Charlotte Phillips

The 4:00am Fret – by Charlotte Phillips

I wake up virtually every morning at 4:00am, hours before I need to start my day, and I lie in my bed and fret. Some part of my brain, perhaps the anxiety cortex, if there is such a thing, fires on all cylinders and torments me for about an hour. I wrestle with the covers and the idea of simply giving in and getting up, but for some reason, I resist. It’s a standoff with my psyche.

It turns out many people on the planet are also awake at the same time under that same big sky. I know because I’ve mentioned this troubling thing to more than a few friends and acquaintances and also, I’ve Googled it. In the dark. On my iPhone. I’m somewhat reassured that I’m not alone in The 4:00am Fret.

For some it may be The 3:00am Monkey Mind or The 2:00am Torment, but generally speaking it’s somewhere halfway between bedtime and daytime, and it usually happens in the same way. Eyes pop open, thoughts pour into a black hole of brain matter, and one worry hangs off another like a barrel of monkeys. “What if this bump on my face is more than just a bump?” “Why did I snap at my kid?” “What will a Trump Administration do to my Investments?” “What’s that noise?” “Is that an earthquake?” “Am I going to die alone?”

That last one exemplifies the bizarre escalation that takes place in the tumbling turmoil of my thoughts. The thoughts get louder and louder and I worry not only about the impractical scenarios, but also about my mental health for thinking such things. I usually turn on the light, jot down some notes on my bedside table, drink a bit of water, adjust my earplugs, fluff my pillows, vow to buy better pillows in the morning, and try to push the negativity out of my mind.  About a split second later, my alarm goes off like a pitchfork to my chest and I am jarred awake from a primordial level sleep that lasted approximately ½ an hour. The deepest sleep I’ve ever known is that wicked nap I seem to tuck in during the last minutes before it’s time to get up.

Speaking of black holes, I recently met a quantum physicist at a social gathering – like that’s common – who was also a doctor and a practicing clinical counsellor. It was like hitting the jackpot of cocktail chat. Between sips of wine and bits of cheese, I picked her brain, because it was obviously ripe for that activity, and I asked her if she had any insight into this phenomenon of people (mostly women) waking in the middle of the night and ruminating about every crap thing in their life. I was sure that “crap thing” was not a clinical term but she humoured me anyway.

She mentioned something that I am having trouble remembering now, but I think it went like this: there are as many different reasons for sleep disruption as there are disrupted sleepers. There can be a combination of triggers for waking and fitful sleep; too much alcohol, blood sugar fluctuations, depression, sleep apnea, age-related hormone fluctuations, etc. Sleep disruption can be caused by medical, biological and/or psychological factors. Sleep environment issues such as too much light, not enough air, too hot, too cold, too loud, and even two people in the same bed, can all contribute to a wakeful night. You could count different reasons for sleep deprivation like counting sheep. Maybe this would help.

But why do we get the Monkey Mind? It’s a cart and horse thing. Stress and anxiety in our daily lives causes our adrenal glands to secrete the hormone cortisol. Cortisol regulates our alertness. It is lowest at night so we sleep and highest in the day to keep us awake and glued to our electronic devises.  Too much cortisol depletes our blood sugar and that causes all kinds of problems. Nightmares being one of them.

I guess if you cut out – or at least cut down on alcohol, eat balanced meals, exercise, create a perfect sleep environment, resist aging, turn off the world and shut out the political noise, you may sleep longer and more soundly.

Too much information in the 21st Century may also be a culprit. Information we don’t really want or need in that 24-hour news cycle, may be contributing to our worldwide anxiety. A global glut of cortisol is causing humanity to lose its mind. This is where the Quantum Physics comes into play.

With apologies to Mr. Hawking, every particle on this planet has energy. All this energy flows in and out of the collective lungs of mother earth in a mob-mentality fashion, thrusting all living beings into a common trajectory through space and time. This energy can be negative or positive. To chunk it down a bit: if humans begin to believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and nothing but darkness lies in front of us, we will fulfill that prophecy in a subconscious way. The stock market is a prime example of this. If we collectively believe in the goodness of mankind and project positive energy and work toward a bright future together – a ball of light set in motion will remain in motion and lead to a life on earth that is bright and good! Google Quantum Physics in Psychotherapy and you’ll find a fascinating tome of information that will put you to sleep. In a good way!

Anyway, the bottom line is, if we can all just get some better sleep and tone down the anxiety in this world, perhaps we can save our species. Remember, No news is good news.

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  • Reply tangotv April 6, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Great read, Charlotte. You’re a good writer, a really good writer.

  • Reply Jane Rowland April 6, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    I wish I had read your piece first before I read online that the next world pandemic will wipe out millions of people. Oh dear, another fitful night…….

  • Reply Linda April 6, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    Cracked it Charlotte!

    Last night was only the second time in over twenty years I woke, but didn’t stay awake for hours. This needs investigating I thought, throwing back the covers and heading for daylight shower thoughts.

    OK Sherlock, why? Answer…..because I went ‘out of myself’. Before you think I’m crackers, please give me a minute to try and explain. I’ve consciously done it before, twice. Both in a live or die situation. First time mum. Second time me. On both occasions I knew there was nothing I could do to help either mum or me. What was going to happen on that operating table was going to happen. It calmed me.

    That basically is the bottom line. When there is nothing more you can do yourself to resolve the problems, stop the ticking clock of your brain. Switch off, both the light and your mind. Nothing, ever, got resolved at 3.00 am, nothing.

    Can I do it tonight? Dunno. But what I do know is the day is lighter, brighter and the colours are sharper. Got to be worth a try!

    Ciao, Linda

  • Reply Jennifer Studer April 6, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Good writing Charlotte! I find it interesting when I wake up at 3.16 A.M. My mind immediately goes to the Bible verse John 3.16 which says” For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This comforts me and I nestle into my covers and go back to sleep. This is not always the case,mind you, but I am so glad when it does! Sleep well tonight my sister!

  • Reply Vicki April 6, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    Great essay!!

  • Reply Kathy April 8, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    I mean this in the kindest way…. talk to your doctor about this. You’ve outlined two major features of an anxiety disorder — early morning sleep disruption and catastrophizing. (yes, that is a word!). very common.very treatable….no need to suffer if that is what is going on

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