I woke up at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom. (Hey, I’m a guy in his late 50s. It happens.) When I came back to bed I knew the next few moments would be the acid test — either I would promptly drift back into blissful sleep, or I’d start thinking about something and deal with an unwanted period of tossing and turning.
Unfortunately, it was the latter. For me, the wakefulness always seems to start with a single concrete thought — whether it be about work, or a family issue, or something else — that acts to drive away the possibility of sleep. Just as I feel as if I am on the edge of slumber, another point will arise, and suddenly I’m getting up because I remember something and need to leave myself a reminder for when I will get up for good.
The experts will tell you that sleep occurs when the conscious mind goes dormant and the unconscious mind takes over. But how do you encourage that hard-working conscious mind that you needed to help you stumble to the bathroom in the dark to let go, already?
This morning, I really felt the battle between the two parts of the brain, with the conscious mind and its structured ideas trying to remain in control and the subconscious mind always lurking beneath, ready to pounce as soon as the conscious mind lets its guard down. It’s an interesting, if frustrating, phenomenon, and when it happens I try to slow my breathing, gradually clear my mind of everything, and let those dreamlike notions that are cavorting out on the periphery to come on down to center stage. Sometimes, if the conscious mind is really persistent, I’ll try to think of some obviously surreal situation that is like a dream. If it works, as it did this time, the effect is instantaneous, and the next thing I know it’s 5:30 and time to begin the morning.
I’d prefer to sleep like a log every night, but I’m convinced that it’s just not possible for people with busy lives. When those wakeful nights hit, you have to have a technique for dealing with it and letting you get back to the shuteye that we all need.