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Why do I keep waking up at 3am?

Always wake up at 3am? Join the club. It’s a common complaint. People all across the world wake up in the middle of the night and roll over to see those familiar digits – 3.00 – on the bedside clock....

woman who wakes up at 3am every night

Always wake up at 3am? Join the club.

It’s a common complaint. People all across the world wake up in the middle of the night and roll over to see those familiar digits – 3.00 – on the bedside clock. For others, it may be 2am or 4am. Everyone is different. But no matter what the hour, you can rest assured, it’s not insomnia. Night-time awakenings are usually completely harmless – as long as you can drop back off soon after!

Here our sleep experts attempt to explain why.


Everyone wakes up during the night

Let’s get one thing straight; waking up at night is not an issue. It’s just a part of our natural sleep cycle. In fact, experts now say that an average adult will wake up around 7-15 times every night. But this is nothing to worry about and most of the time you won’t even realise you’re awake.

Sleep may feel like one long period of sustained inactivity. But in reality, our brain is active and cycles through a number of stages. This cycle lasts for approximately 90 minutes and includes periods of non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. The end of the cycle is punctuated by a brief awakening, which you may or may not be aware of.

As we go further into the night, more time is spent in the lighter non-REM stages of sleep. Which is why the awakenings become more noticeable and you may find yourself staring at the clock at 3am.


Infographic of the sleep cycle and why it's natural to wake up at night



When is waking up at night a problem?

It’s important to note, there are some medical conditions (e.g. sleep apnoea) which can cause frequent night-time awakenings. So, if you’re worried, it’s worth getting checked by a GP.

But, for most, waking up in the middle of the night is only a problem if you can’t get back to sleep.

Once awake, many people find themselves tossing and turning – their mind racing, perhaps thinking about all the things they need to do the day after. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and worry, often triggering a ‘flight or fight’ physiological response and causing a rise in heart rate. This response makes it difficult to drop off again. But, thankfully, there are things you can do to help.


How to tackle night awakenings


1. Try not to clock-watch


Focusing on the time – and how long is left until you have to get up – will only make the situation worse and add to your anxiety. So, try to close your eyes and put it out of your mind.


2. Get out of bed


Staying in bed for a long time when awake can be problematic, as your brain will start to associate the bed with wakeful activities (e.g. worrying, planning). Therefore, if don’t fall back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, the best option is to get up and do something relaxing. For most people, simply reading a book for a while or making a milky (non-caffeinated!) drink can work wonders.


3. Create the right environment


To get a good night’s sleep, your bedroom should be as cool, quiet and dark as possible. This will help to avoid any unnecessary disruptions to your sleep cycle and often makes it easier for you to drop off again after waking up. It’s also important to invest in a high-quality mattress, that is the correct size and comfort tension for your personal sleeping preferences and requirements.


Example of bed and mattress available at Dreamers


Speak to the experts at Dreamers Bed Centre

Still worried about waking up at 3am? Remember, you’re always welcome to get in touch.

Our team, here at Dreamers Bed Centre, are happy to help at any time. Not only can we offer further insight into this topic – including the sleep cycle and why we naturally wake up during the night – we can offer helpful tips and advise on the best mattress for a restful night’s sleep. Simply give us a call on 01942 275 464 or send an email to and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.




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