Cracking the 4 a.m. Wake-Up Code: Fast Sleep Solutions


During the early stages of the pandemic, I would rise up between 3 and 4 a.m. each morning. Sometimes I needed to use the restroom or had a brilliant idea for a new narrative. Other times, it appeared to be for no apparent reason.

Generally, waking up in the midst of the night is not cause for alarm. The average person wakes up multiple times during the night, but rarely notices because they fall back asleep so rapidly (and are only conscious for a few seconds each time). However, frequent nighttime awakenings may also indicate insomnia, which has been identified in 40% of older adults.Before self-diagnosing, however, it may be beneficial to determine the cause of your nighttime awakenings.

What causes your middle-of-the-night awakenings?

As it turns out, there are multiple causes for irrational nighttime awakenings, including but not limited to the following:

  • Noise: This could be caused by traffic and birdsong outside, your companion snoring next to you, or, as was frequently the case for me, a boisterous upstairs neighbor. “Because the brain continues to register and process sounds during sleep, noise can be a significant sleep disruptor,” explains Terry Cralle, registered nurse and Better Sleep Council representative.
  • Alcohol: A glass of wine with dinner may not seem like a bad idea, but as alcohol is metabolized in the body, it can disrupt sleep, resulting in tossing and turning and frequent awakenings. “Alcohol consumption is known to reduce the amount of time spent in REM [rapid eye movement] sleep and is also considered a diuretic, which may result in bathroom trips in the middle of the night,” explains Cralle.
  • Dinner: Eating too close to bedtime can also cause indigestion and acid reflux-related awakenings in the middle of the night.
  • Stress: If you are rising up earlier than usual, you may want to consider what is going on during the day and whether tension from life or work is affecting your sleep.
  • Aging: As we age, our sleep quality tends to deteriorate as our sleep cycle changes, and medications can also affect your sleep schedule.

How to fall slumber rapidly after a middle-of-the-night awakening

If you still have a few hours until your alarm is set to go off, you can salvage some of your slumber. This is how:

Resist the inclination to check the time

Checking the time (or your notifications) can cause you to remain awake for longer. “The light is distracting, and you may end up checking content, causing you to lose an hour or more of sleep,” says Cralle.

Avoid intense light

If you must get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, you should avoid glaring illumination as much as possible. However, if you find yourself urinating multiple times during the night, you should consult your doctor.

Attempt to unwind (but do not compel yourself to sleep).

Anyone who has ever found themselves gazing at the ceiling in the middle of the night is aware that attempting to fall asleep on purpose can frequently result in the contrary outcome. Experts recommend attempting relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle.

Vacant the apartment

If nothing works after twenty minutes, move to another room to read or listen to quiet music. Whatever you do, ensure that it is in a separate location. In a blog post, Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D. stated, “Doing this will cause your brain and body to associate your bed with wakefulness rather than sleep.”

“Leaving a warm, inviting bed after rising up in the middle of the night can be challenging. Consider this action an investment in a better night’s slumber, if not tonight, then tomorrow and in the future.” You may return to your chamber once you are sufficiently drowsy.

Midnight awakenings can be avoided by following these suggestions.

Even though occasional 3 a.m. awakenings may be unavoidable, there are scientifically proven methods to set yourself up for success prior to going to bed. Seven to nine hours of sleep per night is recommended for adults under 65, with the aim of falling asleep two to three hours after sunset.

Dr. Allison Brager, a neurobiologist with expertise in sleep and circadian rhythms, previously told Fortune that going to bed before midnight “optimizes time spent in restorative non-REM sleep.”

Other suggestions for obtaining a restful night include:

  • Keep a regular bedtime and wake time
  • Get morning light exposure, preferably sunlight.
  • Caffeine consumption should be limited throughout the day, but particularly after 2 p.m.
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, and vigorous activity before slumber.
  • Avoid bright light exposure in the evening
  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool

In addition, you can optimize your bedroom with sleep masks and earplugs; blackout curtains; a noise machine and/or other sound-absorbing materials, such as carpet, area rugs, and wall hangings; and a comfortable sleep surface, including a mattress, pillows, and bedding.

However, if nothing works and you continue to wake up frequently at 4:00 a.m., you should consult your doctor to determine if you have a sleep disorder.

“Quality sleep is the cornerstone of good health.”Even if diet and exercise are optimal, their benefits are considerably diminished without sufficient sleep.” Previously, Fortune spoke with Dr. Abhinav Singh, medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center, expert at, and co-author of Sleep to Heal: 7 Simple Steps to Better Sleep. “Sleep is essential for metabolic health, immune health, muscle repair, optimal cognitive function, and psychological health. Not only does optimal sleep add years to your life, but also life to your years.”


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