Anyone else out there awake at 3:00 a.m. thinking you’re the only one in your hemisphere who is?
Guess what, you’re not!
I hear it most days from at least one of my psychotherapy clients, but it became personal when I started to experience it regularly. I was never one to function on 4-5 hours sleep as some claim they can. But like many other woman of ‘a certain age’, out the window went my easy, without-trying full nights sleep! And instead, came a pattern of sleep-wake, sleep-wake that left me wondering what is it about the 3:00 a.m. awakening thing?
Given how alert my mind would be at that time led me to research our natural sleep-wake cycles. An interesting piece of information popped up. Historically during agrarian times, people slept in 2 distinct cycles. The first came about after an exhausting day laboring in the fields. After eating, with no energy left, people just fell asleep. After 3-4 hours, they’d naturally wake up, and engage in sex, contemplation, writing by candlelight or even visiting neighbors. After an hour or so, they’d retire for the second cycle of sleep. This could partially explain this common pattern for interrupted sleep.
From the ancient Indian health system of Ayurvedic medicine, the 3:00-4:00 a.m. period is when the liver begins it’s work of detoxifying the body. So physiologically, the body’s systems are doing their job on their own cycle. Could this biological and hormonal firing up be another piece of the puzzle?
It seems our bodies are evolutionarily programmed to awake at times the differing physiological systems clock-in. Given our stressed, busy, over-scheduled lives, being wired to monitors, buzzed and beeped continuously prompting us to react like a pavlovian dog, disturbed sleep is not a good idea.
I know what a huge struggle it was for me to function the next day if my sleep was interrupted.
Sleep hygiene experts tell us to ensure the bedroom is cool-64 degrees or less, totally dark, and the bed and pillow are comfortable, and well supportive. Remove the TV and all other electronic devices, save an alarm clock if used. Avoid staring into any monitor at least 1 hour before bedtime. Cell-phones off, laptops put away, iPads left in the living room. E-readers, using a different built-in LED lighting system don’t have the same effect upon our brains as do other devices, which disturb meletonin (a sleep hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm) production.
Oh, and they advise us to use the bed solely for sex or sleep!
Maybe you’ve done all the above, and still wake up.
Try mindfulness. Next time it happens, make a point of noticing what’s happening in your mind. Is it alert, thoughts very active, jumping restlessly around from topic to topic? Or even worse, obsessively stuck in the hamster wheel of the same thought. Be mindful, without judgement or trying to control your thoughts or empty out your mind, simply notice that you’re thinking, that thinking is happening, then release the thought and let your awareness rest gently on an object like your breath. See if you can follow the in and out breath with your awareness. If it’s helpful, silently note “in” “out” internally to help your mind focus.
It’s unlikely you’ll attain enlightenment from this, although you never know! But what it’ll do is help to calm your mind down by steadying it. If your mind is calmer, so is your body. Yes they are connected!
Sleep comes easier with a calmer, less alert mind and body.
Leave a comment about what you’ve found to be helpful or effective in returning to sleep. I’d love to know what works for you!