Top tips on how to deal with 3 a.m. Insomnia

Going to sleep is fine, no issues there; however, at 3 or 4 a.m., you find yourself wide awake. Then you are maybe suffering from what is called sleep maintenance insomnia. Troublesome and extremely frustrating. Therefore I have decided to write a couple of the top tips to help you deal better with this annoying, & on occasions, very stressful sleep disturbance.

Types of Insomnia

Firstly, let us recognize that you are currently experiencing a sleep disorder—a prevalent one, not to belittle your situation. More to offer comfort in number ? Stats have shown that insomnia in some form affects up to 40% of the population every year. Taking on many different forms.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has defined 11 specific types of insomnia, which could also have underlying medical causes, mainly interlinked to poor sleep hygiene. These are the habits surrounding and supporting or undermining your sleep. Finding that causes of the undesired wakefulness can also be worsened by stress, anxiety, medications, or diet.

The truth is it doesn’t matter the cause; the simple fact remains the same for all types of insomnia: it compromises your sleep quality, creating a negative effect on both your health and well-being. That can be either a short-term problem or become a chronic one when left untreated.

For this blog’s purpose, you are most likely reading this due to you either having difficulty falling asleep, the technical name being onset insomnia or trouble staying asleep. Again the technical name is maintenance insomnia. A few people they are suffering from have both.

Onset insomnia,

Onset insomnia, the difficulty in falling asleep, is precisely as its name suggests: you cannot get to sleep. You are feeling alert and awake when you should have the feeling of drowsiness & feeling sleepy. For some, it is worries and anxieties that keep your mind busy, making it impossible for you to relax. Some more apparent causes can be noises or bright light outside your window drawn to your attention. The cause varies; however, the outcome is the same, your ability to fall asleep easily or at all is severally affected.

Maintenance Insomnia

Maintenance insomnia is the difficulty of staying asleep. It’s the difficulty you experience in your ability to stay asleep.  Your ability to fall asleep is not impacted. You can do this when you want to. However, you wake during the night or too early in the morning. Once you wake, you have the feeling of totally alert. Causes are usually due to you being anxious. Most say they find any thoughts you are having begin to race at this time, which then keeps you from going back to sleep.

Knowing we know 2 of the most common types of insomnia, let us look at the most common causes for maintenance insomnia, recall, the one where you have trouble staying asleep.

What research has shown is sleep maintenance insomnia can sometimes be attributed to having underlying medical causes. Some of these include :

Depression, low blood sugar, chronic pain, hormonal fluctuations due to menopause or menstruation, indigestion, acid reflux, or other gastrointestinal issues, to name a few.

Similarly, you could be waking up because of environmental triggers such as:

Block out any noises/sounds inside or outside your bedroom. The best advice, keep smartphones, any computer, or tablet out of the bedroom. Those notifications or chimes sounding may be waking you up. If you cant leave outside the room, turn off notifications between 11 – 7 a.m. via the settings. ?

The room temperature. If the temperature is too hot, then you could be overheating. It is worth lowering your thermostat to see if that helps. Try turning on the A/C or a fan. Use a lighter duvet or blankets. Try wearing thinner or fewer clothes to bed.

Another sleep disorder can also cause those middle-of-the-night awakenings. Possible examples are

Let talk snoring – or the technical name – Sleep apnea. There are two main types. Central sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome

For most insomniacs, these 3:00 a.m. awakenings are caused by and due to periods of stress and anxiety by learning to manage your stress and reduce anxiety by using CBT. CBT can help stop you from experiencing these periods of wakefulness or make it easier for you to go back to sleep.

Why and what is so significant about 3:00 a.m.?

We find insomniacs in every time zone and culture around the world. All were experiencing the dreaded form of early morning restlessness. Either it is just time to time or all the time, it happens everywhere. There are theories about why 3:00 a.m. has become such a universal time for people to wake up to then have trouble getting back to sleep.

Some experts say that it is possible that sleep cycles might have something to do with it due to us entering a lighter sleep at 3:00. This lighter phase of sleep makes disruptions and awakenings much more likely.

Some research speculates that our body is flooded with excess adrenaline during periods of stress, which floods our system, disrupting the average body’s self-repair process.

Other people believe the universality of 3:00 a.m. awakenings is connected back to the Neanderthal era when it was essential to survival and self-preservation habits.

Let us be honest, whatever the reason. It is only frustrating. The disruption it causes you to wake up when you need/want to be asleep is not a good situation.

The best part about it all is it doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is, there are ways this can be combated, and your sleep returned to normal once again.

Top tips for dealing with 3 a.m. insomnia

Maintenance insomniacs – you need to minimize any potential risk of things that could awaken you. You will find techniques that help you usher yourself back to sleep quickly are most helpful. Try some of these as these be most helpful.

