10 Reasons You’re Waking Up Too Early (and How to Fix It)

Posted by Dr. Ian Stern Admin on

It’s frustrating, isn’t it -- waking up with the chickens in the morning? You still have hours before the alarm goes off, but you’re awake and can’t fall back asleep. It has happened to the best of us on occasion. However, consistently waking up too early can deprive you of the sleep you need, throw off your sleep cycle, leave you tired, and increase stress.

A Spanish proverb states, “however early you get up, you cannot hasten the dawn.” Vitamin Zzz is crucially important to your heart, brain, and entire body. How you feel during the day depends largely on how you sleep at night.

During sleep, your body works to support healthy brain function and a healthy balance of hormones. It also builds your reaction to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood (sugar) level. While you sleep, your heart and blood vessels are being repaired and healed.

When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and level of leptin goes down, increasing the feeling of hunger, and potentially making you overeat. Your chances of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure may increase. Lack of sleep directly affects your concentration, memory, and ability to think clearly and rationally. You also become significantly more prone to depression and anxiety.

There are several possible reasons you might be waking up so early, but one thing is for sure: your body is trying to tell you something. It’s wise to listen to your body and make the necessary adjustments to your lifestyle. Below we’ll discuss some of the possible reasons.

1. You’re Going To Bed Too Early

As work and life become more demanding and taxing on your mind and body, sometimes there’s a tendency to lie down in bed in the evening long before it’s actually time for sleep. Oftentimes people doze off as they’re watching TV or reading a book at 8 PM, then wake up and can’t get back to sleep. Or, they stay asleep with the lights on and the TV flashing in the background, and wake up early in the morning, feeling exhausted because they just confused their brain and did not get the restorative sleep they needed.

Additionally, some people experience what’s called an advanced sleep syndrome. This is a circadian rhythm disorder, where a person has a strong propensity to fall asleep quite early. It becomes difficult to engage in evening activity, your social life suffers, and you typically wake up  around 3-5 AM, unable to fall back asleep. It occurs more often as we get older. 

How to Fix Falling Asleep Too Early

You may not be able to control the advanced sleep syndrome. Learning your chronotype and what hours of the day are your peak productive times can actually help you lean into who you are, schedule important meetings and encounters accordingly, and ensure that you get the appropriate amount of sleep at night.

Never sleep with the TV on, as the blue light emitted from the TV disrupts your melatonin and raises the production of stress hormones, contributing to fragmented sleep. To avoid falling asleep in front of the TV, you may find it helpful to sit up on a comfortable chair and put your feet up, rather than reclining or lying down in bed. For a more restful and restorative sleep, avoid electronics during the last hour before bed.

2. Your Sleep Cycle Is Changing With Age

As previously mentioned, your circadian rhythm may change later in life, causing you to wake up a few hours before you intended to start your day. Women who experience hormonal changes due to menopause might have disrupted sleep. Men who experience age-related changes in the prostate might also have trouble staying asleep.

Your body goes through changes at every stage of life, and many of those changes affect sleep. Older people tend to sleep less. They feel tired earlier and may also experience a decline in cognitive function in the evening hours. 

How to Fix Your Internal Clock

A healthy diet and exercise may help you stay young longer. Get plenty of sunlight during the day, go for a long relaxing walk. For older people especially, it’s important to stick to a sleep schedule: go to bed and wake up at the same time daily, incorporating 7-8 hours of sleep into your schedule. Give your body some time to adjust accordingly.

3. You’re Too Stressed

When you are stressed, your adrenal glands produce the stress hormone cortisol, which can severely hinder your quality of sleep. In fact, many people suffer from what’s known as the cortisol awakening response (CAR), where they experience a peak in cortisol levels in the first hour upon waking up. This typically happens when people have an increased level of stress in their lives.

A peak in cortisol levels will make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to get back to sleep if you wake up too early. Some of the symptoms of CAR include irritability, fatigue, and restlessness upon waking up in the morning. 

How to Fix Your Cortisol Imbalance

Find ways to lower stress. Take regular leisure walks in serene natural settings. A growing number of studies show that being in nature for just 20 minutes a day can lower stress levels significantly. Breathe. Make time for meditation and breathing exercises. Use stress and anxiety-reducing essential oils, such as lavender before sleep and sweet orange when you wake up. Check out my Relax formula, which can help you lower your stress hormones and sleep better at night.

4. Too Much Fluid Before Bed

There is little evidence to suggest that having a glass of water before bed might benefit your health. However, what it can do is increase the number of trips to the bathroom at night. In fact, some people might have what’s known as nocturia, which is an increased need to urinate at night.

This is most common among people over the age of 60, but it can happen to anyone. Nocturia can be caused by various medical conditions, diuretic medications, or as a consequence of childbirth, menopause, or an enlarged prostate. However, one of the common contributing factors is excessive fluids before bed.

Every time you wake up at night, you shift into a lighter stage of sleep later. Eventually, you may not be able to fall back asleep at all, causing you to undersleep and suffer the consequences and health risks.

How to Fix the Need to Pee At Night

Especially for people with nocturia, restriction of fluid intake at night is the first natural solution. Have your last glass of water 2 hours prior to bedtime. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is still important and seems to have no impact on nocturia.

Additionally, elevating your legs while you sleep might help your body redistribute fluids in your body. Stay away from alcohol and coffee/ tea in the evening. The need to urinate is increased by caffeine and alcohol. 

