The quake happened at 11.37pm in the south east Alpes-de-Haute-Provence area, waking up thousands of residents, reported regional newspaper Nice Matin.
The epicentre was identified as the village of Crévoux with tremors felt as far away as the port city of Marseille.
"It's the third one I've felt in my life, but the first one to wake me up. Terrifying!" wrote one resident on Twitter.
"For about six seconds the walls and windows were shaking and the bed was moving," wrote another.
Emergency services received a large number of calls but there were no reports of any serious damage or injuries.
"It's mostly people who are worried and we were able to reassure them," a police officer told Nice Matin.
The last time an earthquake of the same magnitude hit the region was in 1997.