Do you wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time falling back asleep? “Nocturnal awakening”, as it’s called, affects over one-third of adults, causing considerable exhaustion and anxiety.
But what if I told you that this type of sleep pattern is not only normal but can also be helpful?
Before the lightbulb entered households in the late 1800’s, people went to bed at nightfall for “first sleep” and woke a little after midnight for an hour or so. Called “the waking hour”, it was customary for people to sit quietly in a candlelit parlor, chatting with family members, praying, reading or sharing the dreams they had prior to awakening. It was considered the best time for study and reflection. When they became sleepy again, they returned to bed for “second sleep” until daybreak. In fact, many cloistered religious groups and people in undeveloped parts of the world still adhere to this pattern of sleeping and waking.
Research suggests this wakeful cycle of “first sleep” and “second sleep” may indeed be our natural sleeping pattern when we are away from light bulbs, screens and other electronic distractions. A study by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health found that when people are deprived of artificial light they go to bed earlier, then wake up a little after midnight and stay awake for a couple of hours. In addition, blood tests showed that during this “waking hour” period, volunteers’ brains had raised levels of prolactin, a hormone that helps reduce stress.
But ever since industrialization, eight continuous hours of sleep each night has increasingly been touted by medical and sleep experts as necessary, no matter what our bodies prefer. In our current culture of exhaustion, “first sleep” and “second sleep” have been relabeled and diagnosed as “insomnia”. The resulting pressure to get a solid 8 hours sleep is causing many to suffer “sleep anxiety” and to reach for medications.
If you’re suffering from “sleep anxiety” due to nocturnal awakening, keep in mind that your brain is merely acting in a way that is normal and healthy. In the study mentioned above, once the volunteers learned to stop worrying about their broken sleep, they started to enjoy their time in the middle of the night as a chance to relax — to think and reflect on their day just done, and the day to come. I personally love to awaken after midnight and gently allow my dreams to play in my mind, like previews of a movie. I observe the dream drama and issues, getting valuable insight into my subconscious and reflecting on my actions and their consequences in the dreams. I then drift back to sleep and often re-dream the dreams in a clear and intentional manner, correcting the “mistakes” I made in the original dream. This is called “lucid dreaming”.
TIPS TO HELP:
1. When you awaken during the night, stay calm and avoid negative, stressful thoughts about losing sleep and about life in general. Panicking about being awake will only create stress hormones and keep you awake and frustrated for many hours.
2. Go to bed earlier to allow yourself to luxuriate in an hour or two of dreamy, creative “waking hour” time. This way, you’ll get plenty of total hours sleep and awaken refreshed for a new day.
3. Take Magnesium, nature’s sleeping pill, at bedtime. I’ve found that it creates more positive dreams and a much fresher brain in the morning. Magnesium L-Threonate is considered one of the best, most absorbable type.
4. Enjoy meditative music and guided imagery to create calm brain waves and an easier time falling asleep. Many of my clients enjoy my End Insomnia Hypnosis CD, for instance, to fall into “first” or “second” sleep with ease.
Wishing you the best of health and the sweetest of dreams,