Nocturnal awakenings: Causes and Remedies


There are people who find it hard to fall asleep and toss and turn in bed for a long time before being able to fall asleep and individuals who, on the other hand, manage to fall asleep quite easily, but then they wake up in the middle of the night, around 3, feeling tired as a result and not very concentrated during the day. At the root of this problem there may be several factors, often solvable.

What do waking up in the middle of the night depend on?

In reality, nocturnal awakenings are a fairly frequent occurrence. In most cases, however, these are micro-awakenings, at random and often always different times, of which the person is almost not even aware. The case is different, however, when you always wake up at the same time, in the middle of the night, around 3, and then find it hard to go back to sleep. Here’s what these events could depend on.

Excessive consumption of alcohol

Alcohols are false enemies of sleep: in fact, if taken before going to bed they could help you relax, but only initially. This is because they have a direct influence on sleep, so they can cause waking up in the middle of the night. The confirmation also comes from a review published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, from which it emerged that high doses of alcohol can interrupt and reduce REM sleep and disturb slow wave sleep. It is not only the amount of alcohol that makes the difference, but also the time of consumption: it seems that drinking alcohol in the four hours before bedtime increases the chances of having fragmented sleep.​

An early bedtime

During the night you go through various stages of sleep, which are repeated several times. In the first two stages, the person goes in and out of sleep and can wake up easily: in fact, sleep is very light and the eyes move very slowly. The third stage, on the other hand, is that of deep sleep, during which it is more difficult to wake up. The last stage is that of REM sleep, lighter, the moment in which we dream. Much of sleep debt (which helps to keep you asleep) it is filled in the first third of the night when in deep non-REM sleep. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase in length while deep sleep decreases. Especially if you go to sleep early, therefore, you could arrive at 3 in the morning with little sleep debt and you could wake up more easily.

Sleep apnea

Waking up in the middle of the night could be due to sleep apnea syndrome, a sleep disorder characterized by periods of interrupted breathing. In fact, this issue can cause you to wake up at any time of the night, but this is more likely around 3am because that’s when sleep is lightest. In fact, sleep apnea is most common and severe during REM sleep. In addition to micro-awakenings, apneas can cause: snoring; drowsiness and daytime fatigue; restlessness during sleep; dry mouth or sore throat upon waking; difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness or daytime irritability; mood disorders (depression or anxiety); night sweats; night urination; heachache. Anyone experiencing one or more of these symptoms should see one sleep specialist. If left unchecked, sleep apnea syndrome can increase the risk of certain health problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, diabetes and heart attacks.

Bad habits

In some cases, waking up at 3 am is simply a bad habit. Indeed, it is necessary to know that humans are creatures of habit: once they have learned a certain behavior, therefore, they can find it difficult to modify and interrupt it. Of course, this also applies to sleep: if for any reason for a few nights you woke up at 3 (perhaps because of your child’s crying or for work reasons), your body and mind may have become accustomed to this rhythm and continue to maintain it. even when the original reason has disappeared.

Other causes

Other possible causes of waking up in the middle of the night are:

Useful remedies

While avoiding 3 a.m. wake-ups may not always be that easy, here are some helpful strategies for getting better quality sleep:

  • avoid taking stimulants such as caffeine, in the three to four hours (at least) before bedtime;
  • don’t take naps;
  • do physical activity at regular times, but not in the three hours before going to sleep;
  • avoiding too much stimulation, such as violent TV shows or video games before bed;
  • practice relaxation techniques before bedtime;
  • do not watch television or use the computer, mobile phone or tablet in the bedroom;
  • try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning;
  • using the bed only for sleep or for sexual activity;
  • avoid consuming alcohol and tobacco products, especially before bed.

If you wake up and then find it hard to fall asleep again, that’s fine don’t check your phonebut get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel tired again, like reading, breathing deeply or meditating.


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