In the modern-day and age when waking up early is a necessity for the majority, it is unusual to see people complain about being able to wake up early on their own. However, for some people who wake up early every morning for no reason, this can present a big problem. These people usually feel tired, restless, emotionally and physically drained.
Even if they want to sleep in, they simply cannot; their bodies seem to be able to initiate wakefulness early in the morning, no reason necessary.
If you clicked on this article, chances are you’re one of those people, and you’re in the right place. In the following paragraphs we’re going to explore the possible reasons you keep waking up early and what is your body trying to tell you.
Why Do I Wake Up So Early?
#1. Anxiety and Depression (Most Cases)
Numerous studies have proven that stress, anxiety, and depression are perceived as states of arousal. Our mind and body recognizes these states and initiates wakefulness, so we can actually try and resolve them.
During this process, we experience an increase in the heart rate, temperature, and general restlessness and alertness. As a result, the brain also initiates and elevates the production of hormones, like cortisol. It is, then, truly bad timing for these hormones to be produced when you’re trying to sleep.
It seems that our minds and thoughts start racing always when we’re trying to sleep. Studies have shown that the areas of the brain, associated with a sense of self or negative emotions are stimulated because of depression or anxiety, resulting in a continuous negative thought pattern.
That is why chronic and acute stress, years-long depression and anxiety disorder all contribute to our inability to either fall or stay asleep. Such states, like depression or anxiety, make you feel wide awake and usually help you wake up hours before you intended to wake up.
So, if you experience recurrent early waking up, you should look into the quality of your emotional state and see whether you suffer from excessive stressing out, depression or anxiety.
Depression especially is directly linked to disruptions in the circadian rhythm, so it can disturb your sleep-wake cycle significantly.
#2. Insomnia and Sleep Disorders
For some time now, one of the main suspects of regular early waking up has been insomnia. Described as the difficulty of falling or staying asleep, insomnia is responsible for millions of people experiencing sleeplessness worldwide.
Moreover, insomnia is also directly associated with early morning wakefulness. So, even if you manage to fall asleep, insomnia will definitely help you wake up hours before you need to. But, why won’t insomnia let you sleep once you’ve actually fallen asleep?
The reason for that lies in the direct relationship between two important sleep processes; homeostatic sleep drive and the sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.
- Homeostatic sleep drive – The homeostatic sleep drive is the drive to sleep that is influenced by the amount of time you spend awake. So, the longer you’re awake, the more sleep you should get. However, the homeostatic sleep drive is regulated by adenosine, a chemical that sends the sleepiness signal. The chemical is the strongest during the first stage of sleep, and by the morning it usually wears out. So, when people suffering from insomnia keep waking up during the night, they have a harder time falling asleep because adenosine is in the process of wearing out, or is completely gone.
- Circadian rhythm – On the other hand, the circadian rhythm regulates when you’ll feel sleepy and when it is time for you to wake up. This rhythm can be easily disrupted, and in people who have insomnia, circadian disorders are regular. They either experience the sleep-wake phase syndrome (inability to fall asleep), or the advanced sleep-wake phase syndrome(early sleep onset, hence early waking up and inability to fall asleep again). The degree of sleep-wake cycle disruption depends on numerous factors, like stress, genetics, adenosine levels, sleep disorders, etc.
#3. Sleep Apnea (Take it seriously)
If you suffer from breathing disorders, there may lie your answer as to why you keep waking up early in the morning. Breathing disorders, like sleep apnea, in particular, are known to contribute to sleep problems, especially frequent and persistent waking up throughout the night.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a rather serious problem that causes people to stop and start breathing continuously throughout the night. It occurs when the muscles in the throat relax and contract, which in turn blocks the airway.
This seems to be the perfect recipe for waking up because with sleep apnea people start snoring loudly, breathe heavily and end up gasping for air.
Other causes of sleep apnea can be numerous; if you do suspect you have sleep apnea, it is important to discuss this problem with your doctor or a medical professional.
Make sure to mention your frequent early-morning wakefulness as one of the accompanying problems. In order to get better sleep, patients with sleep apnea are recommended to use CPAP machines.
These machines ensure constant airflow and regulation of breathing throughout the night. So, make sure to also inquire about these machines, as well as other tips that can help you fall and stay asleep.
#4. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Studies have shown that people suffering from reflux diseases or acid reflux are more likely to have disrupted sleep and keep waking up early than those who don’t have such a problem. For example, research has shown that participants who suffer from GERD experience acid reflux in the middle of the night or before waking up.
Some research participants said they also experience acid reflux after waking up, up to an hour. GERD is becoming a greater problem for numerous people every day. This uncomfortable occurrence can be very painful and feel as if you’re about to have a heart attack.
The reason GERD attacks at night and early in the morning is because it doesn’t like you laying down. During the sleep, our stomach is horizontal and the acid from the stomach has all the freedom to move around, and usually ends up going up into the food pipe.
That is when the heartburn, described as burning pain, occurs and wakes you up. In the most serious cases, people with GERD can keep waking up choking, coughing or even needing to vomit.
If you suspect you’re having acid reflux issues, make sure to discuss with your doctor or medical professional for treatment.
#5. You’re Getting Older (Natural and Normal)
Some of the causes of early morning wakefulness don’t necessarily have to be dangerous or harmful. Some of them can be completely normal and natural, like aging. It is well known that the older you get, the more apparent the changes to your sleep-wake cycle are. For example, the older you are, the earlier your sleep-wake cycle becomes. This means that you will start going to bed earlier, as well as start waking up earlier.
Some older adults actually develop serious sleep-wake cycle problems as well. Some people start going to bed, for example, at 8 pm and wake up at 3 or 4 am. This can disrupt not only their sleep but also day to day life.
