A Cup of Coffee – Why Do I Wake Up At Night?

Welcome back! Last week, we enjoyed a blog from our guest blogger, Dr. Charles Ross. His topic was in response to my sister’s heart attack, with suggestions on how to eat if you want to avoid having a cardiac event. Many of you wrote to us expressing appreciation for his work. If you missed that blog and would like to catch up, click HERE.

Lokai sleeping soundly

This week we are going to talk about a subject that my friends and I commiserate about on a weekly basis…lack of sleep. I log on to social media at 3 am and see posts from mutual friends that say things like, “Is anyone else up at this hour?”. I get it. You don’t want to be the only one awake. It’s lonely at 3 am. Especially when the dogs continue to snore as you lie there secretly plotting to come back in your next life as a dog. If only we could sleep that soundly, right?

So why do we collectively (or so it would seem) all wake up at the same time every night?

I’m sure you’ve heard all the normal things people speculate about when one wakes in the wee hours of the morning, right? Your angels are trying to contact you, it’s the witching hour and someone has placed a spell on you, you are in someone else’s dream and more? While these theories are intriguing, we aren’t going to go there today. Maybe another time.

I did a bit of research on this matter and came up with some possibilities. Things like sleep apnea, eating too late at night, not getting enough exercise during the day, and anxiety were top contenders, but I was looking for a different, “off the beaten path” type of answers. I think I may have found some ideas for our night owls.

Our sleep cycles are about 90 minutes long, so if you go to bed at around 10:30, 3:00 am is about three sleep cycles later. Toward the end of each cycle, we are nearly awake, and in R.E.M. phase sleep, where dreams are most vivid and memorable.

If you’re going to wake spontaneously, this is the likely time to do so. You may not need as much sleep as you did when you were younger, so three sleep cycles might just be the norm for you now that you are, shall we say, at the top of your game age-wise.

This may also be the time of night when you need to empty your bladder. As we age, these things don’t hold up like they used to. A nightly run to the bathroom may also be normal for you at this time of night.

Lucky thinks
our bed is his.

Another cause may be some environmental stimulus that you don’t notice after you’ve wakened because it’s over by the time you’re fully conscious. For example, if your neighbor has to be at work in the wee hours, and starts their car every morning at 3 am, and if this also corresponds to the end of one of your sleep cycles, the sound of them driving away may wake you, even though it’s over by the time you wake up.

This sort of thing can be any number of otherwise innocuous stimuli, like your upstairs neighbor flushing their toilet, the ding of a social media notification, or your cat hopping on your bed (like our cat Lucky, pictured right).

Another consideration is that we are creatures of habit. Once your body has wakened at this hour a few times, it sort of “gets in the groove” and breaking that cycle is difficult. Try varying your bedtime, putting a little white noise into your bedroom (a fan, a humidifier, an air purifier, etc.), or earplugs. This should shake things up enough for you to sleep through that 3:00 am jolt.

Are you getting too hot? Ideal sleeping conditions are between 60 and 67 degrees. If you are beyond that range, you may have trouble sleeping. Try removing any excess pillows and sheets. They may be causing your body temperature to rise.

Mr. B taking
a selfie

Are you checking your social media at night? Stop that. The light from your screen may lower your melatonin production and make sleep harder. Plus, if you leave your phone on while you sleep, you may wake up to find your cat took his own selfie in the middle of the night. Like mine did. (See Mr. B, stage left, and yes this really happened),

As always, if you feel your issues with insomnia or any other medical issue is more than just a passing irritation, please consult with a doctor. A sleep study may give you better clues to your lack of sleep than, say, my blog.

Thank you for reading us. We truly appreciate you. See you next week, and until then, be good to yourselves and each other.

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