Do you wake up between 3 and 4 AM and then lie awake, unable to go back to sleep? Such early waking is a form of insomnia, and it is not uncommon among women. Knowing you’re not alone in experiencing this annoying symptom may not help you get more sleep, but hopefully some of the following suggestions may result in your getting more shuteye.
What is early waking?
First of all, early waking is generally defined as unintentionally waking up between 3 AM and 4 AM on a consistent basis. That means you’re not waking up because the phone rang or your neighbor’s dog was barking, but often because of a physiological or psychological issue.
For example, one common reason for early waking is aging. As we get older, we tend to need less sleep because of changes in circadian rhythm. Such changes can disrupt sleep patterns. Other reasons can include pregnancy, anxiety, and certain medical conditions such as thyroid problems, sleep apnea, and chronic pain. Yet another is menopause.
Why is early waking associated with menopause?
Hormonal fluctuations that begin during perimenopause are a reason for early waking. Anxiety and mood swings, both of which are common during perimenopause and menopause, can contribute to early waking as well.
In a research article published in Sleep, women rated sleep problems as among the most bothersome and prevalent symptom they experienced. Nearly 40 percent of more than 16,000 participants of a women’s study said problems with sleep were a significant issue.
You can take a number of steps to reduce or eliminate early wakings and get the sleep you need and deserve. Try one or more of these suggestions.
How can you manage early waking naturally?
- Light therapy. Early waking insomnia can respond to exposing yourself to more light during late afternoon and early evening hours, according to some researchers. Try taking a walk or spending time using light therapy for two to three hours in the evening. Home light therapy units can be purchased over-the-counter.
- Meditation. If you practice meditation daily, it may help reduce stress hormone levels and thus promote better sleep. Guided meditation and mindfulness meditation can be helpful as a starting point if you are not used to meditating.
- Yoga. Research has shown that yoga, along with meditation and tai chi, can relieve symptoms of insomnia.
- Aromatherapy. Although there’s no hard evidence that breathing in soothing essential oils will solve your awakenings, several aromatherapy oils may help with sleep. They include chamomile, lavender, patchouli, and ylang-ylang.
- Diet. Limit your use of alcohol and caffeine or eliminate them completely. Both are associated with nighttime wakefulness. Sugary foods can interfere with sleep in the middle of the night when blood sugar levels decline. You can also eat foods that can help you sleep, such as those rich in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, which in turn transforms into melatonin. Bedtime snacks such as turkey, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas.
- Magnesium. This mineral is a natural sedative, and various studies have shown that magnesium supplements can help with insomnia. Good food sources of magnesium include almonds, cashews, whole grains, dark leafy green vegetables, and legumes.
- Herbal remedies. Some people experience help from valerian (Valeriana officinalis) with a recommended dose of 450 mg before retiring. Other herbal teas or supplements that may help you relax or get better sleep include chamomile, lemon balm, and passionflower.
- Music. A meta-analysis found that gentle, soothing music can improve sleep quality, awakenings, and increase satisfaction with sleep.
When to see your doctor
If your early wakings and lack of sufficient sleep are affecting your ability to function during the day, you should consult your doctor. There may be an underlying medical cause for your early wakings.
Early waking is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause. Several lifestyle changes can make a big difference in handling this issue so you can get the sleep you need and deserve.