Insomnia: why do we often wake up around 4 a.m.?

Insomnia: why do we often wake up around 4 a.m.?

Have you ever noticed a certain recurrence in your difficult nights? Waking up too early, always at the same time? But is it a scientific phenomenon or an impression? Dr Jonathan Taieb, sleep doctor, answers us.

The night is not over but your eyes are wide open and the clock shows the same time: 4 a.m. Too early to get up, too late to expect a long night. While some people put up with it and take the opportunity to devote themselves to morning projects, for many this awakening results in a poor night’s sleep and fatigue throughout the day. But why do we regularly wake up at the end of the night?

Several reasons to wake up early!

According to an article published on the media, in collaboration with Dr. Nayantara Shanti, sleep specialist at Boston University, we all wake up during the night, but waking up at 4 a.m. are the ones that pose the most difficulty in getting back to sleep according to several studies. Without a formal explanation at this precise time, the American doctor exposes several possibilities to this ultra-early awakening:

  • Terminal insomnia, which not only impacts the falling asleep phase but also the difficulty in staying asleep until the end of the night, and which can be the result of a bad rhythm from too much caffeine, bright lights, or even stress ;
  • Anxiety and depression which increase the level of cortisol in our body. Cortisol is the hormone that helps us feel alert and ready to act, the opposite of what we want for sleep. Stress is considered a common cause of acute insomnia. Finally, general anxiety disorder is often linked to middle insomnia, and terminal insomnia is linked to depression;
  • Age, which reduces melatonin production and attenuates the effects of the internal clock;
  • Hormonal changes which can contribute to sleep disorders, particularly during pregnancy or menopause, or during thyroid dysfunction;
  • Use of medications prescription that can have a negative impact on sleep. These include beta blockers, used to manage blood pressure, and antidepressants used to regulate mood;
  • Exposure to too much light which disrupts the circadian rhythm and can interrupt your sleep;
  • The lifestylesuch as staying in bed too long, an unbalanced diet, which can also disrupt the day/night rhythm;
  • Musculoskeletal pain which can interfere with falling asleep or maintaining sleep. When it is intense, pain can wake us up from a deep sleep and prevent us from going back to sleep afterwards;
  • Low blood sugar. Episodes of hypoglycemia can wake us from sleep. When blood sugar levels drop to lower than normal levels, the body responds by releasing hormones, including epinephrine and cortisol, which often cause us to wake up;
  • Sleep apnea, a condition in which a person stops breathing several times during the night;
  • Various circadian rhythm disorders. For people with circadian rhythm disorders, the body’s internal clock is not aligned with the environmental clock. For people with advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS), the sleep-wake cycle begins and ends two or more hours earlier than normal.

“At 4 a.m. or not, waking up is physiological and normal”

But is there a specific reason to turn over in bed at precisely 4 a.m.? We asked the question to Dr Jonathan Taieb, sleep doctor in Paris.

“To my knowledge no, there is nothing scientifically established which confirms or explains waking up at 4 a.m.” he replies. “On the other hand, what you need to know is that waking up at night is physiological. During the night, there are approximately 6 sleep cycles, and between each sleep cycle, we wake up for a few moments and go back to sleep, this is completely normal. Where it becomes pathological is when waking up lasts more than 30 minutes and it is difficult to go back to sleep…Whatever time it is” he continues.

The only scientifically supported data today is that early awakenings are more likely to be due to a drop in mood or a depressive state.

Consult a doctor online for your sleep problems

Our tips to improve your nights

In the event of prolonged untimely awakenings, it may be useful to review several things, even before consulting a professional:

  • Improve your sleeping environment by regulating the temperature of your room, installing blackout curtains, turning off your screens, and choosing quality bedding.
  • Work on your sleep lifestyle: by going to bed regularly at the same time in the evening, but also getting up at the same time. It is also essential to eat healthily and engage in regular exercise.

And if the very early awakenings continue despite everything, there is no need to get upset:

“Try light therapy, late in the afternoon, to delay the secretion of melatonin a little”, advises our expert. And if your alarm clock doesn’t allow you to go back to sleep in a few minutes, it’s better to get up, change rooms and not associate the bed with this loss of sleep and ruminate on this state. he indicates.

Of course, in the event of significant sleep deprivation and fatigue that you cannot overcome, it is advisable to consult a sleep specialist.