DO you find yourself tossing and turning in the early hours of the morning, wondering why you're wide awake?
You're not alone. Research shows 32million Brits frequently stir well before their alarm - at precisely 4.05am.
And it's incredibly frustrating. Regularly rising too early makes it a real challenge to get back to sleep, and leads to severe daytime drowsiness.
It makes you feel drained, irritable and unsurprisingly puts you at greater risk of chronic health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and depression.
So what's keeping you from counting sheep?
Lisa Artis, from The Sleep Charity, said there are several potential culprits and has provided steps to slow down your chances of waking at anti-social hours.
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Hormones and low blood sugar
Sleep is guided by our internal clock, or circadian rhythm - a 24-hour system which signals to your body when it's time to go to bed
It is regulated by the levels of two hormones - melatonin (sleep) and cortisol (stress).
Melatonin assists you in dozing off - and helps you stay asleep - while cortisol helps get you up and keep you awake.
Cortisol spiking too early, which can be triggered by low blood sugar, may be to blame for your sudden alertness.
If blood sugar drops, your body tries to protect you by trying to raise it. Cue, cortisol, and unwanted alertness.
How to fix it
It’s unlikely you’ll feel hungry in the middle of the night if your blood sugar dips, which is why people sometimes struggle to make the connection.
To reduce ungodly hour awakenings, trial alternatives for your last meal or snack of the evening, Lisa said.
Instead of carb or sweet-based snacks, opt for protein-packed and magnesium-rich foods, like hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, spinach, dark chocolate, cashews, chicken thighs or turkey.
Protein can take the edge off your nighttime hunger, while magnesium is known to support sleep.
The reproductive hormones oestrogen and progesterone are entwined with the sleep and relaxation hormones melatonin and serotonin.
When oestrogen begins to fall before and during the menopause, it can create a disturbance in melatonin, meaning it can’t properly balance out cortisol.
When this happens, the ability to fall and stay asleep is affected.
Recurring hot flushes, night sweats, dry skin, and low libido can also be signs of waning oestrogen.
How to fix it
Try incorporating foods with high levels of phytoestrogens into your diet throughout the day, Lisa said.
This will imitate the natural oestrogens found in your body, which can bind to your body's receptors and produce similar effects.
Excellent sources of phytoestrogens include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, soy milk, cabbage, garlic, onion, spinach, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Also try scoffing eggs and milk, which contain oestrogen.
Investing in good quality fabrics, such as 100 per cent cotton and linen which don't trap heat and repel sweat, will also help reduce the impact of hot flushes which interrupt your slumber, Lisa added.
It’s natural to wake up needing to go to the bathroom once in a while as your body is still hard at work breaking down everything you consumed during the day.
But when it happens several times a night, this could be a sign of an underlying condition called nocturia, Lisa said.
How to fix it
The NHS recommends adults consume six to eight glasses of fluid per day - equivalent to about 1.5 litres.
Lisa suggests aiming to reach this total before 7pm, and consuming no more than one glass within two hours of hitting the hay.
Think small sips, not giant slurps - and this applies during the night too, she added.
Stress and processing emotions
Our brain divides the night into two halves - initially sorting out memory before moving onto emotions in the latter hours.
Rising cortisol levels, twinned with the dispensing of emotions around 4am, may be fuelling peoples involuntary wake-up calls.
Everyday stresses can also elevate cortisol, and a particularly tense day can generate intrusive thoughts during the night that emerge as nightmares jolting you awake at 4am.
How to fix it
When you experience worry or frustration, your body activates your sympathetic nervous system - or ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
All of a sudden, your brain turns from sleep to wake mode.
You can combat this by switching on your 'rest-and-digest' mode, otherwise known as the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which slows our heart and breathing rates, lowers blood pressure and promotes digestion.
You can activate your PSNS by intentionally slowing your breath - breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, then exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
Repeat this for up to 10 breaths, and increase your count of four to six if you want to deepen the practice.
You can also try listening to 432Hz music, which some scientists say calms our bodies and minds.
