Why Do I Always Wake up Early?

Insomnia, Mood Disorders, and Circadian Rhythm Issues Can Be to Blame

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There's something disappointing about waking up earlier than necessary, and it is especially upsetting if you cannot fall back asleep. What might cause you to wake up before you want to?

There are specific conditions, including sleep and mood disorders, that might cause chronic early morning awakenings to occur. By understanding these potential causes, you may be able to find a treatment that will keep you asleep until your desired wake time.

why am I waking up early?
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin


The primary cause of chronic difficulty staying asleep in the morning is insomnia, which is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep. It's frequently associated with early morning awakenings.

These awakenings may occur throughout the night, but they tend to be more frequent in the second half of the night, due to a diminishing ability to sleep toward the morning hours. Sleep may be greatly delayed, fragmented, or disrupted in insomnia, but awakenings near morning can be especially troublesome.

The ability to sleep is linked to the circadian rhythm, which follows the light and dark signals to make you sleep at night and wake you in the morning.

Another factor that helps you sleep is your homeostatic sleep drive. This is the gradual desire for sleep that builds the longer a person stays awake. It relates to the gradual accumulation of a chemical in the brain called adenosine.

This "sleepiness signal" eventually helps to initiate sleep. During sleep, it is cleared away so that midway through the night, the desire for sleep is depleted. By morning, it should be nearly gone.

If a person wakes during the night—and especially if this awakening occurs toward morning—the ability to return to sleep will be compromised due to the lower levels of adenosine.


Insomnia can be treated with a variety of methods It is especially well-treated with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI), an educational program that teaches a set of skills that improves chronic difficulty sleeping.

Anxiety and Depression

Any of the mood disorders, most notably anxiety and depression, can be associated with early morning awakenings, which typically occur during the few hours before the intended awakening.

For example, if the alarm is set for 6 a.m., someone with depression may start waking at 4 a.m. for no obvious reason.


In the setting of psychiatric distress, these problems can persist, so it is necessary to treat any coexisting depression or anxiety.

Treatment may require the use of medications or counseling. Combination treatment is the most effective.

It is clear that sleep problems can undermine mood, and conversely, mood problems can greatly affect sleep. By working on both issues together, the complex relationship can be unraveled.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea may contribute to early morning awakenings.

We go through several stages of sleep throughout the night. During the second half of the night, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the dreaming state, predominates.

Sleep apnea is more likely to occur during REM sleep. During REM sleep, the muscles of the body are actively paralyzed—including the muscles lining the upper airway. This can manifest as disrupted breathing and sleep apnea. Episodes of sleep apnea usually momentarily wake people up from sleep.

Morning awakenings may occur when sleep apnea symptoms worsen during the longer periods of REM towards the morning hours.


Treatments for sleep apnea include devices that can help keep your airway open so it won't collapse. With proper treatment, sleep quality improves significantly.

Circadian Rhythms and Aging

Some people have a natural tendency to wake early in the morning (early birds or morning larks). Some people are just naturally morning people: they may prefer to fall asleep earlier (such as at 9 p.m.) and wake earlier (by 5 or 6 a.m.). This may be a lifelong preference, and while it isn’t necessarily abnormal, it may lead to early morning awakenings.

Many people also wake up earlier in the morning with advancing age. As we get older, our ability to maintain a continuous, uninterrupted period of sleep diminishes. The "machinery" of sleep (whatever we might conceive this to be) isn’t working as well as it used to.

Sleep may become more fragmented, and there may be more time spent awake in the transition to falling asleep and during the night. Slow-wave sleep diminishes, and total sleep time may be reduced.

Circadian rhythm disorders, like advanced sleep phase syndrome, can also lead to early morning awakening. With advanced sleep phase syndrome, the onset and offset of sleep move earlier by several hours.


If you're getting a sufficient amount of sleep before getting up for the day, then there's no reason to give it a second thought.

Many people have a reduced need for sleep past age 65, and early morning awakenings may occur, especially if too much time is spent in bed. It may be helpful to reduce time in bed to better reflect actual sleep needs, thus eliminating early morning awakenings.

It is estimated that adults beyond age 65 need only seven to eight hours of sleep on average.

But if you aren't getting enough rest, talk to a healthcare provider. Lifestyle habits or medical interventions might help.

If advanced sleep phase syndrome becomes disruptive to your life, it may be treated with the use of properly timed melatonin and light exposure at night.

A Word From Verywell

If you are troubled by morning awakenings, you should reflect on your situation and consider potential causes. A healthcare provider can determine whether you have a mood disorder or a sleep disorder and may recommend lifestyle modifications or medical interventions.

Getting enough rest is a key component of health, and you should rest assured that while sleep problems are common, they can be managed with therapies.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Your guide to healthy sleep.

  3. National Sleep Foundation. Depression and Sleep.​

  4. National Sleep Foundation. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.

  5. Keihani A, Mayeli A, Ferrarelli F. Circadian rhythm changes in healthy aging and mild cognitive impairment. Adv Biol (Weinh). 2022 Nov 20:e2200237. doi:10.1002/adbi.202200237

  6. Chaput JP, Dutil C, Sampasa-Kanyinga H. Sleeping hours: what is the ideal number and how does age impact this?Nat Sci Sleep. 2018;10:421-430. doi:10.2147/NSS.S163071

Additional Reading

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.