Waking up during sleep
Yesterday I woke up in the middle of the night. Somehow it still feels weird to be a sleep coach and not have “perfect sleep” every night, but that’s just how it is.
Every coach and every professional experiences these kinds of situations. What’s different about them is how they deal with them. So I thought I’d share my experience, how I dealt with it, with you.
I was sleeping really good having some great dreams, until somebody screamed in my dream. Do you know the feeling when you a dreaming and suddenly your alarm sounds and you include it in your dreams?
In my dreams this happens with all sounds and noises around me. I somehow include them in my dreams. I’m sure you’ve experienced this, since it seems to be a universal phenomenon.
Anyway, I heard those screams and at some point I realised that I was awake, not dreaming anymore.
Sometimes I think there is a magic point in front of our house very all the drunk people get drawn too.
There’s actually nothing, but somehow drunk people always think it’s a great spot to hang out and maybe… end a relationship.
That’s what happened yesterday. A girl was screaming and crying really loud and her boyfriend and another friend tried to calm her down. Needless to say, she didn’t at first. It went back and forth, she ran away, came back, they started talking quietly, but it didn’t matter.
At 3am you hear everything, even whispering. (Remember this on your next night out!).
Well, I was up. I went to the bathroom and then since I’m a curious person I looked out the window. If I can hear them, I wanted to see them as well.
Here they were, standing on the sidewalk, ending their relationship. I didn’t get the whole plot, but he was probably drinking too much and not stopping and she was pissed. Be that as it may, no reason to wake up hundreds of people.
Unfortunately, they did. I heard some people as they closed their blinds & windows aggressively, but nobody said anything. Neither did I.
I was thinking about yelling out, but two of three people were drunk, and I couldn’t do anything else than calling the cops, which would probably have shown up after the thing was over.
Those were the first thoughts that ran through my head. The next one was “Maybe I should just stay awake.”
I felt only slightly tired, so it could have been a valid option. Unfortunately, it was only 3am, and getting up this early would have messed up my whole day. This option was off the table.
My second thought was about bi-phasic sleep, which simply means having two sleep phases instead of one. In the Middle Ages, people were probably sleeping like that. For example, they went to bed at 9pm slept until 1am, got up for one or two hours, doing household things, and went back to sleep at 3am until 7am.
Scientists also think that this mainly changed when we started using electric lighting. They also believe that we will go back to bi-phasic sleep when we get rid of electric lights.
I thought “Maybe I just stay up for 2 hours and go back to sleep.” The moment I thought it, I knew it wouldn’t work, because it was already too early for that. I also didn’t want to try it. (Maybe I’m trying to experiment with this soon, stay tuned!)
Here I was, 85% awake and nothing to do with it. I knew it would take me some time to go back to sleep and as I said, staying awake was not an option either. Pretty upsetting, right?
Here’s what I would have done in the past and what I believe most people do:
Stress myself. Thinking about all the negative things that will happen, because I woke up: I will feel tired in the morning, I will have a lousy day, I will be mad at themselves for not closing the window, etc. Etc.
And you know what? All those things will happen. When you start stressing yourself, the probability of you going back to sleep decreases. You get sucked into your negative thoughts.
“Damn it, those idiots, couldn’t they scream somewhere else!”
“Now I’m wide awake and I can’t go back to sleep. It’s useless to try, I know I can’t.”
“F*ck it, my day will be bad and there is nothing I can do about it.”
“Stupid, stupid, stupid. I just want to sleep normally.”
And on it goes. Unfortunately, this will prevent you from getting to sleep and you will feel lousy in the morning.
Did you ever experience this?
The problem is, that you will still keep those thoughts running in your head, even after the noise from outside stopped.
As I said, before learning about sleep I would have acted like and sometimes, to be honest, this old behaviour still tried to creep in.
Now, in contrast to that, here’s what I did yesterday. After I played over some scenarios in my head and satisfied my curiousness it was time to go back to sleep.
At first, I closed my window a bit to reduce the sound level.
A short digression: You may be wondering why my window was open in the first place, as I’m always suggesting to close the windows. Two reasons: First of all, my windows are crap. They’re old and even if I close them, there is still noise coming through. Secondly, in the summer, it’s getting warm in my bedroom, so it’s either a warmer bedroom with less noise or a cooler bedroom with the possibility of more noise. I prefer the latter.
Then I started playing the audio play/book I normally use for getting to sleep, which also slightly covered up the sounds from outside.
But the most important part, in my opinion, was to not stress myself. I know this is very difficult and it takes some practice, but this is not only a valuable skill when it comes to your sleep but for basically every area of your life.
I told myself not to focus on the sounds and on the negative emotions I felt, but instead to focus on the warmth of my bed and how great it feels to have such a comfortable bed.
I got out of my head and stopped the negative thoughts and stayed present. I knew that I would wake up a bit later than usual, but that was okay. (I know this is a bigger problem if you have to get to work at a specific time, but even then, stressing yourself will only make it worse and not solve anything.)
20 minutes later I got back to sleep. I was awake for 45 minutes and I woke up at 7:30 instead of 6:30 am. I felt a bit tired, but I felt much more relaxed and positive, than I would have if I stressed myself all night.
The next time you wake up in the middle of the night, remember this article and not let the external negative settings prevent you from getting back to sleep.
It will take some practice, and there will always be a scenario when you get back into your old thought patterns, but all the other times it will be worth it.