How Can I Stop Waking Up At 3 AM?

Updated October 1, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Night after night it's the same. Even if you fall asleep fast, you wake up a few hours later and can't fall back asleep. The more stressed you get about being awake, the harder it is to fall asleep. If you're asking yourself how to stop waking up at 3 am, we have some actionable tips that can help. This article will explore some of the causes of poor sleep and how to start sleeping better through the night.

Waking Up in The Middle of The Night Could Be a Warning Sign of Stress.

Is Poor Sleep a Sign of a Bigger Problem?

Night waking is not only a major annoyance, but it can also be a symptom of a larger health concern. While it can most often be rectified by simple lifestyle adjustments, some legitimate medical causes also exist.

We'll get into lifestyle changes that can improve your sleep below. But if you find you're still struggling after attempting lifestyle changes, you'll want to speak with a health professional. Your sleep issues could be a sign of an illness or mental health challenge.

If you do struggle with sleep, don't be concerned. Most people find relief with simple adjustments or support from a therapist or physician.

Causes Of Night Waking

Night waking can have many causes. Some may be medical and require a doctor to diagnose, while others are simply a result of unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Caffeine is a major culprit. The stimulant effects can last for quite a while after ingestion. Sugar can have a similar stimulant effect. Even alcohol, typically classified as a depressant, acts as a stimulant several hours after drinking. If you have a drink before bed, it may cause you to feel sleepy initially but can wake you back up a few hours later.

Light is also a huge sleep buster. It can either be due to the lack of it (you should get 20 minutes of sunlight per day) or too much of it (electronics such as computers, phones, tablets, and televisions emit blue light, which interferes with your body's sleep cycles).

Finally, there are medical conditions that cause night waking. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common offenders. Sleep apnea causes frequent pauses in your breathing pattern while you sleep and can also cause night waking.

Night waking is not only exhausting, but it can compound or cause more significant concerns. If night waking is not solved and you continue to be deprived of sleep, it can result in poor immunity (you will get sick more often) and low cognitive function. You may be more prone to accidents or injury and even be at higher risk for heart disease or diabetes. So, here are some things you can do to get better sleep at night:

Avoiding Caffeine Later In The Day

According to the National Sleep Foundation, "Once in the body, caffeine will persist for several hours: it takes about 6 hours for one-half of the caffeine to be eliminated." That means if you have that piece of cake and a cup of coffee after dinner, you might have a hard time sleeping through the night. Or, if you like to use energy drinks or soda to get through the day, it could punish you later that night.

It's been found that moderate levels of caffeine shouldn't cause too many concerns. But moderate is considered three eight-ounce cups of coffee. Many of our coffee cups hold more. If you're struggling to stay asleep at night, cut out that late-day caffeine.

Make Sure You're Good And Tired

When you lie down at night, you want to make sure you're tired and ready to sleep. If you're sleeping poorly, it might be tempting to take a nap to get you through the day, but don't do it. This can put you in a cycle of poor sleep habits. Do your best to skip the afternoon nap so you'll be tired when it's time to sleep at night.

The Importance Of A Sleep Schedule

A regular sleep routine can signal to your body that it's time to shut down for the night. Go through the same tasks every night before bed. And, even though you're an adult, it's helpful to have a consistent bedtime.

The Impact Of Blue Light On Your Sleep

It's advised that you avoid all electronic screens within the last hour before going to sleep. These screens give off a blue light that causes your body to think it's still daytime. This can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

If you need an activity to do before bed, try reading a book (not on a tablet or smartphone) before falling asleep.

Honor Your Body's Signals

If your body is telling you it's time to go to sleep, do your best to honor that. If you push yourself past the point of being tired, you may be pushing yourself past the point of being able to fall asleep.

If you think your insomnia is related to your physical health, schedule an appointment with your physician to discuss the matter.

Can Therapy Help?

If you're having a hard time sleeping because of anxiety and depression, a therapist can help. If you struggle to sleep because you're constantly running through the list of things you're worried about, some effective strategies can help you make changes.

Meeting with a therapist can help you determine the source of your anxiety and stress. They can also help you identify lifestyle changes needed to reduce your anxiety and improve your sleep. A few things a therapist might work with you on include deep breathing and meditation.

