Some individuals, often from prolonged unresolved stress, have low cortisol levels throughout the entire day. They go to bed exhausted and wake up still tired. Exercise usually gives them a jump-start to get them through the day, as does coffee or maybe some pharmaceutical drug. This is also an adrenal gland dysfunction problem.
Then, there are the individuals whose cortisol levels are out of rhythm with their internal body clock. This is very common, especially in overtrained athletes, heavy stress, long hour job, or people eating poorly throughout the day (going more than 5-6 hours without eating or too many refined foods). Their cortisol levels may be fine all day long until the night, when it spikes instead of drops. This could result in just laying there in bed counting sheep while others may fall right asleep yet they wake up in the middle of the night, say around 2-3am. They might lie there for 10 minutes or 2 hours, until they are finally able to fall back asleep. Something is tripping the sleep-wake cycle that needs to be corrected. The most common reason for this is due to a spike in cortisol, (think of it almost like adrenalin, but not as powerful), as well as epinephrine (adrenalin), due to a drop in blood sugar. Your body increases epinephrine levels when your blood sugar drops too low so it can pull glucose (sugar) from glycogen (stored sugar) from your liver. Your body will increase cortisol to break down valuable anabolic (tissue building) amino acids from protein to convert into glucose to elevate your blood sugar.
Another common sleep problem that people have is waking up at the exact same time every night. They will say, “I wake up at 2:55am every night”, or “I can’t get to sleep before 1:00am.” When specific times are involved this has to do with the acupuncture meridian system and its relationship to certain organs at those times. 11pm to 1am is the time when the gallbladder is at its highest energy. So if a person has a problem with their gallbladder, (too many bad fats, smoking, caffeine, etc.), then they often can’t get to sleep between those times, or if they are asleep before 11pm then they may wake up during that 2-hour cycle. Between 1am and 3am is liver. This is the most common time a person wakes up and is due to many reasons. As noted above, when cortisol or epinephrine levels elevate to pull sugar from the liver, this will wake the person up, as it taxes the liver as well. Also the liver has to deal with detoxification of hormones, such as cortisol and estrogen, leading to more work for the organ at that time.