The 3am Club - Are you part of it?

Hands up if you’re part of the 3am club! I know how it feels, and it’s not fun. Your mind goes a 100km/hour rushing from thought to thought, ruminating, worrying, making plans, thinking that you should go back to sleep because in a few hours your day begins and you’ll be so tired that you won’t be able to pass midday without a few coffees... What if I told you there’s an explanation for it, which also means there’s a possible workaround?
June 14, 2021

I know how it feels, and it’s not fun. Your mind goes a 100km/hour rushing from thought to thought, ruminating, worrying, making plans, thinking that you should go back to sleep because in a few hours your day begins and you’ll be so tired that you won’t be able to pass midday without a few coffees...

What if I told you there’s an explanation for it, which also means there’s a possible workaround?

It starts with understanding the circadian rhythm, our internal clock that operates on a nearly 24hour cycle and uses available natural light to coordinate all of its systems.

Ayurveda understands the day as 2 cycles of 3 phases each, which correlate to one of the doshas. Doshas being bioenergies made up of a combination of two of the 5 Great Elements - Space-Air-Fire-Water-Earth, and carrying their corresponding qualities. 

From an Ayurvedic perspective, the doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha predominate at different times of life, different seasons and different times of the day.

Ayurveda Clock
Ayurvedic clock

These times vary slightly depending on location, time of year and when the sunrises and sets. However, this is a good general guide.

The period between 2am and 6am is the VATA time of the night.

Vata governs body movement, flexibility, mental activities, etc and is the combination of the elements of Space and Air. As such, it has the qualities of movement, agility, change, lightness, cold, etc.

When you wake up at this time, you are experiencing these qualities in your body and mind, hence your raging thoughts. 

Let me bring the point even closer home by sharing another example.

Has it ever happened to you that you might wake up naturally around 6am feeling energised but if you go back to sleep until 8 am you wake up feeling groggy? Or have you heard about the 5am club? It’s all for the same reason...

Is the quality of your sleep compromised if you eat a heavy meal at dinner, watch the news or have an agitated discussion before bed? I’m guessing it is. 

Then, it stands to reason that it all starts with what you do the day before: at what time you get up, when you have your bigger meal and your last one, at what time you go to bed and what you do before that has an impact on your quality of sleep.

So, the good news is that the solution might just mean you need a few changes in your daily routine.

Though we sometimes forget it, we are of nature, and we should try to align our schedules to what our body is naturally equipped to do throughout the day and night. 

An ideal routine according to our circadian rhythm would look something like this: 

  • 2-6am: Rise before 6am to cash in the energising energy of Vata.
  • 6-10am: Ease into the day with some light meal and exercise.
  • 10am - 2pm: The most productive time of the day. Eat your main meal at midday when the digestive fire of Pitta is most active. 
  • 2-6pm: Creative time to tackle problems and make plans.
  • 6-10pm: light, easy to digest supper eaten before 8 to wind down. In bed by 10pm.
  • 10pm - 2am: Time to sleep, rest and rejuvenate, processing foods and thoughts of the day.

Not even close? Do not panic - we’re going for realistic, not ideal.

I know this might look quite far from your current bedtime routine so I’d like to introduce the concept of atomic habits: small, daily, achievable and consistent changes that lead to great results over time.

If you want to have a restful night, try implementing these sleep hygiene practices gradually. 

  • Try a step-down approach: Start weaning off late nights one step at a time. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier every night for a week, and then repeat the same the weeks that follow until you reach the goal: to be in bed by 10pm. For example, if your current bedtime is midnight, go to bed at 11:45 pm for a week. The week after, go to bed at 11:30 every night for the next week and so on.
  • Unplug: One hour before you want to be asleep, turn off electronics: phone, TV, tablet and computers. Avoid watching the news and stimulating content. The blue light hinders melatonin production and the content stimulates the brain making it feel more alert. Choose what works for you whether that’s having a warm bath, meditating, reading or listening to soothing music.
  • Massage your feet with some almond oil or cold-pressed sesame oil. This will relax you and prepare you for a sound sleep.
  • Try a cup of Golden Milk which is not only soothing but has many health benefits as well.

These should all promote a sound sleep throughout the night.  

If you do wake up...

Ayurveda Clock
Try to resist picking up your phone to scroll through social media. 

Try to resist picking up your phone to scroll through social media. 

Avoid watching the clock as well, as soon as you do, you might start worrying about having to get up in another three hours - anxiety kicks in and prevents you from being able to fall asleep.

Instead, try practicing a 4,7,8 breathing technique (pranayama) that is very relaxing - it’s very simple and once you learn it, there’s no need to grab your phone.

If you can’t get back to sleep, maybe even try getting up and enjoying the quietness and energy of the early morning hours. It’s actually a great time to meditate, journal or engage in light exercise. You might actually realise how much you like it!

If this resonates with you, I’d encourage you to try adjusting your schedule one step at a time and I’d love to hear how it went.

If it doesn’t, please look around - we all have a friend who can use this advice. 

Please share this article so we can make this world a more rested one, one sleep at a time.

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