Reduce Stress And Stop Waking Up At 4 AM

By: Michael Puskar

Updated February 01, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

Stress is a major cause of sleep disorders. While there are many types of sleep disorders, waking up in the middle of what should be peaceful,uninterrupted sleepis frequently linkedto stress. The technical term for this kind of impaired sleep is 'middle insomnia' or 'night waking.' Waking up in the middle of the night can leave you feeling sluggish as you start your day. However, there's a more serious reason to get your sleep regulated –chronic sleep deprivation correlates with many poor health outcomes (depression, obesity, low immune system, increased blood sugar, high blood pressure). When you're not sleeping, it can lead to increased family challenges, as well as work-related accidents. As you can imagine, if you have to drive but haven’t gotten enough sleep, you're not as alert. It's not difficultto see why there is a link between sleep deprivation and motor vehicle accidents.

Waking Up At 4am Can Be Due to A Lot of Stress - Don't Ignore It
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You're getting the idea –good sleep is health-promoting and potentially life-saving. If waking up when it's not time to get up is something you are experiencing, read on.

What Does Sleep Do?

During sleep, your body repairs damage on a cellular level, and your brain gets a chance to relax and recharge. Sleep boosts your mood and improves your resistance to disease. Lack of sleep deprives your body and mind of that much-needed downtime. You get sick more often. It is a vicious cycle –stress makes it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep makes it difficult to handle stress. By reducing stress during the day, you have a better chance of sleeping well.

There are times when there's nothing you can do to change the amount of stress you are under. Making sure you practice and prioritize good sleep hygiene is essential if you can't put the brakes on your anxiety. Sleep hygiene has nothing to do with taking a shower, but it does mean you'll have to clean up those bedtime habits.

20 Daily Habits To Improve Your Chances Of A Good Night's Sleep

Sleep is your number one defense against stress, illness, and mental health issues. Insomnia is often the first red flag that we're 'off-kilter.' Here's how to sleep well:

  1. Stay awake in the daytime; go to bed at night. Regulate this schedule and stick to it. Set a time for bedtime before 11 pm. Early waking (prior to 8 am) is key. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep. Sunrise waking is shown to enhance productivity greatly. You will only need an alarm for a little while, as your body is naturally programmed for early waking. (There are a few exceptions to this rule. Maybe there aresome natural night owls? Anthropologically speaking, these people would have been our night watch). Even people whodescribe themselves as night owls quite easily begin sleeping at night with some behavioral adjustments. If you are a shift worker, understand that shift work is directly correlated with difficulty sleeping. Consider talkingwith a counselor to figure out how to avoid common pitfalls of shiftwork.
  2. Exposure to sunlight when you first wake up is essential for boosting metabolism, improving mood, and creating an alert brain. Open curtains or blinds or turn on lights. Use light bulbs that mimic sunlight on dark winter mornings. Sit outside in the daylight just for a few moments. Use a therapeutic lightbox in winter to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  3. Mornings are your time for self-care. You need a power hour to kick off your day. Take vitamins, supplements, and probiotics in the morning with plenty of liquid. Eat a small meal. Try some lemon water in the summer. Switch to hot lemon water with honey in the winter for an immune booster. (Some experts recommend using a straw to avoid the toll that this takes on our teeth.) Morning is a great time to take a shot of apple cider vinegar. Plan for success and set out your food and supplements the night before. Try not torely on remembering what to do when you're foggy from sleep (or lack of it). Boost your energy and feed your brain first thing. Do your juicing and smoothies in the morning for a healthy start.
  4. Vigorous exercise in the morning (especially outdoors) boosts metabolism. If you can't exercise vigorously, focus on movement. Walking is a great form of physical activity if you cannot jog or run, or simply do not have the energy for it. Cycling is not weight-bearing, so it's good for sore feet, back, knees, and hips, and still great for the legs and core. If music gets you out the door, grab your headphones. Breathe in the sights.


  5. Prompt your wake cycle with peppermint oil or your favorite citrus-based oils. Add stimulating oils to your shower or body care routine. Help yourself relax at night with lavender oil in a diffuser or sprinkle it on your pillow. You can also put those odd old socks to good use by using them for your essential oil pad. Sprinkle, lay by your pillow, and breathe in! Odd socks never smelled so good. #sockhack
  6. No social media first thing. It contributes to brain drain. Avoid the temptation to scroll when you're waking up.
  7. Save hot showers or warm, soothing baths for later in the day. This will help you wind down. Take a cool shower in the morning and get outside when you can.
  8. Cut off all caffeine after 2pm, including pop, and limit yourself to two to three cups per day at the most. Avoid energy drinks.
  9. Bedtime routines help the body to know when you want to sleep. Over time, your routine alone will induce a big yawn. Make a ritual of having decaf tea, practice some gentle stretches, and do some journaling in bed before trying to sleep. Get those thoughts on paper, so they have a chance to be expressed before you close your eyes.
  10. Keep lunch light, tasty, and crispy to avoid post-lunch fatigue and brain drain. Smaller meals with protein, less sugar, and carbs will help the post-lunch crash. A salad is a good go-to in summer, while soup with good crackers and some fruit hits the spot in colder months.
  11. Afternoon naps should be kept to less than one hour if you're lucky enough to get one. If you must doze in the day, set an alarm.
  12. Sleepy during the day? Drink something cold, suck on ice, eat something crunchy, chew gum, splash your face with cool water, sit outside, stretch, move. If you sit at work, get up every 15 minutes.
  13. Try to eat dinner before 7pm. Limit alcohol to one serving or none at all. Alcohol interferes with your sleep/wake cycle.

