You know those nights when you wake up and it’s still dark? The nights when you think, “oh crap, it’s 3 hours until my alarm goes off”? For some of us, these nights come too often, or every now and then, or just once in a while.
It’s easy to slip into the pit of despair at 3 in the morning, imagining how tired or groggy you’ll be, or really really wanting to get back to sleep.
But there’s an alternative.
A few years ago, I was going through a patch of early wake-ups. 3.30am and bang! awake.
I’d lie in bed for a couple of hours, completely awake.
Then, around 5.30 or 6am, I’d fall asleep, dream like crazy, and wake up to my alarm feeling completely rubbish.
A few nights in a row and you”re feeling way less than 100%.
One night, I woke up early, as was ”normal” then. After an hour or so, I found myself thinking through a tricky situation with a friend that had been going on for a while. I remember a brand new thought coming into my mind, a new way of seeing the situation, and immediately I felt my body let go and relax. Sleep came.
On waking up later, it seemed to me that I had needed to have this new thought so I could move on with the situation. But to have this new thought, I needed to be awake in order to think it!
This brought some gentle understanding into my early morning wake ups. When I woke early, I started to think to myself “maybe I just need to have a certain thought, a certain insight, so I need to be awake for a bit.”
Thinking this, I felt more relaxed and at ease with being awake. It was no longer a battle between me and sleep. Being awake served a purpose. An openness came into my night-time thinking and feeling. I started to ask myself, “what do I need to think, or to know, or to realise?”
Some nights, I’d realise something. On other nights, thinking this way simply made for an easier ride – I became more patient with myself, more understanding, and curious about what was going on. When you’re kind and curious, there’s not so much room left for feeling irritated or worried, and the thought or feeling that wants to surface can do so more easily.
Fast-forward a few months, and another pattern began to show itself. I noticed that on some days when I didn’t go back to sleep, but instead I got up, I felt better. Sure, I was a little more tired than usual, and the afternoon slump hit a little harder, but the mornings were easier.
So this little insight got woven into my night-time wake ups, that sometimes staying awake would give me a better day than having the extra hour or so of intense dreaming sleep that follows night-time wakefulness.
Now the routine I follow goes like this:
First comes the question, “what woke me up?”.
Sometimes something has actually woken me up. Maybe a noise from somewhere else in the building. Sometimes a call of nature, or maybe I feel too hot or cold. Sometimes (ok, just once), it’s an earthquake. When it”s one of these, I wake sleepily, register the trigger, deal with it (if I need to) and mostly I”ll drop back off to sleep again soon.
But if it’s my mind’s doing, I feel bright and awake, all systems go. It’s a different kind of ”awake”. When this happens, I let my thoughts roam around happily. No need for anxiety – I’m supposed to be awake. No need to imagine dire consequences. An acceptance and curiosity: “oh, I need to be awake for a bit. I wonder what’s going on.”
Then sometimes, back to sleep. It just happens. I wish I could say what makes the difference, but as yet I’m not sure.
Other times, after an hour or so, I get up. A cup of tea, read a book, maybe even do some housework.
On days like today, it seems that I’m awake early because I’m ready to create something. It might even be my inspiration waking me up and saying, “hey, come on, get on with this great thing already!” Something’s been brewing under the surface and is now ready to get out into the world. Early wake-ups can be for good reasons too.
So when the early wake-ups happen, we can be kind and gentle with ourselves. Let it be how it is. Watch for patterns and adjust what you do to make it easier on yourself. See if there’s anything that needs attending to: a thought that needs to surface, or an emotion to feel.
Above all of this, know that somehow, the ”you” on the inside knows that you need to be awake for a while. And maybe you don’t know why, but that’s ok.
How well do you sleep, and what affects how well you sleep?