Why You Are Waking Up In the Middle of the Night
Why You Wake Up In The Middle Of The Night

(Approximate reading time 2 minutes)

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Insomnia has two major types: sleep onset insomnia and sleep maintenance insomnia.  Some people have no problem falling asleep, but have a hard time remaining asleep.  You may find yourself bolt awake, at around the same time almost every day, and it may take you a very long time to fall back asleep.

There are many reasons behind this mid-night or early morning waking.  Two people may have the same waking hour, but completely different problems.  Let’s dig into some of the possible explanations.

One of the most common reasons people cannot sleep through the night is due to chronic stress.  It’s not the kind of stress that makes your heart beat faster, but rather a slow burning smoldering fire in the background.  There is either something that has been bothering you and you cannot quite make peace with, or there is a sense of insecurity and anxiety about life in general.  The physical fatigue may be able to put you asleep easily, but the body only gives that much sleep time for survival, not for optimal health.  This may be the reason you don’t sleep deep enough, and don’t have 7 to 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis.

From the TCM perspective, night or early morning awakening may be an indication of poor health.  Depending on what time you wake up, it may even be a warning sign of health problems related to a certain organ.  You may be familiar with the 12 time intervals that correspond to twelve organs, what is usually called “Organ Body Clock” in the west.

You can see, the two organs that correspond to the most common early wake hours: 1AM to 5AM, are liver and lung.  If you regularly wake up during these hours with discomfort or sweating, it’s a good idea to talk to a good TCM doctor to make sure they are working properly.  Early health problems will not show up on a regular blood test ordered by a regular doctor.  But a good TCM doctor may help you find the problem and take care of it before it gets worse.

In TCM vernacular, there is a word called“Solid Yin” (cancer is one type of Solid Yin), meaning too much Yin, and there is physical formation.  If there is too much Yin in the organ, Yang cannot get in the organ when its level is raised in the early morning hours, which is enough to wake you up.

Believe it or not, there is similar theory in the west.  It believes liver wakes up early in the morning and starts working well before you do.  If you have a sluggish liver that is not working properly and full of toxins (by the way, I believe a lot of people do), the waking-up of the liver will cause some spasm.  You won’t feel it, but it is enough to wake you up from sleep.

Another reason that you always wake up before you’d like to that a lot of people overlook is blood sugar balancing issues, even if you are not diabetic.  When we are sleeping, our brain cells are actually very active: cleaning out the gunk accumulated during the day.  These activities require energy.  When you run out of glucose, two stress hormones are released: cortisol and adrenaline.  Their job is to signal to the body to release glucose and boost energy supply.  Guess what else these hormones do?  They put you on alert and wake you up!

If you constantly wake up at early hours and have no idea why, blood sugar balancing issue is something worth looking into.  If you wake up with racing thoughts and fast heart beat, it is even more likely that it is the reason.  If you wake up between 3 and 5, that’s another sign that blood sugar balancing may be the culprit.

So what can you do about it?

To help you maintain stable blood sugar level, you may want to try having one or a combination of the following before going to bed:

  • some complex carbs (such as sweet potato, quinoa, nuts).

  • 1 to 2 teaspoon raw honey, with no hot water

  • Half to 1 teaspoon MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides)

  • 1 to 2 tablespoon collagen powder (grass-fed please)

All these could help supply the energy need of the brain.  If one does not work, try something else. Try this for a few nights to see if it makes any difference.

However, even if this helps you magically, please remember that this is only intended as a temporary fix.  Eating right before bed is generally not a good idea.  Maintaining stable blood sugar level is not something you do only before bed, but something you do throughout the day.

A diet with no or very little added sugar and simple carbohydrates is key.  Also, try to limit your alcohol intake.  It not only disrupts your sleep, but also damages your liver’s detoxing capability.  A well-functioning liver is extremely important in maintaining hormonal balance, maintaining blood sugar level, and ensure good quality sleep.

Although brain can use ketones as an energy source, it requires some glucose.  For people on a ketogenic diet, they could feel great for some time at first, then have some problems showing up later, especially sleep problems.  This is especially common for women, as women are more sensitive to hormonal changes.

I am not a low carb adopter, but for those who are, try to have complex carbs with dinner at least.  It will go a long way to help with your sleep quality.

Different people have different macro-nutrient needs.  Some may need more carbs, some may need more protein.  But as a rule of thumb, a good blood sugar balancing meal should look like this:

  • About half to three quarters of your plate should be vegetables, with as many colors as possible

  • About a quarter of your plate should be some protein, or about the size of your palm

  • Have some healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado oil, etc.

  • Have some complex carbs such as brown rice, pumpkin, sweet potato, etc.

Try to eat in the order of "vegetable --> protein --> carbs".  It will further help you with balancing blood sugar.

The importance of sleep for our health cannot be overstated.  If you always struggle with sleep, it’s absolutely critical to take a deep look at the underlying causes and have them addressed.  Depending on external aids such as sleeping pills or supplements not only will fail to help you long term, but also could be damaging to your overall health.  If you need help sorting out potential causes and making a plan to regain your sleep back, consider scheduling a free coaching session with us by contacting customer service.