A repeated alarm clock showing five o'clock

My 5 AM Ritual

Lately, the only certainties in my life are death, taxes, and waking up at 5 AM for no good reason.  After several months of blissfully consistent sleep, my brain has decided I should wake up for an hour or so to think about my to-do list.  My alarm is typically set for 8 AM.  There are no screaming babies, blaring sirens, or barking dogs to wake me up before then.  Yet every morning for the past week, I wake up to see the familiar red digits on my clock – with too many awake choices from insomnia. 

Talk about a rude awakening.

So many awake choices

What am I supposed to do at 5 AM with insomnia with so many awake choices?  At that time of day, my house is quiet.  Everyone else in the house is still blissfully asleep.  I don’t want to do anything noisy that might wake them up.  So my choices are:

  • Stare at the ceiling.  Is that a bug?!
  • Count how many hours of sleep I’ll get if I fall back asleep RIGHT NOW.
  • Wonder how I’ll get everything done tomorrow if I’m exhausted.
  • Consider all the reasons that my brain is waking me up at 5 AM.  Do I have a brain tumor?  Will this keep going on forever?
  • Wonder what the long-term health consequences of sleep deprivation are.
  • Lay perfectly still and hope that I fall back asleep if I don’t move.
  • Get up and do something productive.

I’ve tried all of these at 1 point or another.  Unsurprisingly, most of the options just make me anxious and make it even harder to fall back asleep.  And although I’ve mastered the art of laying perfectly still, my brain hasn’t.  So I’ve changed the way I think about these 5 AM wakings.

Extra “me time”

I’ve accepted that, for reasons I may never understand, I’ve gotten into a habit of waking up too early.  I can’t control it or wish it away.  Instead of getting angry about it, I try to think about this as “me time.”

Everyone else is asleep.  No one needs anything from me.  This is my hour-ish to do something that I enjoy without worrying about anyone else.  When I am able to think about it from that perspective, my attitude immediately changes.  I shift from being annoyed or worried to feeling glad that I have some time to myself.

Shifting my focus

What to do with all this extra time?  Sometimes I turn on my phone’s blue light filter and play a game.  Other times I turn on the TV and watch that show that no one else in my house likes.  Most of the time, I pick up my book and enjoy reading in peace.  Amazingly, as soon as I give my brain something relaxing to focus on, it stops worrying about the next day.  I start yawning and feel my eyes getting heavy.  Rarely do I make it to the end of the game, episode, or book chapter before I doze off.

My knee-jerk reaction to waking up in the middle of the night will always be an annoyance.  There are few things I like more than sleep and I hate when it’s interrupted.  But I’ve learned that ruminating won’t make it any easier to fall back asleep.  By focusing on something enjoyable, I've stopped hating 5 AM and finally caught up on that show.

What are your "awake choices" from insomnia? What helps to shift your focus and find some "me time"? Please share a comment with the community.

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