Waking at 3 am … Why Is That?

Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For instance, sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels and balancing hormones that stimulate appetite.

Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and weight gain.

Disturbances in sleep can follow a bizarre pattern. You may have noticed this phenomenon yourself when you wake up during the night at a particular time.

Now I am not speaking about an odd night here and there. Rather, I’m speaking specifically about waking up night after night. So much so, that the nights of sleeping through have now become a distant memory. The idea of going to bed may even be creating anxiety due to the frustration that comes with constant sleep disruption.

Each time you wake, you may look at the clock and find it’s always around the same time – say 3 am or between certain hours like 1-3 am?

“So why is that?”, I hear you ask.

It is a valid question and one that I answer regularly in my practice. Put simply, it all comes down to our stressful lifestyle.

Let me explain further.

The Effect of Stress

During times of stress, the adrenal glands (that sit on top of your kidneys) release both adrenaline and cortisol (our major stress hormones). Back in the caveman days, this was great – stress tended to be primarily physical and it helped people outrun tigers and find food.

Today, stress is primarily psychological, but this hormone release still occurs.

In particular, this adrenaline release increases heart rate, dilates pupils, increases breathing rate, and decreases the focus on digestion.

All this means unmanaged stress and excessive use of adrenaline during the day.

This is further compounded by a dysfunctional release of cortisol (a potent anti-inflammatory hormone) which results in widespread inflammation, which burdens the liver detoxification process.

Your liver is the human body’s primary filtration system, converting toxins into waste products, cleansing your blood, and metabolizing nutrients and medications to provide the body with some of its most important proteins.

Not only is digestion poor from coping with stress, but now the liver cannot detox efficiently since it has to also clear this excess inflammation (via a process called methylation) along with routine day-to-day detox processes.

Tell Me More…

To understand the next stage we need to turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to solve this baffling and common problem.

Take a look at the Chinese Medicine ‘24 Hour Meridian Clock’ below. It highlights the 12 major meridians or flow of energy-substance which sustains life (known as Qi or Chi).


All meridians are constantly flowing with energy from our environment and penetrating our bodies through our skin. These portals on the skin are what acupuncture and acupressure use. Each has a two-hour period where they are the primary meridian.

Each meridian is linked to particular parts of the body, mechanisms of the body, other meridians, thoughts and emotions, colour, sound, seasons, and other spiritual aspects. They’re also partnered together as Yin (receiving energy) and Yang (expressing energy) of an element – Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire.

Here is a list of the basic emotions of each element related to the organ meridians:

  • Earth (Stomach/Spleen) – Empathy, sympathy, balanced giving and receiving
  • Metal (Lung/Large Intestine) – Grief and loss
  • Water (Kidney/Bladder) – Fear and anxiety
  • Wood (Liver/Gallbladder) – Anger, frustration, and resentment
  • Fire (Heart/Pericardium/Triple Warmer/Small Intestine) – Love, hate, and joy

A brief summary of organ times from the 24-hour Qi cycle are:

3 am to 5 am is lung time
5 am to 7 am is large intestine time
7 am to 9 am is stomach time
9 am to 11 am is spleen time
11 am to 1 am is heart time
1 pm to 3 pm is small intestine time
3 pm to 5 pm is urinary bladder time
5 pm to 7 pm is kidney time
7 pm to 9 pm is pericardium time
9 pm to 11 pm is triple burner time (associated with the thyroid and adrenals)
11 pm to 1 am is gallbladder time
1 am to 3 am is liver time

Think of it like electrical circuits – when the energy of a meridian is not flowing well due to a block (like stress), you’ll find that you’ll experience a sign or symptom from the meridian(s) involved. This block will also cause an imbalance in the flows between meridians.

The Human Body Energy Clock explains this a little further below.


But Why Am I Waking at 3 am?

If you’re waking between 1 am and 3 am then you would look at the information about the Liver meridian.

Waking at 3 am indicates unmanaged stress due to poor liver detoxification and regeneration. It’s the time when your liver nourishes itself, and it needs glycogen to do so. Adrenaline 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 BOOM!

You’re now wide awake at 3 am – just like getting a huge dose of coffee in the middle of the night.

To complicate things even more, your liver then calls on the kidney to assist with its burdened detox, putting further strain on the kidneys already struggling with an excessive stress load.

To understand this process, we will need to explain one step beforehand.

Liver and Kidney Connection

Normally, the liver clears toxins from the body by firstly encompassing toxins into a fat emulsion (with the help of bile from the gallbladder) and then converting this emulsion into a water-soluble product through a cascade of multiple chemical reactions, into ‘safe and ready to excreted’ end-products down the gut with minimal inflammatory response.

If the end-product is deemed too harmful to go down the gut at this stage, the liver will call upon the kidneys to excrete this water-soluble ‘output’, by waking the person up and make them pass urine.

Too many people believe that urinating at night is quite normal, but I am here to tell it is not. It is purely a sign that your liver needs help detoxifying. The reason the liver is struggling is that the body is stressed, which as we mentioned earlier, is really a sign of excessive stress hormone release.

And the merry-go-round now begins.

So, when you’re waking up in the night at the same time, please take note of the time.

It is in fact, a ‘time’ for some self-reflection.

Your body is trying to tell you something by waking you up at the same time.

If your problem time is the Liver meridian with the Wood element  – ask yourself, “What am I angry or frustrated with?” Or think of the Liver organ and apply this to your life, “What is toxic in my life that I need to get rid of?”

Perhaps you have symptoms that your digestive system is not working so well? Bloating, wind, cramps, spasms, or irregular bowel motions. This will reinforce the need to love your liver a little more and to reduce undue stress in your life.

Liver congestion leads to inflammation within the body which affects all organs and is the precursor of most disease states.

Liver health is paramount to your overall health – but it is especially important for your restful night’s sleep.

For anyone struggling with sleep issues or in need of some stress support, reach out to me for a consultation. This is a major problem that I work with in my clinic and I love to help people regain their sleep.

CLICK HERE to book a consult online.

**If you’ve got this far – thank you for reading and I look forward to bringing you more information in the future.

Now, enjoy some much-needed relaxation music to help you sleep well…