There have been times in my life, like now, when no matter what time I go to sleep, I always wake up super early in the morning. Waking up at 3am is not desirable for me–and I’m guessing it’s not for most other people either! When this happens, I don’t really feel tired, and I don’t really have much trouble going to sleep at night, but I wake up and sort of lay there doing nothing until it’s time to get up.
I sometimes thought this was just because I’m so darn healthy that I don’t require much sleep. I go to bed relatively early, so that seemed plausible. But when I look back at other times when this was happening, it was in times of high stress in my life. I’ve read in research studies about how people who are depressed often wake up in the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep. Back in the earlier 2000’s when I was waking up early, I figured it was because I was sort of depressed (which made sense—my sister had died, I moved home from Boston, and things were just kind of crappy…even though I was working through it semi-positively). But I’m not depressed now, so this really didn’t seem to apply to me. But I’ll be honest, I’m not doing a great job of managing my stress at the moment.
I can feel it—a little too much coffee in the morning, not quite enough nutrients throughout the day, and just not managing things very well.
So I did some research, and found out this:
In response to stress, the adrenal glands (that sit on top of your kidneys) release adrenaline. Back in caveman days, this was great—stress tended to be primarily physical and it helped people out run bears and find food. Today, stress is primarily psychological (although physical stress occurs in other ways, like eating crappy food, having a sedentary lifestyle, toxin exposure, etc.), but the adrenaline release still occurs.
Think of how caffeine affects your body: increased heart rate, dilated pupils, increased breathing rate, decreased focus on digestion….adrenaline does the same things.
(Side note: having a stressful life causes you not to use nutrients—so you could eat tons of micronutrients, but not use them!)
The answer to why 3am wakefulness indicates unmanaged stress has to do with liver regeneration. It’s the time when your liver nourishes itself, and it needs glycogen to do so. One of the things adrenaline does is it causes cells to use glycogen, so if supply is low because you’ve had a higher adrenaline release (due to stress), the liver cannot regenerate.
The end result? Your body releases more adrenaline in response to the liver not having adequate glycogen—and you’re wide awake at 3am.
Breathe deeply (learn why this works!)
Drink less coffee
Eat more quality foods and fewer foods that cause stress (i.e. easier to digest)
Balance high intensity exercise with low intensity exercise
Replenish carbs after workouts (I’m guilty of not doing this sometimes)
Make sure to get adequate potassium and sodium (keeps cells and organs working efficiently)
It looks pretty easy—and it is actually quite simple. It’s a matter of implementation!
I over did the high intensity exercise this week. And the coffee. And I let some stressful situations and thoughts run rampant for a while. So this week, I’m going to work on it. I have all the tools and skills needed to manage my stress, I just have to do it. I’ll start with not working out till Monday (I’m so sore right now, and not in a very good way). Matthew is spending the night, so we’ll probably bike ride, which is more recreational. And I’ll try to get him to go to bed early (should be easy—he has a lacrosse tournament today so he’ll be tired).
How do you manage your stress?
Did you know about the 3am stress-adrenaline response?
Please +1 and comment below to tell me about your sleep habits! Do you wake up at 3am?