What if I told you that you can’t sleep well at night because you don’t really want to? This may sound a bit far fetched but consider the following.
Sleeping is a vulnerable action when it comes to survival. Yes, most of the world, probably including you, are safe from a wild animal attacking you while you sleep.
But we are wired for survival and whatever may trigger your nervous system to be on the lookout, will consequently often keep you up at night.
The wound up nervous system may cause you to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up way too early in the morning.
“I want to sleep well, why can’t I?”
If you are here reading this, you’ve probably tried a thing or two to lure yourself into good sleep. Yet, good sleep may still be elusive.
If you are still not sleeping well, we can safely assume that your body has a good reason why it’s choosing not to sleep longer or deeper.
The trick is finding out what the reason is and how to fulfill what your body needs so you can let go and relax into sleep, night after night.
Let’s look at several examples next, to show why your body chooses — very smartly — to stay up instead of sleeping deeply.
“I get wired and tired in the evening and I can’t fall asleep.“
Many of my patients experience being tired most of the day, more tired in the evening. Yet, as the bedtime approaches, they just can’t sleep. Some of them talk about feeling energy rushing through their bodies, or a humming, buzzing sensation. Other clients close their eyes and feel like a light has been lit up in their forehead. Then the anxiety starts building up and you can forget sleeping…
Why could this be happening? You tell yourself, “I am so tired, I’ve been tired all day, can’t wait to go to sleep.” Yet, there you are, awake and anxious, and unable to fall asleep.
The root cause of poor sleep can vary from intense, chronic emotional stress, to overwork, to an accident, surgery or a divorce. In essence, what happens is that the stress hormone cortisol rises in the evening, instead of naturally decreasing.
Cortisol and sleep patterns
The healthy cortisol trend throughout 24 hours is a pattern of higher levels in the morning, to give you great energy; then, levels lower at night, so you can peacefully go to sleep. When your nervous system has been stressed for a while, the cortisol tends to be higher all day, to help you stay alert and deal with the “danger” at hand.
After awhile, the smart body recognizes that higher levels of cortisol over the longterm is damaging to the entire body. But the so called danger may still be an issue. So how to deal with this problem? The body decides to keep the levels lower throughout the day, to slow you down and hopefully get help or other resources to deal with the stressor. When it’s time to sleep, since that is not super safe, it’ll give you a bump in cortisol, to keep you up.
Do you see how you are in essence being protected? It may not feel good to you, consciously. But until you resolve the underlying issues and let your entire being know that it is indeed safe to sleep, this is what can happen.
For more on this, here is an article I wrote called High Cortisol Symptoms & How To Regulate Your Cortisol Levels
“I wake up in the middle of the night and it can take me hours to go back to sleep.“
Let’s consider another common scenario I see with some of my patients. Perhaps you fall asleep fairly easily in the evening, but then after a couple of hours of sleep, you are wide awake. It may take you half an hour to go back to sleep, or it may take you hours. Either way, you feel tired and can’t figure out why exactly you can’t sleep, in spite of good sleep hygiene rules.
There are a few different reasons why people wake up in the middle of the night, such as hormonal changes, digestive troubles, or blood sugar issues.
In all these scenarios, your body has a reasonable motivation to keep you up. It is always to serve you in some way or keep you safe. It may not feel like that to you, especially because sleep deprivation in itself can be the stressor that makes all of these symptoms worse.
Blood sugar and sleep issues
Let’s look at how unstable and unbalanced blood sugar levels at night can cause you to wake up, feeling wide awake and wondering why you can’t sleep well.
Our brain requires stable blood sugar levels, otherwise the body’s alarm system will ring and wake you up. If the blood sugar levels drop low, eating or drinking something that has sugar in it will stabilize your blood sugar immediately. However, most people only sometimes wake up feeling hungry and reaching out for a drink or food.
What often happens instead is that cortisol is summoned to raise the blood sugar. Yes, cortisol, among its other functions, helps regulate your blood sugar. When the blood sugar levels are too low, the raised cortisol levels do two things: it makes more sugar available for the brain, and second, it wakes up in the process.
The cortisol surge will wake you up because that is its nature, to give you energy and focus. In this case, if you are having even remotely dangerous low levels, you can see why the body smartly chooses to wake you up. It serves a wonderful double function, all in the name of your safety and survival.
Meanwhile here you are… your blood sugar levels are temporarily restored, but you are wide awake and probably have no idea why.
Here is an article where I dwell deeper into the blood sugar issue and your sleep: The Connection Between Your Blood Sugar and Your Sleep Issues
I wake up too early and can’t go back to sleep
A lot of the people I talk to wake up around 3am or 4am and can’t go back to sleep. It’s very frustrating, because they are still tired, yet they can’t get restful sleep from there on.
There are several reasons why you wake up too early, again, in an attempt to keep you safe. Among these reasons I often see issues with oxygen saturation (sleep apnea), chronic toxicity and infections (low grade levels, so most people unaware of them) and chronic ongoing mental and emotional stress.
When the sleep apnea wakes you up
This is an obvious one for most people – if your oxygen saturation levels are dropping down at night, you can see why your body smartly pulls you out of sleep, so you can breathe again.
Some people play this “game” all night long. They go to sleep, briefly wake up, and go back to sleep – and may not even be aware of it. It typically gets worse in the morning. One of the reasons is that the hormone cortisol we mentioned so far, gets higher and higher in an attempt to keep you up because sleeping doesn’t keep your oxygen saturation levels normal.
Many of the people I work with may not have obvious reasons to believe they may suffer from sleep apnea. Yet, often that is the case and it is important to be addressed in order to sleep well again.
When chronic “stress” wakes you up too early
Our bodies need about 5 hours to “survive” short term. To thrive and survive over longterm, we need more than 5 hours. So if you are struggling with mental, emotional, or spiritual stress, waking up after the necessary 5 hours of sleep, is common.
Your entire being says, “wake up”, you’ve got enough sleep to survive for now, let’s deal with what bothers you.
This may be matters that stress you in your daily life, it could be emotional matters that feel too difficult to address, or it could be existential questions that you may barely be aware of in the conscious awareness.
So, again, the helpful question when you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, is to say, “I am awake because at some level I choose too, so why am I awake?”
Be open and curious, and ask these questions as many times as it’s needed – until you sleep well again.
You can sleep well again
When you ask the question, “Why do I choose to be awake?” with curiosity, the answer may come to you in various ways. It could be something obvious that you can do or change immediately: it may be a neighbor mentioning a solution or a practitioner, it could be something like reaching out for help from someone who has been on your mind for a while but just didn’t take action.
I am here and can help as well. Simply click here to schedule a free consultation or an initial session (in person or TELEMEDICINE). It is possible to sleep well, deeply and peacefully, even if you’ve had sleep issues for awhile and they’ve been stubborn to heal.