If you share a bed, you could cuddle your partner as hugging releases oxytocin - the bonding neurochemical - and helps to send signals of safety to the autonomic nervous system.
And yawning can also stimulate the PSNS - even if it doesn't come naturally.
Ageing and evolving sleep cycles
Sleep cycles last around 90 minutes and we tend to average five per night, evolving between rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.
Each stage also has a different threshold for how easy it is to be woken up.
In the latter half of the night, we experience more of the lighter sleep stages, which is why when we have our brief awakenings, we are often more likely to wake up.
If you’re going to sleep at the same time each night, you’re potentially reaching the lighter stage at roughly the same time and waking up.
As we age, our circadian rhythm changes and we have less of the deep restorative sleep (stage three) and more of the lighter sleep, meaning adults can begin to wake up more often and experience shortened sleep duration.
How to fix it
Firstly, work out the ideal bedtime for you. You can do this using The Sleep Charity's calculator.
Start by multiplying 90 minutes (each cycle time) by five (the number per night) to get 450 minutes or 7.5 hours.
If you need to wake up by 7am, then count back 7.5 hours to find that your bedtime should be around 11.30pm.
Make sure you’re in bed before then so you’re relaxed and ready for sleep, and allow yourself 15 minutes to drop off.
It's important to remember that this is just a guide, and always work on how you feel when you wake up.
Our brains are brilliant at linking things.
If we wake up regularly in the middle of the night then spend hours desperately trying to doze back off, our minds start to associate the bed with wakefulness and worry, rather than sleep.
How to fix it
Break the habit by getting up.
It feels counter intuitive, but if you find it hard to doze off after 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing.
Without turning on a harsh light, make a herbal tea such as chamomile, lavender, peppermint or Valerian root, Lisa said.
Finally, if you're frequently experiencing early wake-ups, you may have insomnia.
The condition encompasses difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed in the next day, according to the NHS.
How to fix it
There are a number of things you can try. These include: setting regular times for going to bed and waking up, relaxing before hitting the hay, using thick curtains or blinds, not watching TV or using your phone in bed, and avoiding naps.
You should also reduce your caffeine and alcohol consumption, and steer clear of heavy meals and intense exercise for a few hours before going to bed.
If your symptoms are affecting your daily life, see your GP.
Things you should never do
Now you know what you should be doing, here's what Lisa recommends never doing if you find yourself waking up at 4am.
1. Avoid firing up the brain
Engaging in stimulating activities, such as checking emails, scrolling through social media, or tuning into a TV show, can make it harder to relax and fall back asleep.
The bright screens and mental stimulation can further disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, she said.
Instead, opt for calming activities like reading a book or listening to soothing music.
2. Don’t fall into the nap trap
As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to take long naps during the day, especially if you're consistently waking up at 4am.
Napping can interfere with your sleep drive and make it harder to fall asleep at night, Lisa, who is working with sleep technology firm Simba, said.
If you really need to have a daytime slumber, do so before 3pm and keep it short (around 20 minutes).
3. Steer clear of the buzz
Don't let caffeine and nicotine turn your sleep into a jittery jive by skipping stimulants for six hours before bedtime.
Instead, prepare a comforting mug of golden milk - a traditional Ayurvedic remedial beverage made with turmeric, ginger, and warm milk, Lisa said.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which has potential sleep-enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties that may aid in relaxation and improve sleep duration.
4. Avoid sleep potion commotion
While sleep aids might seem like a quick fix, relying on them regularly can lead to dependence and mask the underlying issues causing your early morning awakenings.
It's best to reserve them for occasional use and consult a healthcare professional for proper guidance.
5. Don’t stay in bed
When you find yourself awake at 4am, it can be tempting to lie in bed hoping to fall back asleep.
However, if you've been awake for more than 20 minutes, get up.
Staying in bed may create an association between wakefulness and your sleep environment, making it even harder to fall asleep in the future.
6. Resist the temptation to turn on the ‘big light’
Lastly, it can be tempting to turn on a bright light if you wake up, but this can signal your brain to stay awake.
If you do get up, try and keep the light as low as possible while ensuring you can safely see.