Do you wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, even though you went to bed at a reasonable time? Then you find yourself mentally calculating how many hours you’ve had, telling yourself tonight will be an earlier night.
Waking up feeling tired before the day’s even started has to be one of the most frustrating things. Motivation isn’t there to get things done, the urge for sugar and carbs is high, and you feel like you’re in go-slow mode. No one sees the best of us on those days. But what if it’s beginning to feel like that every day? Is there another way to stop feeling so knackered, without having to go to bed circa 9pm every night?
First of all, it’s not about the hours. Whether you’re someone who needs eight hours plus, or can get by on six, how you feel in the morning is less about the quantity, and much more about the type of sleep you’re getting.
The role of dreaming
More specifically, it’s about how much you dream at night.
The psychologist Joe Griffin has done some groundbreaking research when it comes to explaining why it is that we dream at night. His findings are that the function of dreaming is to flush out any unresolved concerns and worries from the day that are still taking up headspace by the time we go to bed.
This is a good thing. And it also explains why on those evenings when we go to bed with something unresolved in our minds, we can wake up the next morning feeling such clarity about what it is we need to do. Our brains have been busy working through the night on our behalf.
In other words, each and every morning, our brains present us with a fresh clean slate, ready to accept all and any new worries, concerns, and challenges of the day.
But too much of a good thing is not necessarily always good. Dreaming in itself is very, very active work for the brain. Which is why in an ideal world, we only dream for around 25% of the night, and the rest of the time we move into slow, recuperative sleep – the kind that repairs cells, muscle tissue, and strengthens our immune system. If dream sleep is our software update, slow wave sleep is when we are in hardware maintenance mode.
But let’s go back to the function of dreaming: to flush out all and any outstanding worries, concerns, decisions, conflicts, and unfulfilled expectations from the day. Which means, the more we let those issues build up, without attempting to consciously resolve them, the more dreaming our brain has to do at night, subconsciously. Which also explains why we sometimes wake up ridiculously early with a head full of anxious thoughts. The brain has been kept busy doing so much dreaming, the battery is literally flat! And so it does the next best thing which is to wake us up, so it can stop feeling like an overworked, underpaid employee being taken for granted.
So dreaming is good for us, but only in small doses.
The function of dreaming is a wonderful thing. It preserves our mental health and stops us from living out a real-life Groundhog Day. But it can only take us so far. From the moment we wake up, right up until we go to bed, we have a choice.
Stop pressing the snooze button on your worries
What might you be putting off day after day? Who or what could you be tolerating right now instead of being brave and facing it? What worries’ do you keep pushing away, instead of sitting down and putting together an action plan? We can choose whether to continue pressing the snooze button on those mental issues of the moment, or we can start taking regular and consistent action towards finding practical and helpful solutions.
If that feels overwhelming, and you don’t know where to begin, start here:
Before you go to bed tonight, take out a notebook and write down the following questions:
- What is the one thing I am worrying about most right now?
- What are my options for dealing with this?
- Out of all the options, what would be the first step?
- When will I get that done?
That’s it. You don’t have to have ticked off every single problem, concern, or worry – just a plan in place for the most pressing issues, will be enough to signal to the brain that it doesn’t need to dream about that one.
When we take the time to spend a few minutes most days, doing a bit of solution-focused problem solving, we are richly rewarded with a deep, restful nights’ sleep, waking up feeling ready for anything.
Not to mention a much smaller To Do list.
Sarah Swanton is the Founder of Happy Healthy Entrepreneur, which is all about helping business owners and entrepreneurs successfully navigate their way through the ‘inner journey’ of being self-employed, so they can do their best work with clients, and build a business that supports them, not exhausts them! Click here to get access to your free Mindset Toolkit for Entrepreneurs which includes the self hypnosis audio ‘Switch Off & Relax’ as well as a copy of the Burnout Antidote Framework