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Balanced Living, Year-Round Health

Why You’re Waking Up In The Night

Headshot of Mandy King
by Mandy King

I often talk about symptoms that I thought were normal, but really aren’t. You know, like the 3pm slump, a bloated tummy, waking up tired, and that pesky inability to lose weight.

Another one and something that I personally used to experience is waking up in the middle of the night. It was always that 2-4am time frame, and while sometimes I could fall back asleep, other times I couldn’t, and would be up for up to a couple of hours in the night.

Like many things, it turns out there was a reason and the specific time was telling me something. While the reason for you might vary, here are the most common reasons people wake up in the middle of the night during that 2-4am time frame.

Blood Sugar Problems

This and adrenal fatigue are pretty closely related, but we’ll address this one first. Your blood sugar naturally rises and falls as you eat. Ideally you want to keep it within a range that it only rises slightly, therefore avoiding that dreaded “dip” afterwards where you feel tired, sluggish and in need of something sweet to boost it back up.

If you’ve eaten something that made your blood sugar spike too much, and it then drops too low when you’re sleeping, it’s often cortisol (a stress hormone) that is produced to bring it back into the normal range. Your cortisol production should be low when you’re asleep, and only really start rising around 6am when you’re going to be getting up anyways.

A good solution for this is to be consuming more protein throughout the day, less sugar and actually also managing your stress levels.  More on that in point 2 below.

Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is a state that can happen after experiencing chronic stress for quite some time. While acute stress comes and goes, chronic stress takes its toll on the body, and one of the things it can do is mess up your cortisol levels. When the body is in a stressed state, like fight or flight, it can be producing extra cortisol throughout the day to keep yourself going. This excess cortisol can linger into the evening, interrupting your sleep cycle.

Picture of Ashwagandha plant

An herb that works well for this is Ashwaghanda. My favourite is the St Francis Herbs tincture. You can actually take it throughout the day to reduce stress, but also before bed to help manage cortisol levels. Note: ashwagandha is a nightshade, so if you have thyroid problems, you would want to try a different herb.

Caffeine and Chocolate

I think you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s incredible the effect caffeine can have on the body, even when you drank it seemingly AGES ago. Why is this? Well, the half life of caffeine is actually 6 hours, for the average person. So this means that the average person still has 1/2 the caffeine they consumed in their body, 6 hours later. That 3pm slump and subsequent coffee? There’s likely 1/2 of it in your system at 9pm. Try herbal teas, or even green tea which has less caffeine.

A overhead picture of three mugs on a bench outside

And chocolate. I LOVE me some dark chocolate, but definitely not before bed. Afternoon or even early evening seems to be ok for me (you’ll have to see what works for you), but late night – no way Jose!!

Have questions? Just visit our Great Questions Answered page to learn more or to submit a question.

Headshot of Mandy King
Author: Mandy King

Mandy King is a Holistic Nutritionist and the founder of HEAL, a company that provides corporate wellness, 1:1 nutrition coaching and weekly meal planning. Mandy leads workshops for some of Canada's top companies, including Google, Facebook and PwC, regularly appears on CTV Morning Live, has contributed to The Globe and Mail and helps her clients to heal their digestion through healthy, delicious food.


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