Why you wake at 3am

Why you wake up at 3am

Waking up at 3am – it’s one of the most common problems facing our sleep deprived nation. In fact, since COVID19, research shows 41% report waking frequently through the night, and all up, problematic sleep has almost doubled – 25% to 46%.
And why 3am specifically? Well well… as a sleep expert with over 9 years of academics, it’s my pleasure to explain the evidence on this peculiar phenomenon – so you can know that
a) it’s completely reasonable and b) that there is a way out.

Why 3am specifically?

As dictated by your natural circadian rhythm, around 3am you have an elevation of cortisol – a hormone which helps you wake up the following morning. This process is completely normal and has happened all throughout your life. The reason you’re waking up now is because your baseline cortisol levels are too high.

Why is my cortisol too high?

  1. Lack of sleep. Clinical trials show that after just one night of insufficient sleep, your cortisol levels spike by 37%. As sleep is critical to regulate your hormones, including cortisol, it helps you understand why you often sleep worse after poor sleep the preceding night. Further – as cortisol makes you feel alert, it also explains why you often feel jumpy, tense and nervous after lack of sleep too.
  2. Stress. If there was one year that was stressful – 2020 was it. Research shows 78% of Aussies believe their mental health suffered due to COVID19, and specifically, 64% highlighted a rise in stress. When faced with stress, a natural reaction is to release cortisol into the body: it helps us feel more energetic so we can embrace – and overcome – whatever is challenging us. Problem is that during COVID19, there has been no definite end in sight – which leads us to have ongoing stress, and thus, chronically high cortisol.
  3. Light. You may have seen from our recent blog that blue light suppresses melatonin, the hormone to make you sleepy. Well – with respect to cortisol, evidence shows it does the opposite: blue light causes it to rise. Similarly, red light causes it to increase too. And while you may think a little light is reasonable – it’s not. Immediately upon exposure to any light, your cortisol levels rise. Consider: during the night you may look at your phone, use the bathroom, be exposed to street lights – all of which drive cortisol levels up.

And what can I do?

  1. To help you sleep longer and deeper, use my signature bedtime routine to help you fall and stay asleep easier – each night.
  2. With respect to stress, allow yourself the space to express it – healthily. Exercise, meditation, walking in nature, calling a friend – all are important and will help lessen your daily stress.
  3. To reduce light, use Dreamlight’s mask – it blocks out 100% of light. Because it’s designed using facial mapping technology, it fits perfectly on the face – so you wear it all night long.


Olivia Arezzolo
Olivia Arezzolo is a Sleep Expert.
Her qualifications include: Bachelor of Social Science – Psychology; Cert Sleep Psychology; Diploma of Health Science – Nutritional Medicine; Cert 3+4 Fitness; giving her underpinnings of psychology, fitness and nutrition; which are then integrated into sleep.

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Why you wake at 3am

Why you wake up at 3am

Waking up at 3am – it’s one of the most common problems facing our sleep deprived nation. In fact, since COVID19, research shows 41% report waking frequently through the night.

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