Waking at 3am

Are you curious about why you always wake up around 3am?

Marianna Kilburn

11 May 2015

A common problem

In all the years I have been helping customers in health food shops, the most frequent sleep related question I have been asked is ‘why do I always wake up at 3am?‘. It seems that this is a huge problem for people, far more than issues of actually getting to sleep.

Indeed, when we ran a survey about sleep problems on the A.Vogel website, by far the biggest group (nearly 50%) identified early morning waking as the sleep issue that bothers them the most.

Which organ is to blame for your 3am wake up?

Modern diets and lifestyles put a lot of pressure on the body, whether it’s from too much fatty food and refined sugar, from the consumption of alcohol or stimulants, or from too much stress – or a combination of all these!

One organ in particular that suffers from this type of lifestyle is the liver – and, you guessed it, it’s the liver that carries out many of its main functions in the early hours of the morning!

The science behind it

One thing to be aware of is that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, our internal organs work to a 24 hour ‘clock’, with certain times of day being peak times for that organ. This is the time that the organ will carry out its most essential functions.

The schedule is as follows:

Large intestine: 5am-7am
Stomach: 7am-9am
Spleen: 9am-11am
Heart: 11am-1pm
Small Intestines: 1pm-3pm
Bladder: 3pm-5pm
Kidneys: 5pm-7pm
Circulation: 7pm-9pm
Endocrine system/pancreas: 9pm-11pm
Gallbladder: 11pm -1am
Liver: 1am-3am
Lungs: 3am-5am

In Chinese medicine, any repeated issues that occur at a particular time of the day suggest an imbalance in the corresponding organ. For example, I do not wake early but often feel excessively tired at around 6pm and this, according to my acupuncturist, is because my kidney function is weak.

As you can see from this schedule, 1-3am is ‘liver time’. One thing the liver needs is energy, and for that it uses glycogen from the body’s sugar stores. The problem is that adrenaline production also uses up glycogen, and adrenaline is what we produce when we are stressed and when our blood sugar levels are unstable.

So if you spend the whole day stressed and with your blood sugar levels going up and down like a yo-yo, by the time it gets to 1am, there will not be enough glycogen left for the liver to regenerate. In this scenario, the body has to produce adrenaline to compensate – and as adrenaline is designed to keep us awake, you will wake up at this point.

What to do

Luckily, unless there are serious medical conditions compounding the problem, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself if waking at 3am is a problem for you:

1. Keep a remedy near you

While changes to your diet and lifestyle can take a while to implement and to take effect, what can you do in the short term, or when you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night? One thing I would do is keep a bottle of Dormeasan by your bed and take a dose when you wake up – this should help you to get back to sleep quickly as, in tincture form, Dormeasan can enter your bloodstream effiecently, resulting you feeling the benefits quicker!

You can read more tips on how to get back to sleep in one of my previous blog posts: http://www.avogel.co.uk/health/sleep/blog/5-tips-to-help-you-get-back-to-sleep/

And do not check your phone!

2. Look after your liver

The liver does not like alcohol, junk food, very rich food or drugs like painkillers. Cut these out as much as possible and make your last meal of the day the lightest, so that the liver is not trying to regenerate while dealing with, for example, a cheese fondue at the same time.

Simple, healthy food is best for the liver but if you think your liver might need extra help, consider taking a remedy made from traditional liver-supporting herbs such as artichoke, dandelion root and milk thistle.

You may also want to follow Emma's simple tips for a liver detox!

3. Look after your adrenals

The adrenals, as I have said before, are boring! They do not like stimulants such as sugar, caffeine, stress or even stimulation from things like computer screens and the Internet. It is hard to limit stressful scenarios, as we all have to work and have busy lives, but you can limit the impact on your adrenals. In an ideal scenario, cut out all refined sugar and caffeine from the diet, or at least cut out caffeine after noon.

Stop using smartphones and computers after 8-9pm, and try deep breathing or meditation techniques before bed. To reduce stress levels in the body during the day, consider one of our Bach flower remedies, such as Mood Essence, and taking magnesium supplements at night can also be useful.

4. Balance your blood sugar levels

To best balance your blood sugar, eat regular meals and avoid all refined sugar and carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta, etc. If you do feel your blood sugar dipping, eating a protein-rich snack such as nuts is better than reaching for sugary things – although the sugar will perk you up initially, it will only lead to your blood sugar levels crashing again a little while later.

Some people with night-time waking might find that they need a small, healthy snack before bed to stop their blood sugar dipping at 3am. Try oatcakes or a banana. For more night time snack ideas check out my top 5 foods to help you sleep blog post.

Do you regularly wake at 3am? Or is your sleep constantly disruptive at another time of the night?


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  • Anja's photo avatar
    Anja — 10.08.2018 15:34
    Hi, thank you for your very interesting article! I have the same issue and I've heard that there is another element playing a part in this as well which is the GSM towers and WiFi towers being active, which causes abnormal radiation. I am not surprised that this causes liver issues and stress on top of what we already have in our day to day lives! Do you think Boldocynara complex from Dr Vogel might be helpful as well? It's for the liver and I give it to 1 of my dogs as well (with great results by the way!)! Is there anything natural that is good against radiation/elektro-magnetic waves/radiation? I already turn of my WiFi router completely before going to bed, which improved my sleep, but now the 3am issue is back! Thank you!


    • Marianna's photo avatar
      Marianna — 13.08.2018 06:09
      Hello Anja Yes, this is another area that people are now looking into, it is a very interesting aspect! Boldocynara is called Milk Thistle Complex in the UK, they are used for the same issues.


    • Anja's photo avatar
      Anja — 13.08.2018 11:01
      Thanks Marianna! I'm in the Netherlands, so the medicine of Dr. Vogel might indeed have another name here. It's a fantastic product (Milk Thistle Complex/Boldocynara)! So I'm gonna start it today. I use it too for my dog, because she has a fatty tumor in her belly and usually those are caused by liver and/or kidney problems. Together with Turmeric and flax seed oil we can control the growth of the tumor. Luckily it's not a cancerous one!


  • Eden 's photo avatar
    Eden — 01.06.2018 16:02
    Hello! im 16 years old boy I experience that every week its hard to sleep again because if you sleep again in the morning you well be stressfull im so stressed with this condition - im just sharing


    • catherine's photo avatar
      catherine — 07.06.2018 15:33
      What do you think you could do to get support for this problem? Not sleeping is a sign something needs to be brought back into balance.


    • Marianna's photo avatar
      Marianna — 08.06.2018 11:51
      Hello Eden, Thank you for sharing. I hope the information on this page is helpful but if you are very anxious or stressed, it is a good idea to let the GP or a family member know.


    • Marianna's photo avatar
      Marianna — 08.06.2018 11:51
      Thank you for your comment Catherine, Finding the right balance is very important and sometimes making small changes as mentioned in the article, can make a big difference.


  • dai jones's photo avatar
    dai jones — 02.05.2018 01:05
    I too am lying awake read I g this at 2.30am! The TCM schedules seem to make so much sense. I recently had a stroke and the stresses are ever present. I find that My blood pressure is elevated in the morning (7am) 185/85 and declines during the day to slightly more reasonable 160/80 in the afternoon time. I then seem to get back to sleep at about 6 just in time to be getting up! what can I do to break this?


    • Marianna's photo avatar
      Marianna — 02.05.2018 09:38
      Hello Dai, Sorry to hear that you have been unwell. Worry, health and stress can cause a disturbed sleep pattern. You could try Dormeasan sleep remedy and hopefully the other lifestyle changes on this page will help.


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