Tuesday, June 01, 2021

The Thinks You Definitely Should NOT Think at 2AM

Saturday night I fell asleep pretty quickly but then at 2AM I found myself awake, too warm, needing to go to the bathroom, etc.

Actually it might have been 1AM, or 12:32, or 3:15, I don’t really know, because I didn’t look at the time. In fact I *never* look at the time in the middle of the night. 

I stopped doing that years ago when I realized a) it does not matter what time it is and b) all it does is annoy me and get my brain going. 

Checking the time is a pretty silly idea, when you think about it. You got somewhere to go at 2:30? You got plans? Who cares whether it’s 12:28 or 4:45? What possible value does this have for you? 

Here’s what matters: you’re awake and you want to get back to sleep very soon. That’s it. 

Don’t do things that complicate that process like check the time and then now your brain gets all “oh, great, it’s 1:37, why am I awake, and I need to get up in ... (engage math brain) let’s see 4 hours would be 5:37 and my alarm is set for 6:15 so that’s ... 4 hours plus 30-something minutes, that’s just great, now I’m going to be tired tomorrow and I’ve got this thing I need to do and that’s going to be harder now, and then ... (blah blah blah your brain is completely awake now)”.

Will this help you get to sleep? No it will not.

It’s essential to find some mental trick to keep your brain from engaging on such craziness. I learned to focus on regulating my breathing — neither all the way in nor all the way out, and very steady — but anything calming could probably work, like counting sheep or saying the Lord’s Prayer several times or picturing your happy place such as waves rolling in on the beach or a green meadow with a deep blue sky or a snow-capped mountain range or flying in a hang glider. 

Sometimes if I feel physically restless I have even visualized some kind of invisible force — something like a gyroscope — moving around through my arms and legs actually releasing tension and causing me to relax. 

These tricks are especially important to avoid things like worry or anxiety about the future, or regret about the past. Been there, done that, it’s a terrible idea, pointless at any time of day, and doing it while you could be getting back to sleep is costing you in two different ways and compounding the sleep issue. 

But for some reason our brains like to torture us with these stupid games in the middle of the night, so you need to find some tricks to keep it from sabotaging your sleep and even sometimes your mental and physical health.

It’s your brain, and you have control over how you use it.

But when all else fails, one thing you should *not* do is keep lying there, awake for an hour or more, increasingly frustrated and annoyed. I like to get out of bed and go lay on the couch and watch some TV, especially a movie or a re-broadcast of some sports event. One of two things will happen, either you still won’t get to sleep but at least you distracted yourself and maybe even saw a decent movie at 3-4AM — this has happened for me more than once — or your eyes get tired and you fall asleep. Either way it’s better than lying in bed awake.