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What Is Keeping You Up At Night?

August 12, 2021
Recently my friends have been talking about their waking during the middle of the night. Remarkably this has been around 2am. What made these incidents notable was their struggle returning to sleep.

The added problem was how it affected them the next day. The person will be certain why they were awoken and perplexed at their inability to return to sleep.

Some of the common reasons for being awoken are the accumulated anxiety that has built during the pandemic. Others will claim it was eating too late, or their age, or stress from work or home. There are a broad range of possibilities so if this occurs frequently, don’t assume each time is because of the same reason. We do look for the cause when what is needed is strategy for returning to sleep in the shortest period. For we all agree disrupted sleep will impact our energy, thinking, and potentially our attitude. The following are some strategies to consider.

How to get back to sleep?

I will present options in a hierarchy like Maslow’s needs pyramid, starting with physical needs and moving toward intellectual needs. Sleeping is a physical activity that depends upon the body’s sense of safety and security. Please note the suggestions below are strategies for dealing with the moment. Should you have recurring disruptions to your sleep, seek professionals to assess and employ solutions for your long term physical and mental health.

The environment, be it changing temperature, lighting, or sound could bring you out of your slumber. There is something creating physical discomfort. Adding or removing blankets, opening, or closing windows or doors, or adjusting your partner, pet or c-pap machine may be needed. These issues often can be avoided by adjustments prior to going to bed.

There are other physical discomforts that pertain to the body’s physical needs. Hunger or thirst could be a cause and eating or drinking small amounts may be enough to handle the body’s discomfort for these causes. Acid reflux could be a variation of this issue. The recommendation is to avoid food consumption within the two hours prior to bedtime. An alternative is to consider you may be dehydrated and drinking water will be enough to resolve the reflux.

Waking due to a dream may occur due to the perception of falling, or being threatened, or other uncomfortable idea in that dream. These bad dreams typically trigger physical responses such as elevated heart rate, shortness of breath or other “flight” type responses. Confirming the safety of your space and directing yourself to more pleasant thoughts could be enough to return to sleep.

Stress at work or concern about your relationship with someone could bring you awake immersed in the thoughts about this concern. Be it a concern or the stimulus of a great idea, the strategy could be to transfer the thoughts to paper. Write down your concerns and anything you wish to remember. By putting these thoughts on paper, your mind can release the responsibility for retaining them.

We have all tried many of these, so what is to be done when these tactics are not enough to allow us to return to sleep? The first is to understand our being awake is our body’s response to some stimulus. Something has triggered our defense mechanism to be activated and on guard. If the suggestions above were not sufficient try the following options before resorting to sleep medication.

One option to try is to go with the flow. If your body will not allow you to sleep, get up and read a book, do some writing, let your mind wander. Avoid opening your electronics such as phone, tablet, or television, for this work to stimulate, like the defense signal that woke us up. Reading, writing, or thinking demand our brain to work to exercise the mind which takes energy. Use of the brain in this way can help develop the fatigue needed for sleep.

An alternative option is to communicate to our body the threat is gone, and all is normal. We can do this using a breathing technique. There are many variations, here is the one I use. I breath in for four counts, hold that breath for seven counts, and exhale everything through eight counts. I cycle through this a minimum of three times and often times more as I need. This process is changing the normal breathing pattern. It forces deeper inhaling, longer retention of the breath, and controlled exhalation. Each of these action in the cycle is only possible when you are in control. These are opposite to what the body needs when it is activated for defense. In addition to the change in mechanics, it forces your attention to move to the breath cycle pushing out the other thoughts. Note, while doing the breathing you may feel awake and therefore think this is not helping. Yet when I end the last cycle, my next memory is of waking the next morning.

Waking in the middle of the night can come from many different reasons, returning to sleep requires addressing the issue and calming the body. Knowing this and doing it can be very different. Reach out to me if you have questions or wish to discuss your situation further.