5. Anxiety or Depression

People suffering from depression or anxiety may have interrupted sleep due to bad dreams or feeling restless and agitated. Oftentimes upon going to bed, they toss and turn for an hour or more, worrying about various things and then wake up early in the morning in a panic, unable to get back to sleep. Many times anxiety becomes exaggerated at night due to the relative isolation, dark, and lack of distractions.

At least 80% of depressed people experience insomnia—difficulty falling or, most often, staying asleep. In fact, waking up early is a giveaway of depression. However, it’s also a two-way street: although depression and anxiety often cause insomnia, insomnia also leads to greater depression and anxiety. Therefore, working to curb the insomnia may rout depression and anxiety. Sleep is imperative to mental health. 

How to Fix Insomnia Due to Depression/ Anxiety

Practice regular relaxation and breathing techniques. Listen to meditative music before bed. Use essential oils, such as lavender and jasmine, in a diffuser or dilute in a carrier oil and apply topically to pressure points, temples, and feet, or use in a relaxing massage. Have a cup of herbal tea, such as a mix of chamomile and valerian in the evening, a few hours before bedtime. Exercise regularly, but not in the evening hours. 

6. Too Much Stress On The Liver

According to Chinese medicine, 1-3 AM is the peak time for the liver to carry out its essential functions. If you’re waking up around 3 AM, this may be something to think about. When repeated issues occur at the same time of day, it could be an indication that the organ that’s working at that time is in trouble.

Unfortunately, the modern diet and lifestyle put a lot of pressure on the liver with fatty and processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol, and way too much stress. The liver uses glycogen from the body’s sugar storage.

When we are stressed and our stress hormones are run-down, our sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day. By 3 AM there is not enough glycogen for the liver to regenerate. Therefore, adrenaline is produced by the body to compensate, and adrenaline is designed to keep us awake.

How to Help the Liver

Limit alcohol consumption and eat a balanced healthy diet. Follow the above-mentioned tips to lower stress and the imbalance of stress hormones.  

7. Lack of Exercise

Recent findings from a 2017 Consumer Sleep Survey show that lack of exercise impacts your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Thirty minutes of exercise leads to 14 minutes of extra sleep time. Twenty-nine studies show that exercise improves sleep quality as well as the duration of your sleep.

This can be due to the rise and fall of body temperature during and after exercise, which consequently makes you sleepier. Also, exercise can ease anxiety and depression, a common cause of insomnia and poor quality sleep.

Exercising regularly can help maintain your energy levels and regulate your circadian rhythms. Conversely, lack of exercise can inhibit your ability to fall and stay asleep. It can lead to nights of low-quality sleep, tossing, turning, and waking up often throughout the night. As a result, you may wake up too early and find yourself groggy, tired, and irritable. 

How to Get The Right Amount Of Exercise 

Exercise regularly for about 40 minutes 3-4 times a week to reduce stress and maintain your energy levels. Exercises that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups, such as jogging, walking, or swimming, are most effective. Avoid exercise before bed. 

8. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder, in which the breathing stops and starts repeatedly. It is most likely to occur during the REM stage of sleep, when our muscles are paralyzed, which can cause too-shallow breathing and pauses in breaths. These breathing disruptions also lessen your quality of sleep, and can contribute to chronic early morning awakenings and insomnia. 

How to Ease Sleep Apnea

For a more restorative sleep, use essential oils in a diffuser in the hours before bed: put 15 drops of neroli oil, 5 drops of sage, and 2 drops of ylang-ylang oil. You can also rub some sage essential oil, diluted in a carrier oil, on your feet before bed.

Additionally, a nutritious diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy body weight may help. If you think you might have a sleep disorder, see a doctor or specialist about your condition. 

9. Sleep Maintenance Insomnia

Racing thoughts, dwelling on worries, and anxiety about the demands of the day ahead can all contribute to “sleep maintenance insomnia.” It is a specific type of sleep disorder in which you can fall asleep but have trouble staying asleep. A common feature of the disorder is waking up too early without being able to doze off again, and it tends to affect women more often than men.

How to Ease Sleep Maintenance Insomnia

Get plenty of exercise and sunlight during the day. Stick to a sleep schedule. Avoid falling asleep too early in the evening by keeping the lights on and sitting up rather than lying down. Use calming essential oils before bed, such as lavender, chamomile, and rose. 

10. Underlying Health Issue

In addition to depression and anxiety, certain other mental health conditions like PTSD and bipolar disorder may also be prone to waking up too early. Some of the possible physical conditions that may contribute to poor sleep and early awakenings are diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and others.  

Address the Underlying Health Issue

Speak to your doctor or specialist and get a clear diagnosis. 

How to Stop Waking Up Early

Establishing healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in the quality of your life. Good quality sleep is imperative to being your best self. Follow these tips on a regular basis:

  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Dim the lights, take a warm bath, engage in quiet activities, such as reading a book or listening to calm music. 
  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This will help set your inner clock, and once your body adjusts to the new schedule, you may find it easier to fall and stay asleep. 
  • Get plenty of exercise, but not before bedtime. 
  • No coffee after noon. 
  • No alcohol 2-3 hours before bed. 
  • Only light meals in the evening hours.
  • Stay away from fluorescent lights.
  • Stop using technology at least an hour prior to bedtime. Use blue light filters whenever possible.  
  • Use essential oils to help you relax and unwind. 

For additional help falling and staying asleep, check out my Relax formula, which uses ancient herbs, vitamins, and minerals to nudge your adrenal system back into a state of healthy equilibrium. Consistently drift off into deep, restorative sleep at night and wake up with the vitality you need for the day ahead.