The Monster at 3am – Anxiety and Sleeplessness
Ok it may not be at 2am, it may be 3am, or 11pm (if you’re a child). If you have never been visited at night, you are so blessed. But if you are like the majority of Australians and have woken in the middle of the night, because you are anxious about something or everything- read on.
So, what is this monster that continues to revisit? It’s not just waking up and not being able to sleep. This is annoying, may leave you tired, and cranky but usually it’s a one off, and manageable.
However, I’m talking about Anxiety. Worry. Fear. That emotion that over activates our brain at exactly the time we should be sleeping. Instead, our minds and brains go into overdrive and starts reliving that conversation with your work colleague/ boss/ spouse that you had today: Did I offend them. Did they take what I said the wrong way? OR worrying about kids/jobs/friends.
All our past mistakes and future catastrophes make further sleep virtually impossible. And as sleep becomes further from our grasp those mistakes and catastrophes become Tsunamis. This is what people dread- You just know you are going to wake up, in the early morning hours alone with these troublesome thoughts. It is and can be awful. So awful that you begin to dread the next night and following nights, as the pattern continues to repeat.
If you have done all the things you have read and heard you would have ruled out drinking too much, having caffeine too late, drinking alcohol before bed, eating too late, or exercising too late, then its likely chronic stress during the day combined with general worry that is causing the catastrophising in the middle of the night.
If you wake in the middle of the night, what you have to do is refuse to allow your brain to do what it wants to do. Which is worry, catastrophize, think about problems. (Unless you wake up with a brilliant and creative way to resolve a problem in your life. Then get up and write it down immediately, because you’re not going to remember it in the morning).
You have to trust that whatever you were thinking about any of your problems or how you were viewing any of your fears during the daylight hours was far more accurate than anything your brain is going to do for the next 2–3 hours.
Just as we advise against making important decisions after you’ve come out of surgery, simply accept that you’re not in a good frame of mind to use the mind to solve anything at 3 AM.
The key is “No thinking allowed.” Except to remember that you’re not supposed to be thinking. This is easier said than done. However here are some ways to that can help:
- Mindfulness or Relaxation: There are heaps of APPS you can listen to when you are not sleeping.
- Audio-Books- a good way to distract the mind and focus on the tale, and the readers voice.
- Read a book- Only if you are not like me, when I want to then finish the whole thing. The alternative read a book that is very slow going.
- Watch TV- but not on your computer or phone: this will just prolong the wake cycle.
- Plan and do exercise most days of the week- Planning is the easy part, finding the time will be trickier but it is doable. This is your health, your sleep health.
If your sleeplessness, stress and anxiety does not change if means that you are likely to need extra assistance. Talk to your GP who will recommend you to a psychologist that can help. Seeking help early means better sleep, more energy and improved calmness in your life.
So even if this anxiety monster IS going to come at 3 AM, IT doesn’t deserve a warm welcome and a cup of tea. Close the door, be mindful and focus elsewhere.
For more tips on mindfulness go to our Mindfulness in Education Facebook Page