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Why we stress more at 3am

Waking up at 3am in the morning and worrying is a common experience, and researchers have unpacked why we have late night sleep disturbances and how we can avoid it.

Professor Greg Murray, a clinical psychologist and director of the centre for mental health at Swinburne University of Technology, said that our brains are wired for “systematic bias” in the middle of night.

“The sorts of thoughts your brain will have at that time of night, are likely to be biased towards the negative,” Murray told Nursing Review.

“If you haven’t got distractions, all you’ve got is your thoughts, and you really are in danger of being led astray.”

A recent survey by Mental Health Australia found that experiences of fatigue, tiredness and issues getting to and staying asleep were major mental health impacts being reported by health workers.

Murray said that people working on shifts and in distressing environments should not put pressure on themselves to fall asleep, and should try to debrief at the end of each day. 

“I think one of the important ideas is that we can’t make ourselves sleep, and if we haven’t set up the preconditions, we probably won't sleep very well, and that’s okay.”

Murray spoke to Nursing Review about the 3am sleep phenomenon, how the pandemic has affected our circadian rhythms, and the tools we can use to have a more restful sleep.

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