It’s 3 a.m. and I’m awake. Ordinarily I’d be asleep but right now I’m awake and I don’t like it. Strangely this happens at least once every couple of weeks for me. I just wake up early. No real rhyme or reason, it just happens.
At one time in my life, this used to bug me. I would look at the clock and think, “oh no, I must get back to sleep or I’ll be so tired in the morning.” And then I’d spend the next hour or two willing myself to go back to sleep: tossing and turning, demanding that I slip back into unconsciousness; huffing and puffing that I wasn’t sleeping. I’d even check the clock every 10 minutes to see if I’d slept.
But the reality was, and still is, the more that I demand something of myself, the less likely I am to achieve that goal — and that really is the principle of living an unhappy life.
Sure I want to go back to sleep. I would even really, really, really, prefer to be sleeping right now, but I’m not. So, instead of lying there, beating myself up for waking when I “absolutely shouldn’t have,” I get up. I grab a drink, get something to eat and power up my laptop.
I realized a while back that, for me, it’s easier to get up and do something I enjoy. Use the extra time I have to write something, read, watch some TV, or just get lost in the weird and wonderful things people upload on YouTube.
This extra quiet time can be a bonus, before the world machine cranks up, and I slip into my lane on the daily highway of life.
Sure, I might be a little tired later, but the reality is that a few hours less sleep every now and then is not going to affect my performance. It will only affect that if I’m constantly telling myself, “I won’t be able to cope with work/life/kids because I woke so early and I’ll get tired.”
If you’re the type of person who uses that snippet of destructive thinking, then you’ll start sabotaging yourself. Sometimes after not sleeping well, people even play the ‘poor me card.’ They tell work colleagues how little sleep they’ve had, and how they won’t be able to do so-and-so job, or how they might need to go home early because of exhaustion.
Thinking and behaving like this can be quite common, and its roots can usually be found in childhood messages such as “You’ve got school tomorrow. You need to get your sleep or you won’t be able to do well.”
Really? How many times did you hear this, yet still stayed up late reading about dinosaurs, and made it through school the next day?
Even scientists don’t know how much sleep people need.
Each person’s sleep patterns and needs are different. You might be somebody like me, who likes around eight hours a night, or you might need fewer, such as four. Trouble is, if you’re the type of person who needs four, but you think you should have eight, that is where your problems will start.
Sleep problems can start if, instead of embracing your pattern and learning to live with it, you start to create your own anxiety around not getting enough sleep. Soon enough, sleeping will start to be a problem because you’ll be worrying about it before you go to bed, and that worry will interfere with your sleep pattern.
Soon you’ll be going to sleep, only to wake yourself so you can check that clock to see if you’ve been sleeping. And as you can tell, that irrational behavior will confirm that you haven’t slept as much as you demand because you woke yourself up!
The next step from there is usually some type of insomnia, because you’ve worked yourself up into such anxiety about sleeping. After a while you will be tired and your cognitive functioning will be impaired. You’ll be worrying during the day whether you’ll even sleep at night; and nearer to sleep time you get, the more anxious you’ll become and the more your body won’t be able to relax, so the more impossible it is to sleep. Catch-22, created by you.
If you do wake early, then make the best of that time. If your sleep pattern is such that you sleep a few hours a night, but need a nap during the day, then do it. Stop telling yourself you “must sleep now or else.”
I’ve found my way with managing my occasional lack of sleep. What about you? Is there a pattern you could change? Are you demanding something of yourself that leads to sleep problems? If so, these need to be addressed. So go do it — go change.