We’ve all been there, some even call it the witching hour. You find yourself eyes half open where it’s too early to start the day, but seems too late to fall back asleep. My clients often report that they wake up and immediately their mind is spinning; thoughts on what they need to do during the day, replaying events from the day before, even reaching for their phones to start checking emails and Instagram (because hey, someone I follow is on another time zone, and they are already having midday snack).
Unfortunately, this sort of environment in the mind becomes a battle between an exhausted, and not fully awake mind that just wants to get going against cognitive efforts to convince yourself to fall asleep.
“I need to get to sleep; I have a big meeting in the morning.”
“If I don’t fall asleep now, I won’t get to work on time.”
Or even worse, getting up two hours before rise time and finding yourself napping at your desk by 10 a.m.
Sleeping is one of those underrated things that people loosely use to explain away their everyday problems.
“I’m exhausted, I didn’t sleep well.”
“My child had a fever, and we were both up all night.”
“Once I have some coffee I’ll wake up.”
Do this sound familiar? Sleep deprivation is a national epidemic. The NHTSA says it’s responsible for 72,000 crashes on the road every year, poor testing scores in children, a lot of the mood disorders people experience and it’s been attributed to some physiological disease processes as well.
Sleep is the time when our body repairs itself, cheating yourself of those extra two hours in the morning is what contributes to lack of focus at work, short tempers and less productivity.
Here are some strategies that will calm the mind enough to allow you to doze back to dream land.
1. Without turning on any lights, roll to your right side (consult a physician if you are pregnant or have known heart issues). When we roll to our right side (our heart side) we relieve pressure, which allows our blood pressure to reach homeostasis.
2. Without opening your eyes, try lifting your eyebrows. Some would also say gaze up to the spot in between your eyes (known as your third eye). This action will naturally allow any tension you are holding in your face to calm. Also, notice if you are holding your jaw tight during this time, relax it. Conversely you can tighten all the muscles in your face and then relax them.
3. Create a mantra you will use such as: “this thought is not welcome now; I invite it back in the morning.”
While laying on your right side, with your face relaxed, take a deep breath in through the nose, letting your belly expand, and hold it slightly, then release it back through your nose.
This is where the mind loves to take off. Insert your mantra here.
4. If you struggle to let go of thought because you are afraid you will need it tomorrow, keep a note pad and pen by the bed and jot it down. Make sure that you follow all of the above, low lights, and once you are ready to reset, lights out.
5. Do not be tempted by electronics (keep them in another room if needed). Reaching for your phone, flipping on the TV or grabbing your iPad is inserting blue light into the already complicated brain matter. The mind responds to this blue light as if it were day, ultimately throwing off your circadian rhythm which is how we get stuck in the 4am wake-up call day after day.
6. Do not get up. Making herbal tea might seem like a nice idea but once we stand up, physiological changes happen in our body. Our parasympathetic nervous system (whose job is to work when we rest, by conserving energy, slowing the heart rate, regulating a slightly lower body temperature, increasing intestinal and gland activity, and relaxing the sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract) says, “time to shut off.” Then, our physical body switches over to non-resting mode, notably a faster heart rate, a higher body temperature and alertness.