Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In the Still of the Night…

I woke this morning at 3:20 a.m. Not as the result of bad dreams or indigestion. Just woke up and couldn't fall back to sleep.

Early morning is a magical time. The house is quiet and almost surrealistic. No sounds and few disturbances. Like finding yourself in a serene environment with no interruptions.

I've always been a morning person. But it's different when waking very early is not your idea. To me, any time before 5:00 a.m. is considered "night."

Ever have trouble getting to sleep? Or falling back to sleep after a late night drink of water, phone call or family discussion? Returning to slumber is not too complicated. But sometimes when I happen to awake, it's as though someone flipped my brain like a light switch and the brain waves stir.

Did I turn off that light? Did I set down frozen meat for dinner tomorrow? What color should I use to paint the kitchen? Brain waves are apparently sensitive little fellas and can quickly be pressed into action at the slightest provocation. Once thoughts start to flicker, I am usually a goner. It becomes clear that the best course of action would be to get out of bed and do something. Read a book or turn on the computer. Articles about sleep disturbance often recommend doing something to take your mind off of the fact that you can't sleep.

Sleep is an amazing process and doing without it (or getting less of it) can impact our waking lives greatly. Recently while experiencing a respiratory condition, I had many nights of minimal sleep. The result was that I felt like heck -- on top of the fact that I felt like heck. Getting back to deep sleep gave me a renewed appreciation of just how precious sleep can be.

My father was always a morning person. He was a contract mail carrier who delivered mail from our small town to neighboring towns. He would get up at 4:30 six mornings a week and begin his journey. This was in the Midwest and meant making his trek during rainy and snowy days and nearly always in the dark. It was a job that I think he more or less enjoyed because he was essentially his own boss. But I realize now that it involved a lot of hard work and a killer pace. And, oddly enough, I don't recall ever hearing him complain about it. He just went to work and came home.

For many years during my 30s and beyond, I would get up early and go for a run before dressing for work. It seems like a hassle now and I remember worrying about what my hair would do and did I have time to mess with it. But invariably when one gets into some type of groove, the body follows suit. We can do such things if motivated.

Recently there was a news article about the huge percentage of people who manage their daily lives without enough sleep. This has been true for a long time. When I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, I routinely saw people function in a sleep-deprived state. People would fall asleep on the Metro trains almost every day. At one job, the pay was so low for the recent college grads that several I knew worked two jobs. One young man tended bar at night and worked at a law firm during the day. When we would leave the office to go to lunch, this kid would come into our office, shut the door and sleep under the desks. These people learned to cope until the weekends or pay raises would allow them the luxury of only one job.

In today's economy, I know there are people working multiple jobs, taking care of home and family and just trying to keep afloat until things turn around. They endure long hours and likely little rest/sleep in the process.

To anyone who is trying to get by with little sleep, please be aware that you might have other options that would help you make the most of the 24 hours allowed each day. Sleep is paramount to feeling well and keeping calm.

So tonight, if you have difficulty falling asleep or wake up in the pre-dawn darkness, just keep in mind that you might not have another shot at sleep until tomorrow. It might motivate you to turn over and try again.

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