One big reason you might be waking up at night
Updated: Jan 28
There are many reasons you might be waking up at night but this one comes up time and time again. Many of the clients I work with complain of waking up between 3am-5am and finding themselves frustratingly wide awake. This may cause long term disturbed sleep patterns and lead to issues with energy, appetite and weight.
There is a reason for it. And it is hormonal. And there are 9 things you can do about it.
What’s going on?
When we experience stress, our cortisol levels rise as a survival mechanism, but when stress is chronic and cortisol remains elevated, it may lead to a variety of health conditions. Eventually your cortisol-producing adrenals become over-stretched and are unable to produce consistently high levels of cortisol in response to stress. Your levels then plummet, especially from early evening in line with our circadian rhythms.
Low Cortisol at Night
One of cortisol’s roles is to raise blood sugar for energy in times of stress. But if you are in a state of stress and your adrenals are exhausted, cortisol will drop significantly from 6pm onwards and throughout the night so your blood sugar will be very low.
To protect your body from going into a state of hypoglycaemia (very low blood sugar) in the middle of the night when you are unable to produce enough cortisol, your body reacts by producing adrenaline instead. This also raises blood sugar but is more stimulatory than cortisol so it will make your heart race and ‘switch’ on certain neurotransmitters that stimulate your brain to keep you very alert.
How many times have you woken up between 3am and 5am, exhausted but with your heart racing and your mind in overdrive? That is adrenaline trying to keep your blood sugar from dropping too low.
What can you do?
1) BE AWARE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING
I can’t emphasise this enough. Understanding what’s happening and accepting that it’s a hormonal reaction that is making your mind race is the first step towards addressing it. Don’t fight it, that just makes it worse. Your hormones are more powerful than you think.
2) EAT A CARBOHYDRATE based snack before bed: a banana, some dried fruit, some yoghurt and granola, anything is better than nothing really.
3) DRINK LICORICE TEA before bed – liquorice increases the uptake of cortisol at the cellular receptor sites.
4) AVOID CAFFEINE after midday – if you are tired and weary it’s because your body is signalling that it needs to rest. You may not be able to rest if you are at work or looking after children, but try and keep going without the caffeine. The last thing you should do is load up on caffeine if you are a night waker. It’s as if your body is communicating with you and asking for assistance by requesting that you slow down, but you ignore this and just press the override button because you think that the ironing pile is more important than your health or tomorrow’s energy levels…..it really isn’t.
5) GO TO BED when you are tired and before you get your “second wind” - night wakers tend to be exhausted from about 6pm onwards but get a second wind later in the evening.
6) SLOW DOWN If you are a night waker, chances are you experience and react to stress more than your body is capable of dealing with. If you are truly serious about wanting to deal with it, change your state of mind, stop worrying about things that really don’t matter every single minute of the day and TAKE TIME OUT. This may be hard for you to do to start with as most night wakers feel guilty for relaxing, are always on the go, and never sit down. But that is why they are night wakers because they are struggling to produce all those stress hormones. Start doing something relaxing and make it habitual.
7) LEARN TO MEDITATE It’s not hippy stuff, it’s been around for centuries and is now well-researched for reducing cortisol levels. And it only takes up 10 minutes a day. If you are a night waker, chances are you currently don't have a clue about how to “switch off”, and if you try it you won’t manage more than 30 seconds. This, in my opinion, is one of the greatest life skills you can learn - it’s your weapon against 21st century madness. Try an app or YouTube meditations with earphones. If you still struggle, try some slow deep breathing which also lowers cortisol levels.
8) STOP WORRYING ABOUT YOUR WEIGHT because if you are a night waker, your hormones will ensure you are a fat hoarder rather than a fat burner anyway regardless of your diet. Work on your stress and your sleep first and you will THEN find weight management much easier.
9) AVOID EXERCISE IN THE EVENING This will kick start your adrenaline pathways at exactly the wrong time. Try some yoga instead, another centuries old practice proven to reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline.
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The content on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.