The Wolf Hour – Sleepless between 2 and 4 a.m

Many people wake up in the famous wolf hour between 2 and 4 a.m. and can no longer fall asleep. We explain here what exactly is behind the hour of the wolf and why sleep is often interrupted during this time.

 Table of Contents

  1. What is the Wolf Hour?
  2. Why at 3 a.m.?
  3. Tips for falling asleep again
  4. Conclusion

1. What is the Wolf Hour?

The wolf hour is a widespread phenomenon and describes the period between two or three and four a.m., when many people wake up occasionally or regularly and find it difficult to fall asleep again. The term wolf hour or hour of the wolf probably comes from earlier times when hardly any people were awake and out and about at this time, but primarily nocturnal wolves.

It's actually quite normal that we often wake up from sleep at night. However, many of us also know from experience that it is much more difficult to fall asleep again, especially when we wake up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. You quickly start to ponder, think a lot and don't really get tired anymore. But where does that come from?

2. Why at 3 a.m.?

The fact that we often wake up between 3 and 4 a.m. is actually no coincidence and is closely linked to our hormonal balance and sleep structure.

Every night we go through several sleep cycles, which consist of more deep sleep phases at the beginning of the night and more dream sleep (REM sleep) at the end of the night. Here you can find out more about sleep structure. Between 2 and 4 a.m. the first half of sleep is usually over and sleep becomes increasingly easier - meaning we wake up more easily and more often.

The interaction of the hormones melatonin, serotonin and cortisol is also crucial. The “sleep hormone” melatonin ensures that we get tired in the evening and at night and can sleep. Serotonin is called the happiness hormone, which has a positive effect on mood, and the stress hormone cortisol has an important anti-stress effect.

smartsleep Schlafmagazin: Nachts aufwachen wegen Melatonin, Serotinin und Cortisol

In the middle of the night, during the wolf hour, our body temperature is at its lowest and melatonin levels are very high, we feel tired and sleepy. At the same time, serotonin and cortisol are at low levels. This means that their mood-enhancing and stress-regulating effect is not achieved and the hormonal balance is disrupted, meaning that we wake up more easily and often with a depressed or bad mood. We are more susceptible to negative feelings, quickly start to ponder and start a carousel of thoughts, which makes it even more difficult to fall asleep again.

3. Tips for falling asleep

We shouldn't try to solve problems at night - because when we wake up in the night, we are thinner-skinned and more sensitive to negative, pessimistic or worried feelings. This can keep us awake and prevent us from falling asleep. Here are a few tips for what you can do if you wake up and don't fall asleep right away.

#1 Don't look at the clock

When we look at the clock, we often automatically start to calculate how long we have slept so far or how long we have left, or to check how long we have been awake. This often creates pressure or panic that we won't get enough sleep and will have to fall asleep again quickly.

#2 Don't put pressure

Don't put pressure on yourself if you can't fall asleep straight away. The feeling of needing to go back to sleep quickly can fuel negative thoughts and stress, making you less relaxed and, in fact, preventing sleep even further.

#3 Write down thoughts

If you wake up and your head is full of worries, thoughts or ideas, it can help to talk them out and write them down to clear your head and calm down better. Depending on your own feeling, you can simply write everything down in a notebook, create a to-do list for the next day or keep a diary in the evening as a preventive measure.

smartsleep Schlafmagazin: Nachts aufwachen, Gedanken aufschreiben, Tagebuch führen

#4 Stay lying down & distract

Reading a book, listening to podcasts or relaxing music are simple but effective methods to distract yourself from negative thoughts and get tired again. Radio plays or music can also calm and accompany you while you fall asleep.

#5 Get up and distract

If you have been lying awake for a long time and are struggling to fall asleep, it is recommended that you simply get up and do as quiet an activity as possible until the tiredness returns and you can sleep again. Make sure to keep the lights dimmed and especially avoid blue screen light, such as that from your smartphone. For example, you can stretch your legs for a moment, go to the toilet or sit on the sofa and read. When you get tired again, you go back to bed and go back to sleep.

4. Conclusion:

  • The wolf hour is the period between 2 and 3 or 3 and 4 a.m., where you wake up frequently and can't go back to sleep.
  • A low body temperature, the sleep structure and the natural hormone balance between melatonin, serotonin and cortisol lead to light sleep and increase the likelihood of waking up.
  • Relaxing activities, writing down thoughts or getting up can help you bridge the waking phase and fall asleep better again.

Greetings and see you soon!

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