Description: Has this ever happened to you, or is happening to you more frequently recently? You wake up at 3 or 4 am and your mind sort of pounces on you and starts to run through all the things you are or have recently been concerned or worried about. It spins you around and around for a bit and while you might try and think of the experience as problem solving you have to admit you are not actually gaining any ground at all on solving your challenges or stressors you are just turning them over and over in your mind, not able to sleep and feeling bad. Sound familiar? Well maybe it is just me, but I don’t think so… before and during Covid, I have been noticing more and ore accounts of people regularly experiencing this sort of encounter with the evil sheep of night worry. Want to find out more of what is with this and, more importantly, about some things you can do about it? Well, read through the article linked below.
Source: Why do we wake around 3 am and dwell on our fears and shortcomings? Greg Murray, The Conversation.
Date: October 12, 2021
So, does the situation described in the linked article sound familiar? There are a few things that are important to pay attention to in order to understand what is going on. First, our systems (sleep, vigilance etc.) have emerged evolutionary and have at least some adaptive value. No, waking and worrying at 3 or 4 am is NOT actually very adaptive but the systems that contribute to that happening ARE. Our circadian system is starting to prepare us for the coming day. When a stressor or worry occurs to at that point, our higher cognitive processes are offline as are the things that might distract us and so, rather than problem solve, we ruminate…. we worry as our vigilance systems grind away. What to do? Well, don’t take it as something you cannot avoid. As the author suggests it may well be a very good example of catastrophizing, something you should avoid doing. What else to do? Get up and read for few minutes, or focus on your breathing (part of mindfulness practice), or stick in an earphone and put on an audio book (quietly … and NOT a scary one). Lastly, do not add to your worry by telling yourself there must be something wrong with you if this is what you are doing. In fact, it may just mean that you are trying to work on figuring out what to do but, at 3 or 4am you are trying to do that without any of the wonderful coping tools you have (or can get) when you are awake, and it is light out. Soo, take some deep breathes other strategies and get back to sleep.
Questions for Discussion:
- Does waking up in the middle of the night and worrying about things mean that you are not coping well?
- What are some things you could do if you find yourself waking up at 3 or 4 AM and worrying?
- What sorts of things can you do when you are awake in the daytime to reduce the likelihood that you will awaken and worry late at night (or to prepared to do if you DO wake up worrying)?
References (Read Further):
Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia (2017) Insomnia Management Kit: Stimulus Control Therapy Link
Kyle, Simon (2014) Hypervigilance when falling asleep in insomnia Link
Brewer, Judson Unwinding Anxiety Link
Sleep Foundation (2021) Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic Link
Carney, C. E., Harris, A. L., Moss, T. G., & Edinger, J. D. (2010). Distinguishing rumination from worry in clinical insomnia. Behaviour research and therapy, 48(6), 540-546. Link
Carney, C. E., Harris, A. L., Falco, A., & Edinger, J. D. (2013). The relation between insomnia symptoms, mood, and rumination about insomnia symptoms. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(6), 567-575. Link
Lundh, L. G. (2005). The Role of Acceptance and Mindfulness in the Treatment of Insomnia. Link
Ong, J. C., Ulmer, C. S., & Manber, R. (2012). Improving sleep with mindfulness and acceptance: a metacognitive model of insomnia. Behaviour research and therapy, 50(11), 651-660. Link