When you lie awake, in the middle of the night, it is likely that wherever your mind wanders, it won’t exactly be pleasant. In fact, the moments that you’re awake when you should be sleeping can be desperation-filled and feel never-ending. The minutes feel like hours, kind of like being lost on a road trip. It starts out relaxing and ends up with unexpected twists and turns, leading you down an unknown road. During sleepless nights, all you can think about is the long day ahead of you and how much you need these precious hours of rest.
Any time you attempt to will your mind to stay away from difficult thoughts, the thoughts can become even more intrusive and overwhelming. Whether it’s disturbing images and feelings you would prefer to push aside or flashbacks of old hurts, perceived rejections, missed opportunities, traumatic memories, embarrassing moments, angry feelings, or general sadness. Each time you try to fall back to sleep, you find that your mind lands on another worry or hurt. You are hopeful that you will finally arrive at your destination, a good night’s sleep, only to find that you don’t even feel tired anymore, at least not physically tired, as your thoughts are creating adrenaline, keeping you in a seemingly endless wakeful state.
The Unconscious is Up All Night
There is a part of ourselves (our own mind) that can be unknown to us and can induce fear. It is commonplace to be scared of experiences outside ourselves, the tricky part is that we tend to fear our own thoughts. Ideas and events that haven’t occurred yet, may never occur can cause us significant fear stemming from our unconscious mind. To imagine that our mind could be a source of fear or terror can feel foreign or not possible and yet 80 percent of our mind is responsible for these unconscious processes.
A restless night’s sleep can be a signal or a warning, letting us know that something is unsettling us. We are most vulnerable to our unconscious mind in the middle of the night, when everything is quiet and we are alone with ourselves. Ruminations that wake us up in the night are like a boulder in the street. These unpleasant and untimely thoughts can warn or signal us that something needs attention. Oftentimes we are not aware of our upset feelings during the day due to distractions, our fast- paced life, and our focus and attention being placed on other people or events. Although it seems scary to embrace these ruminations when they come to us at night, we can learn something from our unconscious, or our “inner GPS.”
Just like getting lost even when you have a map, navigating interrupting thoughts in sleep is similar. We find ourselves scared, driving in unchartered territory, and not knowing how to get to our destination or the sleep that we so desperately desire.
Embracing the Thoughts
It is far more effective to focus on accepting the thoughts and feelings that come to us at night rather than trying to fight to achieve restful sleep. When you embrace these thoughts and feelings you are utilizing less mental energy, less strain, and thus you are accessing a more relaxed state. Oftentimes, we feel that by thinking about something, we have control over the feared event in some way. We play this event or issue over and over in our mind with the hope that we will anticipate every possible outcome to prepare and protect ourselves. This is the deception tied to these nighttime ruminations because the reality is, that there is no peace of mind until we surrender. We accept that the thoughts, are merely thoughts, and then we can allow the thoughts to pass.
Imagine the next time you are sleepless and worried, that you could observe your thoughts like stop signs on the road. You notice, you stop for three seconds and then you go on. This way you can allow yourself to put aside the fear until the morning, knowing that these thoughts are just information, that can be examined once you are rested. Enjoy the nuances of your mind and instead of being stressed by the detours your mind takes, imagine there will be an end to this road trip.