If you're suffering the 3am horrors, here's how to stop the tossing and turning.

I was scared to death in the seminal 1979 horror film Amityville Horror when the haunted husband kept waking up at 3.15am on the dot. I remember that clock ticking over in that movie as clearly as the weird freaky pig thing. Both terrified me throughout my childhood.

Now 3.15am haunts me in a different way.

Because 3.15am is the time I wake up, look at the clock and am seized by a terror that I won’t be able to get back to sleep.

Many women know the 3am horrors. Or the 4am. Or the 5am.

It’s like a plague – and it’s a phenomenon becoming more and more common.

The 'Amityville Clock'.

Journalist Annabel Crabb says she often wakes at 3am and becomes consumed with big worries she's messing up at work, or little silly worries like ‘are my children polite enough?’

My mother and sister get it so often they almost accept it. I get it when I’m super stressed or when I’ve been out drinking champagne with the gals. I hate being awake at this time. There are no birds, no planes, no sounds except a thumping heart beat and a rising concern about being awake. The more I worry about being awake, the less chance there is sleep will claim me.

Whether its worry, bubbles, or menopausal hormone shifts, the predawn wide awake is torture. Women aged between 40 and 50 are worst affected, and it's twice as common among women as men.

Annabel Crabb.

Dr Moria Junge is a doctor of health psychology, sleep specialist and the spokesperson for the Sleep Health Foundation.

Her clients range from cleaners to judges, but what they have in common is "too much going on in their lives".

They are the ‘sandwich generation’ with elderly parents, young children, lots of work and crazy busy days.  (Last night, my children took the sandwich thing way too literally and slept on either side of me, triggering yet another 3am awakening).

Moira says the good news is 80 per cent of the women she sees don’t have an actual sleep disorder: “they are just hyper aroused and over vigilant".

The bad news? "It’s not easily fixed, because we can’t change life circumstances."

Dr Junge says the best strategy is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT.


Below are strategies the therapy uses. They take time, patience and commitment - but are less addictive and have fewer side effects than sleeping tablets

1. Go to bed later.

Change your relationship to sleep and the way you feel about it.  So if you are only sleeping from 10 to 3 try and change it to 12 to 6. Moira Junge says it can be scary to reset your body clock but effective.

Dr Moira Junge

2. Make the bed for sleep only.

Change your bedroom to take out all associations with wakefulness.

“It’s like what you did for your babies when they were overstimulated by life. You took the toys out of the cot."

So take the radio, the podcasts, the phone and the tablet away from the bed so you can make a strong association the bed is for sleep. Then only go to bed when you are "super sleepy”.

If you wake at 3am or 4am, get out of bed and go to another room. This seems cruel, especially in the winter, and people hate it, but it can be effective. Sit in the lounge room and don't go back into the bedroom until you are sleepy again.

This strategy will also help get rid of the anger and frustration that comes with being awake.  If you are stressed, the body stays awake because it thinks you are in danger.

3. Don't look at the clock!

Turn it away, turn it off, put a pillow over it,  throw it against the wall. Just don’t look.

Sometimes you are getting more sleep than you think. And there's nothing worse than seeing those hands move or numbers tick. Too stressful. Look away ladies, look away.

4. Manage stress and worry in the day.

Dr Junge says whatever is going on in your life - be it grief, sadness, being too wired or busy - you need to find some kind of release and relief during the day. It could be mindfulness, yoga, relaxation or exercise. It’s also important to find time in the day to process what going on. If you don’t have time in the day to process stress then de-stress it will bite you on the bum at 3am.

Then there are the obvious strategies like staying away from stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and sexy, raunchy videos just before sleep time.

And get rid of those naps (especially in front of the TV at night!).

Good luck and good sleeping.  If you have any other strategies please post them below.

Like this? Why not try ...

Why 8 hours of sleep is good enough each night

How your sleeping position shows how happy you are

You can fall asleep in under a minute - here's how

00:00 / ???