    Waking Up At 4am Can Be Due to A Lot of Stress - Don't Ignore It
    Get Help With A Licensed Therapist Today


  14. Darkening shades or blinds are a must in your sleeping area. If you can't afford them, use heavy blankets or towels. The less light pollution there is, the better. Make sure there are no sounds or flashing lights from phones, computers, printers, air conditioners, etc. Blue light from a TV is particularly problematic. This is why TV watching should end about 60 minutes before you try to sleep. Set your phone display to night shift if you must use it in bed. Use your technology only to play relaxation music or a guided sleep meditation at night, but not to look at distressing emails or texts. You can save the world in the morning. YouTube has a lot of free, guided meditations and relaxation music. There are hundreds of apps and sleep trackers out there on the market. By the way, speaking of blankets and towels, some people need a heavy blanket to sleep. It's a sensory thing. You can buy weighted blankets online.
  15. Various supplements may improve sleep quality, including melatonin, chamomile, valerian root, and magnesium. These are available in teas, powders, capsules, liquids, and tablets. Talk to your doctor, a pharmacist, or natural food consultant.
  16. If you use an OTC (over-the-counter) sleep aid or medication for sleep, try to take it before 9pm. Know that you may have to work hard to get awake in the morning due to the 'hangover' effect. It may be worth the side effects for a while to get your brain back into the habit of sleeping.
  17. The room temperature should be somewhere between 60-68 degrees when possible. If you're overheated, you won't sleep well.
  18. Keep a stack of books by your bed. Read until you are ready to sleep. If focusing on a book is difficult, try magazines or an audiobook!
  19. Explore apps that teach you mindfulness, meditation, and other skills to reduce stress during the day.
  20. Consider participating ina sleep study if your sleep problems are chronic. Insomnia is a major contributor to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and also affects our physical health. If you have sleep apnea, your mental health issues won't improve until you can sleep.

Professional Help For Insomnia

There are times whenmedication is needed to reset your body's ability to sleep. It's as though prolonged night waking helps the body 'forget' how to sleep straight through. Sometimes even though stress is greatly decreased, the body keeps waking itself up. Medication can be used in the short-term to get you sleeping again. Prescription drugs such as Trazadone, Buspar, Amitriptyline, and Vistaril are commonly prescribed and generally thought to be safe, as well as non-habit forming.

Sleep centers evaluate for sleep disorders, and a sleep study to assess for sleep apnea is a good idea if you've noticed these sleep problems for a while or your partner reports restlessness and/or snoring.Please consult with your doctor or primary care physician before considering any medication options.


In addition to speaking to medical doctors and sleep specialists about your sleep issues, you mayalso benefit from a counselor’s help. Therapists can offer guidance about how to cope with stress and sleep better. One specific type of therapy that can help immensely is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) because it tackles a person's negative thoughts, which can contribute to stress. However, many people also report that simply having someone to talk to about their livesand what has got them stressed out and losing sleep is therapeutic in itself.

Research shows that online therapy can play a significant role in reducing depression symptoms. For example, one study found that online therapy was even more effective than traditional in-person sessions, with 100 percent of participants in the online group showing continued symptom reduction three months after treatment. On the other hand, individuals in the face-to-face group showed “significantly worsened depressive symptoms” over the same period. This study explores how internet-based treatment compares to regular face-to-face therapy.

BetterHelp offers online therapy at an affordable price, and since you can enjoy sessions at your home, this eliminates the need to travel. Having to work around in-person therapy sessions at a time that is less than optimal can only lead to more stress, and this should never be the case.BetterHelp aims to solve this issue by providing a more convenient option that can put you in touch with a licensed and experienced therapist ready to help. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

“Rachel helps me all the time and is super flexible with my schedule and patient with me. She helps me work through my anxiety and depression and 100% makes me feel heard and helps have a voice in my life.”

“John is an excellent listener and provides very appropriate and timely feedback to the matters at hand. I know when I talk with John that I will be heard, valued, and understood. I’ve laughed and cried with John, and through all circumstances, he’s been supportive and involved while maintaining a calm and safe environment that I can trust. I would recommend getting to know him and arranging a session in his schedule.”

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