often it's become a broken record but things like caffeine and alcohol can have a HUGE impact on our sleep! Water intake too late into the day factors into how often we wake up, while not enough water causes mild dehydration, which can also disrupt sleep.

And then there's…. SUGAR!

Sugar can have a profoundly negative impact on sleep. (Like seriously screw it up.)

Studies show that diets high in sugar lead to shallower sleep and greater restlessness. Not to mention the toll on your pancreas (future blog). Eating sugar late at night stimulates the brain – it winds you up instead of winding you down. Plus, it steals your magnesium which is a pretty helpful little mineral when it comes to sleep.

If you do eat at night (I do often), don't be afraid to throw in some protein and fat. This will keep your blood sugar from zig-zagging all over the place.

6. *Subconscious links or associations with 3am This theory actually makes the MOST sense to me because our brains are highly associative. If we wake up at 3am and start paying a lot of attention to the awakening, it won’t take long for the brain to notice what you're giving attention to and create a link around it. It begins to believe there's something important about being awake at 3am, so it starts to wake you up every night at 3am 😬 

It becomes a conditioned response that happens on automatic. Click HERE to read more about this phenomenon, how we unintentionally create it, and what you can do about it. 

7. What organ is associated with 3am? The traditional Chinese body clock shows us which organs correspond with which 2-hour window on the clock. For example: Liver time is 1am to 3am.

If you are waking up between 1-3am, the peak window for the liver organ, it may be a result of conscious or unconscious unresolved anger or frustration.

If 3-5am is more your bag, this represents the lung time zone, and it’s associated with sadness or grief.

Remember, the body and the mind are intimately connected. They communicate constantly with each other. When your body gives you cues, it’s okay to listen 😊

8. Good old-fashioned stress and anxiety. Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, is perhaps best known for how it fuels the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol kicks in when we experience danger, giving the body a boost of energy. But it also plays a key role in our sleep patterns.

Cortisol levels naturally begin to increase between 2 and 3am. If you’re stressed or anxious throughout the day, your levels are already above-average so, if you’re waking up halfway through the night, it’s a signal that your cortisol levels are a tad high. Managing stress throughout the day is the key to sleeping well throughout the night.

So, How Do You Fall Back to Sleep After Waking Up?

If you’re waking up, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad sleeper or that you have insomnia. Waking up at night, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. However, waking up and staying awake can be.

It’s a major sleep myth that people sleep all through the night – no one ever does. The most important thing to keep in mind is how you feel when you wake up. Do you feel like you've been put through a coffee grinder even 30 minutes after waking up? Or, are you pretty much good to go and ready for the day?

If it’s the former and you can’t fall back to sleep in the middle of the night no matter what you do, read this blog to conquer it once and for all.  


Supporting you in all things sleep, 

Beth Kendall MA, FNTP

Holistic Sleep Coach

Health Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

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