So, even though it is natural and normal for your sleep-wake cycle to change with age, it is also unnatural to have such discrepancies in sleep. In such a case, it is important to address the problem with a doctor and see how your tendency to wake up early can be fixed.
#6. You’re Pregnant
Pregnancy is known to cause sleep disturbances. Especially in the first trimester, pregnancy can cause numerous mental and physical changes in the body, which eventually start affecting your sleep pattern as well as quality.
These changes usually include morning sickness (which causes early wakefulness), heartburn (which can disrupt sleep throughout the night) as well as general tiredness, back pain, pain in legs, cramping, frequent urination, etc.
During the pregnancy, future mothers can expect some relief during the second trimester.
However, the third trimester can also be problematic in terms of more apparent body changes; the stomach gets bigger, urination becomes more frequent and the body changes are generally causing discomfort.
This can also affect the sleep, and usually has expecting mothers waking up early throughout their pregnancy.
#7. You’re Taking Melatonin Supplements
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your brain. The hormone’s main function is controlling the sleep cycle – it signals to your body when it’s time to go to sleep.
However, some people, usually those with sleep disorders like insomnia, need to take melatonin supplements in order to fall asleep. Nonetheless, there have been records of people taking melatonin supplements but not being able to stay asleep throughout the whole sleep cycle.
The most common complaints refer to early morning wakefulness. The reason for that lies in the fact that the melatonin effect wears off early in the morning. That is why you keep waking up.
So, in order for the melatonin supplements to actually help you stay asleep, either consider consulting a sleep physician for more information, or try changing the time you take the supplements.
You can try taking melatonin in the morning, upon waking up or taking it at least 90 minutes before actually going to bed.
#8. Alcohol Consumption
You may have noticed that after a night of drinking you usually wake up really early. The reason for that is in the alcohol in itself and the way it messes up with your circadian rhythm and sleep quality.
Drinking before bedtime is generally frowned upon by doctors because it causes much more harm to the body than benefits. Even though you may fall asleep faster, the alcohol in your system messes up with the liver and the gut, as well as provides a lot of toxins your body needs to deal with.
Not to mention that when you drink, your body stops producing glutamine, but keeps using it. Glutamine is responsible for stimulating your body to wake up, hence the early morning wakefulness.
Moreover, drinking alcohol before bedtime will definitely disrupt your sleep because of frequent urination, possible migraine or headache, pain in the stomach and numerous other discomforts.
#9. It’s the Weekend
This may seem like a trivial reason, but you might be waking up early only on the weekend and may have not noticed it. If you usually have to wake up early throughout the week because of work, chances are you will wake up even earlier on the weekend.
The reason for that lies in your acquired sleep-wake cycle. Throughout the week, your body gets used to waking up early.
So, your internal sleep clock doesn’t really care whether it is the weekend or a workday; it will keep you waking up early even on the weekend.
This can be really frustrating for many people who simply want to get some extra sleep during the weekend.
What Can You Do to Prevent Early Morning Wakefulness?
We know how constant waking up (especially early in the morning) can be frustrating. Therefore, we’ve decided to feature some effective ways you can combat this problem and finally visit the land of Nod;
Good sleep hygiene
In order to combat sleep disorders, like insomnia, and general sleeplessness, it is important to practice good sleep hygiene. What does this mean? This means that you need to develop a regular sleep routine, which would include for example taking a warm bath at least 2 hours before going to bed, disconnecting from the Internet and work, do breathing exercises before bedtime for relaxation, etc.
All of this will contribute to the production of melatonin, your relaxation, calmness and increased sleepiness.
Good sleep hygiene also includes regular sheets change, sleeping in a dark room and making sure that the room temperature is slightly cooler at night.
Improving lifestyle choices
Your diet and activity can also contribute to the quality of your sleep. If you eat unhealthy food and lead a sedentary lifestyle, chances are you will have trouble falling and staying asleep. Try ditching or limiting alcohol intake, replace processed food with fresh and healthy choices, and try to exercise at least three times a week.
These are pretty easy lifestyle choices you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine. However, no matter how easy these are, they can make a huge impact on the quality of your sleep. By exercising and eating healthy, your body will by default need more time to rest (read ‘sleep’) to restore energy, process the food and help the muscles relax.
Consulting a doctor about sleep apnea
In case you suspect sleep apnea symptoms, and sleep apnea being a cause of your early morning wakefulness, you can discuss your concerns with a doctor or medical professional. It is important to let a doctor examine you and take a look at your symptoms, so you can get proper information and treatment. Your doctor will probably advise some sleep changes, maybe oral appliances or even a CPAP machine to help you get a good night’s sleep despite sleep apnea or breathing problems.
Facing your anxiety and depression
Anxiety disorder and depression don’t occur overnight; it takes a lot of time for these to develop and start affecting every area of your life, including sleep. Therefore, in order to finally make yourself and your mind calm and ready to fall and stay asleep, make sure to face the things that stress you out and make you sad or anxious.
You can do this by, obviously, consulting a psychologist and getting some medical recommendations.
Moreover, you can start practicing the better treatment of yourself, eating better, exercising and trying to find positivity in everything you do or that happens to you. You can also try meditating, doing yoga, breathing exercising, etc.
It is important to try to find something that makes the racing thoughts stop, and that makes you calm and relaxed.
Shifting your bedtime
Some people experience waking up early as they get older. Although not a huge deal, it can present a significant sleeping problem if your tendency to wake up early prolongs and changes to waking up earlier than you used to.
The reason for that, however, isn’t only the age, it can also be the fact that people are going to bed too early as well.
That can be fixed by shifting the bedtime every night, at least half an hour later than the night before.
The gradual shifting should be done until you’re satisfied with the time at which you wake up.