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?

Join experts Eileen Durward and Alison Cullen in the beautiful A.Vogel garden as they talk about sleep and why it is the one remedy we cannot do without. Discover their tips on how to improve your sleep quality including lifestyle changes and how herbs such as Hops and Valerian can help promote a better night’s sleep.


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  • Jouan's photo avatar
    Jouan — 23.01.2018 10:28
    Haha reading this at 4 am trying to figure out my problems ... I’ve been waking up around 3 like clockwork for the last month ish and I usually can’t get back to bed until 6-8 I’m not sure why but it has really been affecting my sleep schedule and my work what else can I do? Cause I do feel tired and I just lay there trying to sleep but nothings seemed to work... :/


    • Marianna's photo avatar
      Marianna — 23.01.2018 11:34
      Hi Jouan, did you notice how the 3am wake up started i.e. did it follow a busy or stressful time? Also can you give me an exampl or a typical evening and bedtime routine currently e.g food, drink, activity, bedtime etc. This might help me with some clues.


  • Mandy's photo avatar
    Mandy — 15.01.2018 11:03
    Hi there! Advice needed PLEASE. I had a baby in May of 2017. Throwing that out there in case it's relevant. I'll be 40 in 3 months. For some time now I have been waking up drenched in sweat around 3:30 am. My house is kept cool at all times. I shouldn't be sweating. I cannot return to sleep after I wake at that time. I'm tired ALL of the time. I assume that is because I'm not getting proper sleep. I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thank you bunches!


    • Marianna's photo avatar
      Marianna — 17.01.2018 10:34
      Hi Mandy, sorry to hear you are having problems with sleep and feeling tired. I would recommend initially that you see your GP who can run some routine blood tests and help you to identify the underlying cause. It may be that your body has become a little out of balance in the first year following the birth of your baby. Other contributing factors may be blood sugar and hydration related, subject to how much water you drink during the day, if you are having regular meals, not eating/drinking too much sugar/caffeine or not eating too early before bed time? These are all points to consider when you see your GP. They may also ask you about bowel function, regularity and whether you have to go to the loo when you wake up in the night.


  • Besfort's photo avatar
    Besfort — 05.01.2018 07:07
    Hi, Its been a year that almost every night i wake up from 3-4 am, the problem is that when i wake up at this time i need something to eat and after that i smoke a cigarette and go back to sleep again . I am 37 and yes i like to drink beers . i would like to know ypur opinion here does my body need sugar or my liver is having problems with regeneration thnx in advance


    • Marianna's photo avatar
      Marianna — 08.01.2018 18:54
      There could be several reasons for this. Here are a few possibilities: If you drink tea or coffee regularly and are not drinking enough water during the day, you could be dehydrated. Alcohol is a stimulant so although it helps some people to fall asleep it generally causes disrupted sleep and 3am can be linked to the liver finishing it’s nightly processes. Your blood sugar may have dropped too low in the night, subject to what and when you ate and drank the evening before. It’s wise to stop and consider what a typical evening meal and drink may consist off to see if it offers any clues? If you eat too much, too late, then your digestive system will struggle to break down the food and could well wake you up and/or disrupt sleep. Similarly if you eat too early, or consume too much sugar/alcohol your blood sugar could be crying out to be steadied in the middle of the night. A bedtime snack such as an oat cake may remedy this


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