A Sleep Expert Explains Frustrating Reason Behind Your Mysterious 3AM Insomnia

May 22, 2019

We’ve published several articles on Peaceful Dumpling concerning sleep hygiene—from how to peacefully drift off to sleep to the right bedroom temp for losing weight to yoga for sleep, and I thought I knew how to perfect my sleep. While I tend to do pretty well with pre-bed rituals and fall asleep without problem, I found that I was increasingly susceptible to waking in the middle of the night (anywhere between 1 and 3 AM) and not being able to fall back to sleep in a reasonable time frame.

In other words, I’m not talking about waking up to go to the bathroom and stumbling back into slumber. I’m talking about lying awake for at least three hours before finally returning to sleep for another few hours before my usual wakeup time. It was pretty crummy. As you can imagine, I’d be groggy in the morning and more prone to frustration and a sense of defeat during the day.

A Sleep Expert Explains The Frustrating Reason Behind Your Mysterious 3AM Insomnia

What was going on? I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t hungry or too thirsty. I wasn’t suffering from a physical condition like sleep apnea or digestive distress. I wasn’t waking to fiddle on my phone to flood my eyes with stimulating blue light. I was just alert.

After this happened on several, seemingly random occasions, I began to notice a pattern. I realized that I was far more likely to experience what’s called “middle insomnia” after I’d had a glass of wine in the evening. Could a single glass of merlot be corrupting my much-needed sleep?

In short, yes. While alcohol—and notoriously, wine—can may you feel downright leaden with sleepiness, imbibing can ultimately backfire later in the night.

Timothy Roehrs, director of sleep disorders research at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, explains that “the sleep alcohol induces is associated with intense slow-wave brain activity, which is considered to be the deepest, most restorative kind of sleep,” but once your body metabolizes the alcohol, your sleep may become fitful. Roehrs suggests that the brain chemicals associated with alertness may be stimulated after your body has finished breaking down the alcohol.

During my recent experiences with this type of insomnia, I recall feeling slightly caffeinated during those wee hours of not sleeping—even though I normally drink a single cup of coffee in the morning, so actual caffeine couldn’t be the issue.

Of course, alcohol’s effect on your system and your sleep is influenced by many factors, including your weight, age, metabolism, and alcohol tolerance. In my case, my alcohol tolerance is lower than low, and my blood sugar is…touchy. I’ve also noticed that reaching my thirties has coincided with increased alcohol sensitivity and more delicate sleep in general (which occurs with aging). All of this explains why just a single glass of wine, even if accompanied by water and food, could really do me in hours later.

A Sleep Expert Explains The Frustrating Reason Behind Your Mysterious 3AM Insomnia

If you do plan to drink, it’s recommended that you allow yourself at least two to three hours between drinking and bedtime. But if you’re alcohol sensitive like me, you may wish to incorporate more time between your drink(s) and your bedtime or skipping drinking all together/ saving your drinking for only special occasions.

I’ll be honest–I’m reluctant to give up wine completely. I love enjoying a glass with my husband after a long week. Before I made the wine-insomnia connection, I figured that some wine with my man was just as good for my wellness as a wheatgrass shot. But lying awake while the rest of the house slumbers just isn’t worth it. Sigh.

Vegan Mocktail Recipes: Refreshing Cucumber Mule

That doesn’t mean I have to miss out on an important pastime. For those of us who associate an alcoholic drink with relaxing at home, it may be helpful to replace wine nights with mocktails. The ritual of having something special to sip and share with loved ones (or enjoy solo!) is good for the soul—and the Zzzs.

Have you ever experienced alcohol-related insomnia?

Related: Feel Like Your Circadian Rhythm Is Off? How To Hit Reset & Sleep Like A Baby

Toss & Turn No More! 4 Pranayama Breaths To Heal Your Sleep

Fall Into A Deep & Dreamy Sleep With These Podcasts To Ease Your Insomnia

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Photo: Peter Kasprzyk on Unsplash, Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash, Mary Hood Luttrell

Peaceful Dumpling Beauty Editor and creator of Bisou du Jour, Mary Hood Luttrell lives with her husband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mary is a freelance writer and writing and blogging consultant. A lover of whole foods, Mary delights in learning new ways to prepare vegan dishes. Mary also enjoys reading and writing poetry, art journaling, running, and practicing yoga and ballet. Follow Mary on her blog Bisou du Jour, Instagram and Pinterest.


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