Why You Always Wake Up at 3 A.M.—and How to Stop

Kelsey Clark

With holiday anxiety comes an unwelcome 3 a.m. wake-up call that knocks on your door unbidden almost every night. With your mind swirling with thoughts of gift shopping, work cramming, and upcoming family events, the real challenge is in falling—and staying—asleep until your morning alarm rings. While reasons vary from person-to-person, scientists have pointed the finger at your evening glass of wine, late-night phone browsing, stress, overheating, or late-night bathroom runs as possible culprits.

So how can you make it through this holiday season without waking up in the middle of the night? Our sister site Byrdie recently did a deep dive into this issue, turning to sleep expert Wendy Troxel, Ph.D., for some answers. Surprisingly, Troxel recommends getting out of bed and switching to a relaxing activity, like reading, to lull yourself back to sleep.

"Our brains learn by association, and to sleep well, you want your brain to have a strong learned association between the bed and sleep," says Troxel. "The key is to distract yourself from the fact that you are not sleeping (so you don't practice worrying in bed), and once your brain is distracted by some other activity, you might actually get sleepy again. At that point, you can return to bed.”

In terms of preventing sleep issues, she recommends working out in the evening to manage stress and setting a consistent wake-up time. "The time you wake up is the single most important factor that sets your brain's internal biological clock, so the brain knows when to be alert and awake (during the day) and when it should be asleep (at night)." 

How do you sleep through the entire night? Share your tips with us below.

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