Deep breathing helps you to take control of your breath. This helps you to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Getting your breathing into a rhythm can also help you to fall asleep faster.

Meditation helps you take your mind off the things you're worried about. Or, it can help you learn how to remove the emotion and energy from your worries. You can learn how to refocus your energy and attention on thoughts that bring peace and calm, which you want when trying to sleep.

Waking Up in The Middle of The Night Could Be a Warning Sign of Stress.

An alternative form of treatment is aromatherapy. There are certain scents, like lavender, that are supposed to help your body and mind relax to sleep better.

Where BetterHelp Fits

If you're interested in therapy to improve your sleep habits, consider speaking with an online counselor. New research finds that internet-delivered therapy is as effective as in-person therapy and offers more convenience. This study, conducted by Brigham Young University researchers, found that technology-based therapy offers other added benefits as well.

BetterHelp makes reaching out to a therapist easier than ever. And you don't have to try to remember those things you're stressed about in the middle of the night. You can simply send a message to your therapist and then easily discuss it with them. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

“When I first started therapy with Suzanne, I was dealing with intense anxiety that dominated all my waking hours, as well as insomnia that kept me up to avg ~3 am most nights for over half a year. I was honestly skeptical of therapy since I have worked with six different therapists in the past (not through BetterHelp) and didn't feel it worked for me. But Suzanne changed my idea of therapy for the better. Since working with her, my mental health has improved immensely, and I've experienced a ton of healing in our time together. Her empathic and compassionate listening, relevant advice and knowledge, and warm presence put me at ease and helped me move through probably the biggest transition of my life, as well as a lot of past trauma. I feel eons lighter and much more at peace with myself, my life, and my relationships, and I can attribute a lot of that to working with Suzanne - the level of insight and practical homework that came out of every session helped me feel like I was making progress in my healing. Suzanne, thank you so much for all the hard work that you do. It is an amazing skill to care for and counsel. Thank you for changing my life! :)”

“I have had many lovely and well-wishing counselors in the past, but they were never able to help me be my best self and put me on a positive path to help me live my best life like Ms. Maloy has helped me do!!!!! I honestly do not know where I would be today if I did not meet Ms. Maloy, I truly believe she saved my life from spiraling out of control!!!! Before I started my sessions with Ms. Maloy, I used to think I was broken beyond repair, that something was wrong with me and I just was not “right”. I used to think I wasn’t worthy of good things happening to me because I was so broken and hopeless and because something was wrong with me. All of those negative thoughts and words I used to describe myself were banished from my brain, thinking, heart, and soul in the very 1st session!!!! She has the right words to say to make you feel safe, calm, and at peace. I am never afraid to tell her anything or be honest because I know she will never judge me! That is important to me because I have lived through some very scary traumas and she is always there to peacefully help me work through them. She has provided me with so many healthy and honestly helpful coping skills to help me deal with the severe traumatic events I have had to endure. She even gave me amazing coping techniques on what to do if I wake up in a panic attack from sleeping (which is so scary and used to happen a lot). She truly made me believe that I am not broken, but instead perfectly made just the way God wanted me to be. She made me love myself again and reminded me that God’s love is unconditional, and He loves me too!! She helped me change my whole perspective from thinking I was a pathetic loser to reminding me I am a winner!! I am beginning to remember who I am and feel like myself again. On top of all my mental health suffering, Within the past year, I have developed several severe and very scary autoimmune illnesses! These illnesses made it impossible to do things I love like yoga for example. Ms. Maloy found me an alternative that I could do with my severe physical limitations .........Tai Chi!!! I now practice tai chi every day and it is truly bringing me joy again! I thought that I would never have any joy participating in any activity again! She has even helped me devise out different schedules so the overwhelming feeling of “I can’t even do it” or “it is all too much” has completely gone away!! Ms. Maloy and her wonderful and peaceful methods have made me a BetterHelp patient for life; so long as she is my counselor, I can only see my life continue to improve regardless of my physical ailments! Thank you, Ms. Maloy!!!!!”


Getting the rest you need is important for both your physical and mental health. If you're struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, talk to a therapist to find a solution that helps. They can help you learn other strategies to improve your sleep habits and work on the underlying cause of why you're waking up at night, even if you don't already know why you're struggling. Take the first step to deep, restful sleep today.

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