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  • Annika Brindley

Insomnia & Waking in the Early Morning Hours



If you struggle with insomnia, you are probably well aware of the angst that the early morning hours can bring.


The hours between four o'clock to five-thirty in the morning can feel like a sleep disaster zone when it comes to wanting to go back to sleep after waking. Waking at this time is considered an "early morning waking." It can feel disheartening to wake up, look at your clock and see a bright 4:00 am staring back at you. Falling back to sleep at the time can feel like a real challenge.

Having a waking during nighttime sleep is a regular and everyday occurrence. Your brain's job is to wake you up, so you can scan your environment and make sure everything around you is the same. You wake and use your five senses to evaluate your environment.


If your environment is the same as when you went to sleep, your brain decides you can relax and go back to sleep; if the environment you fell asleep in has changed, you will wake up more to investigate the change and see why the change happened.


Night wakings are designed for humans to stay safe. Wakings keep humans alive so they can assess dangerous situations and survive as a species. How you view these wakings is imperative. It's very important to become aware of your sleep mindset. Are you convinced you will never go back to sleep? Are you angry that you woke up? Do you feel something awful is happening to you to ruin your life?


Your night wakings are made for you and are not something that happens to you. The problem is that when you have insomnia, and you wake in the dreaded early morning hours, the last thing you are thinking is, "Oh cool, this is happening for me and not happening to me." However, shifting from a to mindset to a for mindset can be very helpful in ending your sleep issues.


For a moment, imagine that your sleeping at night looked like passing out cold without waking for ten hours. Humans would not be capable of attending to their babies, wild animals would eat them in the woods, and they would have no ability to assess danger and protect themselves.


If you struggle with insomnia, you may have grown to dread sleep because of your nightly wakings. It may be very challenging for you to go back to sleep. Remember, these nightly wakings are built-in to protect you; the wakings are, in fact, loving. Learning how to go back to sleep means practicing new thoughts and that begins with the new thought of not hating your wakings; they are on your side.


The first step is to decide to see your wakings in a new light. Make a conscious decision to re-think how you think of sleep. This action is about you taking control of your sleep issue instead of having your brain decide that it is time to be awake when you do not want to be awake. Feeling out of control can make you feel anxious and feeling anxious is a sleep killer.

Four o'clock in the morning is not the only time your brain decides that you need to wake up. You typically have at least five other wakings per nighttime sleep cycle. These wakings tend not to be as grand as in the "sleep disaster zone" of 4:00 am. Your beautifully intricate and protective brain wants you to wake up and register where you are in the world to care for yourself.

So why, if your wakings were so thoughtfully designed to protect you, is it so difficult to go back to sleep, and why do they feel so bad?


You are more awake during the sleep disaster zone than any other waking in the night. The more awake you are, the more susceptible you are to waking up even more, and then you may have difficulty going back to sleep. The more awake you are, the more aware you become of the world around you, and you open yourself up to let in a Tsunami of all your thoughts and emotions. In essence, your brain turns "on." You can quickly feel out of control with thoughts and feelings that won't stop.


An active brain and racing thoughts are not conducive to falling back to sleep because most thoughts are typically negative and not self-loving during a night waking. Ruminating negative thoughts can make falling back to sleep complicated. Self-loving thoughts promote sleep. Negative self-hating thoughts ruin sleep.


Most people have an early morning waking, get up and out of bed to go to the bathroom. They can't help themselves but glance at the clock to see what time it says. Humans are creatures of habit. They crawl back into bed, now fully aware of the current time, and that is when the thought madness ensues.


Thought bubbles begin to pop above your sleepy head; pop, pop, pop pop pop. When the thought bubbles start popping, your chances of sleep dwindle because now, you are very aware, awake, and your brain has fully turned on. You begin to overthink random thoughts and inevitably feel life stress. Your thinking can become anxious. Once a person realizes they are having trouble turning their brain off, fear can set in about not sleeping and what kind of day lies ahead while being exhausted.


Most who are suffering from insomnia dread the day. They survive their day instead of thriving in their day. Their eyes sting, they have difficulty concentrating and processing information, crash at 4:00 pm, eat sugar and drink coffee to give them a jolt of energy.

When I was struggling with my insomnia, I would put my head down on my desk to nap. My head felt like a 10-pound weight. I was miserable. All I thought about was how I was not going to sleep that night or feel the next day. I complained about not sleeping. Not sleeping is not just physically and emotionally painful; it is a lonely state. I could not get out of my sleep-deprived negativity loop. I got to the point where my stress level was so high, and my sleep was deeply compromised that everything began to feel a bit hopeless.


After four months of pushing through these long tiring days, I decided that I had had enough. I was a child sleep expert helping thousands of children sleep through the night. It was time to solve my adult sleep issue. I started to wonder, what if I stopped thinking what is happening to me is so bad and started thinking what is happening for me is for my greater good. I began to develop a sleep philosophy to help me sleep and help all adults sleep.


My greatest was my insight that my insomnia was not what was happening within me; it was what was not happening within me. My thoughts were negative. My thoughts when I went to sleep and woke up were a habit, a hangover from my past. My mindset was old and on replay and I needed to start anew. How could I or anyone go back to sleep with such a negative mindset? When I finally took a look, I learned that the most glaring part of my thoughts was how unloving they were and, therefore, unhelpful.


I became an observer of my thoughts, not a judger. When I woke at night, I listened carefully. What was the message? Could I listen without judging? Could I see my wakings in a new light? Could I shift my mindset so drastically that I could grow to love my wakings and not feel that I was failing at sleep? Yes. Changing how you think about sleep is the key.

Here are four key steps to practice at a 4:00 am. waking:

1. Do not call 4:00 am the disaster zone! I learned that the hard way. That is a negative thought. What else can you name this time that feels hard to sleep? I call it my "Me" time. I am pretty cool and I started the waking by giving myself a lovely greeting.

2.) Remove your clock from your room. If you need to wake up with an alarm, cover the clock's face with duct tape or something that is not easy to remove in the middle of the night. You do not need to know what time it is as it will trigger negative thinking.


3.) What was the first thought you remember as soon as you woke? Note if it was positive or negative. If it was a self-hating negative thought, immediately replace it with a kind thought.


4.) Ask yourself 'What would this moment feel like if I decided that everything was OK and how I wanted it to be?". Deciding the present moment is perfect just as it allows you to accept that you are awake and not fight it. The fight and the struggle keep you engaged with the very thing you want to let go of.


Learning to solve your insomnia is not just about beautiful pajamas, a bubble bath, and the perfect mattress. Those are all wonderful and significant steps to take to create a comfortable sleep space, but the space that needs the most love and attention is the inner space; your heart and your mind.


The next time you wake in the early morning hours, decide that it is a loving and wonderful zone and see what happens.