I don’t remember when I first realized I wasn’t alone in waking up around three o’clock in the morning. Sometimes I would go right back to sleep and other times I would begin to ponder life, letting anxiety kick in and keep me awake, and other times I was positive some kind of ghostly visitor was involved.
Then I had kids, and I noticed that if they were going to come down into my room or wake up crying, it was typically around the same time in the night.
Well, in a normal night’s sleep, that’s the time when things change as far as neurobiology.
Our core body temperature goes up, secretion of melatonin has peaked and reduced our sleep drive, and cortisol levels begin to ramp up in preparation for a new day.
Our bodies are predicting dawn, basically, even without the barest hint of the sun.
If you’re stressed at all or prone to anxiety, the higher likelihood of waking in the second half of the night could spell trouble – meaning you’ll find yourself fully awake and unable to turn off your thoughts.
Once you’ve ruled out true insomnia and depression-related sleep issues, there are still some reasons average people “catastrophize” in the wee hours.
The biggest one is simply that we’re alone with our thoughts, with none of the usual distractions close at hand. Typically, things will look a bit more positive in the light of day.
If you’re awake at 3 A.M., remind yourself that you’re not going to solve any problems, big or otherwise – you’re just worrying, and there’s nothing productive about that.
Experts suggest you learn to practice mindfulness, mediation, deep breathing, and the like.
If none of that works to distract a whirling mind, get up and grab a book or turn on the television to something that works as background noise.
These night wakings combined with worrying happen to the best of us, but they’re most often not productive or helpful in any way.
For that reason, do what you have to in order to get back to sleep.