Jun 062011

I woke up just past four o’clock this morning. It was unintentional. One moment I was sound asleep and the next moment I was wide awake. Not that ‘I just woke up’ sort of awake but the ‘I’ve been up for hours’ kind of awake. It’s annoying when this happens.

All my life I’ve been a sound sleeper. One night, when I was about twelve and living on Staten Island, we were hit with a nasty hurricane. The winds were fierce and powerful enough to uproot a sixty year old sycamore tree in my across-the-street-neighbor’s yard. It fell toward my house, blocking  the street, pinning another neighbor’s car and the top of the tree landed on the porch roof right outside my bedroom window. I slept through the whole thing.

When I do sleep now I still sleep pretty soundly but over the last five or so years I’ve been waking up for no good reason in the middle of the night. It was unnerving at first. So much so I asked my doctor about it. He said it was hormones. (As an aside to all the doctors out there, when you tell a woman that her problems are because of her hormones back it up with something concrete. Men have been dismissing women’s feelings and ideas for years by chalking it up to female hormones and it’s downright disrespectful and irritating. You may be 100% correct that her issue is hormone related but without some serious backup you will piss off your patient and lose some credibility. Guess how I know.) After storming out of his office and discussing this with some friends my own age I have learned that I’m not alone in this. Not only that, it’s not anything to worry about. My favorite explanation was from Joanna who said that we wake that early because the dawn has secrets to share with us. I like that.

Being who I am, I did some research. For most of human history nighttime was dark. People didn’t stay up watching TV or reading by artificial light. Shortly after the sun set people went to sleep and they also generally woke up with the dawn. Many of them didn’t sleep straight through. They would experience an hour or so of wakefulness about four hours after they went to sleep. Sleep studies and sleep historians seem to agree that getting up for an hour or so in the middle of the night is perfectly normal. It is called a biphasic sleep pattern. Pre-industrial people used to refer to it as early sleep and late sleep. I like that, too.

Reading all this research was really quite relieving for me. I prefer to sleep soundly for the whole night and am still a little annoyed when I get up four hours after I fall to sleep but at least now I’m not worried about it. After I got over my irritation with my doctor I started to make note of when I woke like this. (He could be right. It has happened on occasion)  I’ve tracked it for ages now and I can’t find a pattern. If in fact it’s tied to my hormones I’d think it would coincide with other things on the calendar. It doesn’t. It may be because I’m in my forties or it may be something else entirely. I’ve decided not to stress about it and just accept that this is how things are now.

 So, when I woke at four in the morning and it was just me and the birds, I decided to do the Morning Pages exercise. It’s a wonderful use of the time and Joanna was right. About halfway through the Dawn revealed her secrets.

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