Before you go to bed:

Moderate daily exercise, preferably in the early morning or early afternoon. These times have been shown to help improve sleep in those suffering from maintenance insomnia. To help you relax and shed stress, doing very light yoga or stretching before bed can help set you up for a better night’s sleep. Just make sure it doesn’t raise your heart rate.

Try not to nap during the day in your case. Each case is different, and I don’t always say not to nap for those who are not sleeping well at night. Many have a genuine temptation to try and make up for the missed by sleeping during the day. For some cases, this is the right & necessary thing to do. However, for a few, napping too much & regularly may make your sleep worse by disrupting your sleep schedule.

Therefore, if you experience maintenance insomnia regularly, I recommend experimenting with the elimination of your naps. Take notes by scoring your sleep and well-being to see whether this does make any difference.

Avoid alcohol and stimulants. Be aware that you do not drink, eat, or take caffeine after the early afternoon. Ideally, 1 p.m. but certainly not after 3 p.m. Smoking, vaping and drinking alcohol to act as a stimulant. Therefore it is best to avoid these also for a couple of hours before bed too. These behaviors have been very heavily associated with experiencing fragmented sleep, especially those middle-of-the-night awakenings.

In some cases, it has been proven to interfere with REM sleep. Both caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating, causing your sleep cycle to be disrupted as you wake up feeling thirsty. Diuretics are best avoided, too, mostly within 2 hours of bedtime. Limiting your liquids again 2 hours before bed helps avoid that need for nighttime urination, taking particular care to avoid consuming diuretic foods, drinks, and medications.

Anything that stimulates the kidneys. That, in turn, will cause you to use the bathroom more often. Examples of diuretic foods include coffee, caffeinated soft drinks, some herbal teas, watermelon, and asparagus.

Bedroom – keeping this sleep-friendly by darkening your bedroom. Keep out all light. That also includes any blinking or glowing lights from any digital devices in your room by simply turning your alarm clock to face the wall. This is especially helpful if why seeing the time makes you feel anxious. By blocking out any distracting noises and sounds by using earplugs, white noise machines, or fans. Keeping the room temperature cool also helps between 16 – 18 degrees.

After you awaken:

If upon wakening you feel anxious, I recommend trying breathing exercises. They help to calm your mind, which is the cue for your body to relax. Many people like to use equal breathing exercises.  

Inhale a deep breath, then hold it for a count of four. Then release it for again a count of four. While doing this, it can help you by adding a meditation phrase. For example, Inhale, breath; exhale, rest.

There are a variety of different breathing techniques use can also use. Some of these include alternate nostril breathing. This is just as it sounds; press one nostril closed, then another, while using progressive relaxation. During this, you focus on and relax one body part one at a time.

Guided visualization is also a great way to help this. Close your eyes, while using your imagination think about a place somewhere calm and soothing. Maybe you love the sound of a waterfall in the forest. It can help to like to envision your troubles as leaves that float down a river. Visualize them floating away from you. This is helpful too for visualizing stressful moments. Plugin earbuds and listen to an audiobook, track, or gentle music. The key here is to prevent your mind from dwelling further on your anxiety, especially about being awake. Relax and refocus your thoughts.

Stop trying to sleep. Leave your bed. Insomniacs have a strong association to their beds with senses of frustration. Trying and, more importantly, failing to get back to sleep. My suggestion is that should you not get back to sleep within 20min (but don’t clock watch!), then get back up. Leave your bed & room altogether. Find something else to distract your mind. Sit in a chair or go to your living room couch. Help yourself by keeping all the lights dim and engage in a relaxing, distracting activity that occupies your mind (like knitting,  movie, or reading). When you feel drowsy again, you can return to your bed to try sleeping.

What help is there for this?

When show I seek help with a sleep specialist for your insomnia

Suppose your insomnia is chronic or recurring. Which is preventing you from getting up in the morning feeling rested and healthy, we should speak.

Getting a referral to a sleep specialist like myself can help you determine your insomnia’s underlying cause if it is an underlying physical condition such as aleep apnea or restless leg syndrome or psychological causes such as depression or anxiety.

When we can establish that your insomnia has no apparent physical cause, then a professional referral can help you better understan and manage depression or anxiety. CBT cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are a great tool. Learning how to use this method to combat racing thoughts and worries might keep you up at night.

What is essential to know is that treating your insomnia is possible when you get the right help. The first step has been reading this blog, and the second step will be to chat with a professional, namely myself, so you can make the best decision on your treatment plan from now on to rectify what is causing it and put a four-week sleep program in place. The plan will give you all the tools you need to use to help you get your sleep on track and sleep much more soundly and frequently. offer you a 15 min discovery call with myself where we can chat about your sleep and how I can help with knowledge that will create you a personalized sleep program, using my knowledge of psychology & CBT techniques.

For more reading about sleep, how it works, and how it affects you. Read my blogs and testimonials from past clients.