Why do we wake up every day

Stress hormones and sleep: why we wake up at 3 a.m.

Have you ever had the feeling for a long time that you always wake up at 3 a.m.? Then you feel like many other people. Some find it difficult to fall asleep, others wake up at night and then cannot sleep, and some do both.

It is regeneration extremely important to us. If you don't get a good night's sleep, you don't have enough energy the next day. So coffee, energy drinks and tons of sugar are needed to keep the system running. Read here why you wake up at night, what stress has to do with it and how you can finally get a good night's sleep.

What is restful sleep?

Despite eight hours of sleep, do you wake up tired and exhausted? This is because not all sleep is created equal. Restful sleep is the form in which we regenerate the most and thus also have the most energy available for the day.

There are many different factors that influence a good night's sleep. For example, alcohol, fatty foods, and cell phone or TV time before going to bed. And also stress. These factors affect how we sleep.

How do we sleep anyway?

Restful sleep means spending enough time in the deep sleep phases. The deep sleep phase is one of the four sleep phases that we go through several times every night. A sleep cycle looks like this:

1st phase: transition from wakefulness to falling asleep

2nd phase: light sleep

3rd phase: deep sleep

REM sleep (rapid eye movement phase, also dream phase)

A cycle lasts between 90-120 minutes, with the REM phases getting longer and the deep sleep phases shorter as you sleep. In each phase, certain body processes take place, whereby the body regenerates and cells renews itself in the deep sleep phase.

How healthy and restful we sleep depends on the duration and number of deep sleep phases.

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The circadian rhythm

You are sure to know the expression "internal clock". We have an internal timer that is controlled by hormones in the body. Most body processes are based on a 24-hour cycle, the "circadian rhythm". The term is made up of the Latin “approximately” (circa) and “day” (diem).

The circadian rhythm determines processes such as body temperature, digestion, blood pressure and hormone release.

The internal clock does not work independently of everything else. Light in particular has a major influence on our “master clock”. It does not matter whether it is sunlight or LED light. A little tip for everyone who would like to be woken up gently and healthily: Try a light alarm clock. It activates our natural ability to wake up in light.

Hormones and sleep

In interaction with light, two hormones influence our sleep. Melatonin and cortisol. They are the messenger substances for the circadian rhythm and indicate the rhythm of our sleep.


In other words, melatonin is the sleep hormone. The body pours it out in the dark, it makes you tired and slows down the body functions. Hormone levels are highest in the middle of the night and lowest in the middle of the day. The older we get, the less melatonin we release, so that we have the most melatonin in our bodies when we are children.

It also performs many important functions in the body. It ensures the release of growth hormones and thus stimulates regeneration, strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure.


Cortisol is the opposite of melatonin. It is produced in the adrenal cortex and does the opposite of melatonin - it makes us wake up.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that stimulates the metabolism. Production starts at 3 a.m. on average. The cortisol level is highest at 8 a.m. and does not fall until the afternoon. In short, it keeps us awake during the day.

How stress affects sleep

Stress leads to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This also prevents the production of melatonin. The stress leads to problems falling asleep and staying asleep. So one reason why you wake up at 3 a.m. is an increased release of cortisol - due to stress.

Stress not only causes too much cortisol, but also too little. Not at the same time, but over a long period of time. Chronic stress damages the adrenal cortex, the place where cortisol is produced. Too little cortisol in the blood also causes sleep problems.

Because cortisol regulates the blood sugar level, even during the night. So if, in addition to the low blood sugar level (after all, you usually don't eat anything at night) there is also a low release of hormones, the body reacts with an alarm. It produces more stress hormones that make us wake up at night. Long-term stress also ensures that you wake up at night.

Why restful sleep is important and what you can do about it

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Anyone who only got a few hours of effective sleep during the night starts the day without full energy. This also means that we are more likely to react with stress when we have not had enough sleep. Restful sleep is important in order to meet the challenges of everyday life with all our strength and all of our resources.

So what can you do for a better sleep? First and foremost, do something about the stress that is holding you back from a good night's sleep. This helps Resilience training or coaching. You can also make your sleeping habits resilient. For example, avoid digital screens (which prevent melatonin formation) two hours before bed. Or write down important thoughts so the brooding doesn't keep you from sleeping.

And the next time you wake up at 3 a.m., grab a small nighttime snack, preferably a hard-boiled egg (because Protein and fat do not cause blood sugar levels to skyrocket, which also prevents sleep). Of course, this is only a short-term solution. On the other hand, strengthen your resilience as a long-term solution for restful sleep.

Finally, I would like to give you two videos that give you valuable tips and background information on how to promote restful sleep - for an energetic and resilient day.

Sebastian Mauritz, M.A. Systemic consulting, is one of the leading resilience experts in Germany. He is a five-time specialist author, keynote speaker, resilience trainer, systemic coach, board member in many coach and trainer associations and entrepreneur. His focus is on individual resilience and prosilence®, resilient leadership and team resilience. He is the initiator of the Resilience Online Congress, during which he exchanges ideas with over 50 other resilience experts from various disciplines (www.Resilienz-Kongress.de).