Do you wake up every night, night after night? Maybe it’s at 3am, or closer to 4am, or 5am? Early morning waking is a common sleep concern. For some, once they’ve woken they can’t get any further rest, while others are able to fall right back asleep after waking. Either way, if you woke up enough to remember it in the morning then your sleep cycle was significantly disrupted.
Sleep researchers now know that it takes a strong signal – either from the external environment or from the internal system – to wake a person from deep sleep. External causes could be noise, light, or disruptions from partners or pets. But in the absence of these external factors, early morning waking can be caused by several different internal physiological factors.
After ruling out any underlying acute or chronic illness, two very common reasons for early morning waking are stress and anxiety. These two often come in a pair, but they are in fact separate symptoms that operate differently in the body.
The impact of stress - whether it’s good or bad stress, or physical or emotional stress -affects how cortisol is made and used in the body. An irregular cortisol rhythm can lead to a cortisol spike that leaves you feeling alert and wide-awake in the middle of the night or in the early morning.
The impact of anxiety - or any other strong emotional state - affects not only cortisol levels but also the complex neurotransmitter cascades acting in the brain. When mood is the culprit for insomnia, wakefulness can be accompanied by worry, racing thoughts or loud self-talk, though these aren’t always obvious symptoms.
Sorting out the reasons for early morning waking, and any other type of sleep disruption, is the first step in finding a good treatment for the problem. And there are many treatments available, aside from pharmaceutical sleep agents, that are effective for sleep support. Need help getting your sleep cycle back on track? Ask your naturopathic doctor.