Probably the most frequent question I get asked as a sleep coach is, “What do you do about middle of the night wake-ups?” Most of my clients are able to fall asleep easily, but then wake up sometime between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. I wish I could say I had the magic cure-all for this problem and that it no longer happened to me anymore… but that would not quite be true. What is true for me is that I no longer experience panic, anxiety, anger or loneliness when this happens, and have even learned to embrace the peace and stillness of the night as a time to do deep inner work or creative writing. This not only means a more enjoyable night experience with a better chance of resuming sleep, but less exhaustion and a better mood the next day, which in turn leads to less anxiety and better sleep the following night. Since I have found Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT or “tapping”), I have developed the following steps for dealing with middle of the night wake-ups:
- When I first find myself awake, I try not to open my eyes and not to look at the clock. Instead I repeat my personal safety mantra to myself. (Mine is “I am surrounded by love.”) Occasionally this works and I fall right back to sleep with only a few minutes of being awake. Halleluja!
- If that doesn’t work, I do open my eyes and look at the clock as a reference point. For one thing it is nice to know how much sleep I have already gotten. As someone who has spent years on almost no sleep, it is a good feeling to know I’ve at least gotten a few solid hours under my belt. If it is as much as 4 or 5 hours, I know I can function quite well the next day on that even if I don’t get back to sleep — and that in itself is a calming thought. For another thing, I like to give myself about 15 minutes to fall back to sleep – but not much more – so it is good to have a reference point.
- If after about 15 minutes it is clear that I have much more wakeful energy than sleepy energy, I usually get up. If I lie in bed feeling very awake, I start to think about all kinds of things, and this generally does not lead to falling back to sleep … so the sooner I get up, the sooner I will usually get back to sleep.
- Most times I go to the living room couch with a blanket and my tapping notebook. I make myself very cozy and appreciate the silence and stillness of these wee hours in the morning. Once I settle in, I ask myself the question, “Why am I awake?” I take my pen and write down what comes to me. Then I tune into the answers I have written. Which ones have the most energy around them? Sometimes I am awake because I am angry, irritated, frustrated or sad about something. Other times I am awake because I am very excited about something. And still other times I am just awake for no discernable reason.
- If I am angry, irritated, frustrated or sad, I do my tapping work until I can feel a shift. Generally, when the shift happens I begin to yawn and can feel a good sleep window coming on. Usually if I can catch this window I can go back to sleep.
- If I am super excited about something and nothing else seems to be going on, I use a choice statement in my tapping: “Even though I am so excited about x, and it brings me so much joy to think about it, I am choosing sleep right now. X will still be here in the morning.” This statement generally calms me down enough to get back to sleep.
- Finally, if there is no discernable reason for me to be awake, I might tune into how I am feeling about being awake in this moment. For example, “even though I am frustrated that it is 3:00 in the morning and I am awake when I was hoping to sleep through the night, I deeply and completely accept myself and I am choosing sleep now.” Sometimes a statement such as this will lead to other areas to tap on or it might be enough to open up the sleep window again.
- Often I have done some very deep healing and forgiveness work in these quiet hours of the morning, and even if I don’t get a full night of sleep, I tend to feel lighter in the morning, like I did some important work that needed to be done.
- Sometimes I won’t sleep because I have a burning desire to work on a project. If I can tell that my desire to work on the project is too strong and there is little chance of me going back to sleep anyway, I might choose to work on it. Sometimes it is something I need to finish for the next day and if I can just get it done, I might be able to sleep afterward. Other times it is a long, involved project and I have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. Mostly it depends on what I have to do the next day. Middle of the night hours can be extremely creative and productive, but how much is it going to take from the next day? Generally, if I wake up after 4:00 with a strong desire to work, I just go with it. Since I am an early riser, it is not that much difference in sleep, and it is a great feeling to have already gotten something useful done before sunrise!
- However, if you want to get back to sleep I would strongly advise staying off the computer or any other backlit device. There is no question that checking e-mail or Facebook, or doing any other kind of web surfing make the night hours fly by much quicker, but they also send wake-up signals to the brain, which sends the possibility of sleep further and further away. If tapping doesn’t work, an old fashioned book with paper pages that turn is a better choice than a backlit device for passing the time.
While I do not have the magic bullet to ensure 8 hours of unbroken sleep every night, I can offer advice and coaching on how to remain calm and even embrace the quiet, creative hours of the night. I have probably done my very best inner work between the hours of 1:00-3:00 in the morning and very best writing between the hours of 4:00-6:00. If you are interested in learning more about this tapping process, please call me for an appointment at 530-417-3188.