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Middle Insomnia: Why You Wake Up at 3 AM

Learn why you wake up at 3 AM, combat middle insomnia and improve sleep with tips on mindfulness, meditation, and Healium’s biofeedback.

Do you often find yourself staring at the clock at 3 AM, wondering why you’re awake? This experience, known as middle insomnia, is more common than you might think and can be incredibly frustrating. 


In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons behind this sleep disturbance and provide practical steps to help you find restful sleep again.


The Science Behind Waking Up at 3 AM

Middle insomnia, a disruption in your sleep cycle, can be influenced by your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This rhythm dictates your sleep-wake cycle, and when it’s disrupted, it can result in waking up at unexpected times of the night, like 3 AM.


Common Causes of Middle Insomnia


Middle insomnia can stem from a variety of sources, ranging from psychological to physical and environmental factors. Experts suggest that stress, hormonal changes, or even diet can directly or indirectly impact your body’s internal clock. 


Psychological Factors

•  Stress and Anxiety: Stress can make you tired to begin with, but it can also prevent you from achieving a full night’s sleep. When you’re stressed or anxious, your mind becomes hyperactive, making it difficult to maintain deep sleep. The brain continues to process thoughts and emotions at a high rate, leading to potential disruptions in your sleep cycle.


•  Mental Health Conditions: Conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders can significantly affect sleep quality and patterns. These conditions often involve rumination and excessive worry, which can awaken you from sleep.


Physical Issues

• Hormonal Imbalances: Fluctuations in hormones, such as cortisol, the stress hormone, or estrogen and progesterone in women, can disturb sleep. For instance, changes in estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle or menopause can lead to sleep disturbances.


•  Digestive Problems: Issues like acid reflux or indigestion can cause discomfort or pain, awakening you in the middle of the night. Eating too close to bedtime can exacerbate these issues, leading to disrupted sleep.


•  Sleep Disorders: Conditions such as sleep apnea, where breathing stops and starts throughout the night, can cause you to wake up suddenly. Restless leg syndrome is another condition that can interrupt sleep by causing uncomfortable sensations in the legs.


Environmental Factors

•  Noise and Light Pollution: Unexpected noises from traffic, neighbors, or even a partner’s snoring can jolt you awake. Similarly, excessive light from streetlights, electronic devices, or even a full moon can interfere with your sleep cycle.


•  Bed Comfort and Temperature: An uncomfortable mattress, pillows, or a bedroom that is too hot or too cold can prevent you from falling or staying asleep. The ideal sleeping environment should be cool, quiet, and dark.


Stop Waking up at 3 AM with these Mind-Body Techniques

Achieving better sleep is a holistic process that involves both the mind and the body.These techniques help create a tranquil state of mind and a relaxed body, conducive to falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. 


Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools for calming a restless mind. By focusing on the present moment and observing thoughts and feelings without judgment, you can reduce the mental chatter that often prevents sleep.


Regular practice of mindfulness or meditation has been shown to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the quality of sleep by reducing stress levels, lowering heart rate, and promoting a state of relaxation.


At Healium, we combine the power of mindfulness meditations with biofeedback that measures your body’s electricity in the form of either brainwaves or heart rate. This real-time data trains your brain and heart so you can self-manage your anxiety, focus, and sleep


•  How to Practice: Begin with just a few minutes each night before bed. Find a comfortable, quiet space and focus on your breath or a mantra. Acknowledge any thoughts that arise and gently redirect your attention back to your focus point.

When using Healium, specifically, you’ll use your brainwave data to actively influence each meditation session. This data is represented as a glowing aura that changes color with your brainwaves, a Healium score after each session, and brain pattern data in your data dashboard.


Breathing Exercises

Deep, controlled breathing exercises can have an immediate relaxing effect on the body. They help to lower stress hormone levels, reduce blood pressure, and prepare the body for sleep.


One popular method is the 4-7-8 technique, where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale slowly for 8 seconds. This pattern can quickly induce a state of calmness.


•  How to Practice: Incorporate breathing exercises into your bedtime routine. Practicing in a quiet, dimly lit environment can enhance the relaxation effect and signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is a technique that involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. This can help highlight areas of tension and promote overall relaxation.


By systematically working through the body, PMR can reduce physical discomfort, one of the common barriers to falling asleep. It’s particularly useful for those with insomnia attributed to physical stress or discomfort.


•  How to Practice: Start from your toes and work your way up to your head, tensing each muscle group for a few seconds, then releasing. Focus on the sensation of relaxation in each part of the body.


How Healium Helps Middle Insomnia



At Healium, we’ve developed an application specifically catered to improve your sleep quality through meditation. By combining virtual reality, neurofeedback devices, and sleep meditation experiences, Sleepium provides users with an actionable means to achieve better sleep.


Our virtual experiences have not only been proven to reduce anxiety in as little as four minutes, they’re also specifically designed to help you learn to self-regulate the brain patterns that elicit anxiety to begin with. 


To learn more about how Healium works, watch the video below!



About the Author

Sarah Hill, a former interactive TV news journalist at NBC, ABC, and CBS affiliates in Missouri, gained recognition for pioneering interactive news broadcasting using Google Hangouts. She is now the CEO of Healium, the world’s first biometrically powered VR channel, helping those with stress, anxiety, insomnia, and other struggles through biofeedback storytelling. With patents, clinical validation, and over seven million views, she has reshaped the landscape of immersive media.

Written by Sarah Hill
February 16th, 2024
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