Wide awake every morning at 3 a.m.? Here’s how to sleep through the night

Do you wake up every morning around 3 or 4 a.m., unable to fall back asleep? Are these waking accompanied by stress and anxiety?

People think it’s their unresolved tasks and problems that wake them up, but the truth is more mundane and, luckily, easier to resolve.

The cause is typically low blood sugar, which can be remedied through dietary and lifestyle changes during the day.

Waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. at night has to do with how you eat during the day

The brain consumes a tremendous about of energy at night. It is active processing complex information, creating long-term memories, clearing out toxins, and carrying out repair and regeneration functions. It depends on sufficient blood sugar to stay fueled.

However, sleeping all night causes the brain to go a long period without a fresh supply of dietary glucose. To compensate, the body secretes a hormone called cortisol, which triggers the release of stored glucose to keep the brain fed during the night-long fast.

People throw a kink in this process when they follow diets that cause chronic low blood sugar. Skipping breakfast or other meals, subsisting on sweets and simple carbohydrates (breads, pasta, white rice, potatoes, etc.), and using caffeine and energy drinks as your primary energy source all send blood sugar on a roller coaster of highs and lows instead of sailing on an even keel the way nature intended.

As a result, people with low blood sugar don’t make the right amount of cortisol at the right times to keep energy levels balanced and the brain fueled, including during the night. What’s worse, cortisol production fatigues.

So when blood sugar drops too low during the night, the body — fearing the loss of fuel to the precious brain — sounds the alarms by releasing “fight-or-flight” hormones. These stress hormones raise blood sugar back to a safer level to keep the brain functioning. Unfortunately, they also raise stress, which explains those anxiety attacks that wake you up in the middle of the night.

See if you have any of these symptoms of low blood sugar:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability, light-headedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning
  • The need for caffeine for energy
  • Eating to relieve fatigue
  • Energy crashes in the afternoon

How to fall asleep if you wake up at 3 a.m.

A quick solution to this problem is to eat a small amount of protein. Examples include a spoonful of nut butter, a little bit of meat, or a hard-boiled egg. Keep something next to your bed so you don’t have to get up. Avoid eating something sweet or starchy because this will perpetuate the cycle.

Daytime tips to avoid waking up at 3 a.m.

Although some midnight protein may help you fall back asleep, the ultimate goal is to stay asleep with a diet that stabilizes blood sugar levels:

  • Never skip breakfast (other meals) and eat a protein breakfast. Low blood sugar causes loss of appetite and even nausea. Eat anyway, you’ll feel better.
  • Eat frequently enough so blood sugar does not crash.
  • Give up the sweets, simple starches, and processed foods. Eat enough protein and healthy fats to sustain your energy.

For more information on how to stabilize your blood sugar and sleep through the night, contact my office.

Dr. David B. Tuchinsky, D.C., PLLC
St. Augustine Functional Medicine Practitioner, Speaker and Author

Direct any questions to: info@floridafunctionalmedicine.com

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Dr. Tuchinsky

Dr. Tuchinsky has been “health coach” to thousands of local residents. He has been a popular author and lecturer and has been featured in print media and local TV.