Wednesday 12 December 2018

I’ve joined a new club. I don’t know any other members or its purpose but we have one thing in common — we wake up at 4am

Bairbre Power
Bairbre Power
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

I spent last Sunday afternoon snoozing and basking in the unseasonably warm sunlight belting in through the window. At first I thought the dog would be unimpressed at me invading her favourite perch on the leather couch but she was welcoming, licked my nose and tapped closed the cover of my book so I'd give her a head massage.

Clever canine, Romy made the most of our chilled down, Sabbath day of rest and moved steadily along the couch until the southerly slants of sunshine disappeared into the west. This four-legged lady knows how to get the best sleep and, recently, I've been listening to the rhythm of her steady breathing, and her occasional snores, as I lie there at 4am, wide awake, waiting to go back asleep.

Like my teething granddaughter, I've started waking up in the middle of the night but I've no one to throw me over their shoulder, pat my back and sing me back to sleep. She likes rap, I'm more of a Country Rock kinda gal. Where has this new nocturnal disruption come from? Last time this happened, I had jet lag at New York Fashion Week in September. This time I'm working hard to stop it in its tracks. I've banned the phone beside the bed, have my last cup of coffee or tea before 4pm and I've stepped away from refined sugars. Naturally I Googled it and found that this well-documented phenomenon of 'sleep maintenance insomnia' is commonly experienced during periods of stress and depression, when you're "feeling a bit low or something is preying on our minds".

Sprawled out on the couch last Sunday, I considered the facts. Could I be depressed? I really don't think so. I'm very fortunate that my life is full of blessings, family and friends. There's much to look forward to and my health is good, apart from the annoying twinge in my left knee, but you wouldn't have guessed the way Strictly Come Dancing star Brendan Cole threw me up in the air recently... I'm still dining out on that dance interlude!

So it's a No to depression but what about stress? Stress gets roped in for everything, from the first blob of psoriasis appearing in winter to signs of irritability. Anyone who knows me well knows I love my work and I'm fortunate indeed that my brief is both challenging and rewarding. No two days are ever the same but my work does not stress me and if I suspect it might be heading that way, I react quickly by making lists and planning out months ahead.

Mmm, so what about anxiety? Could that be the cause of this recent development of waking up at 4am? Consulting the Chinese Medicine 'Meridian Clock' used in kinesiology, I discovered the 4am period is linked to lungs. Maybe it's a clue that I should do that Transformational Breath workshop! I've only taken two sleeping tablets in my life but I thought it best to navigate a stormy period in my personal life with a cool head rather than crash through it groggy on medication.

In my cool bedroom (a temperature of 60-66 degrees is recommended for people suffering from this kind of wakefulness), I contemplated the anxiety attached to the next stage of my midlife adventures: downsizing.

What seemed at first to be a straight forward matter is far more complex than just painting a room in shades of dark grey, pulling the large garden into shape and putting up swish hanging baskets - green and white planting are best apparently - outside the front door in Terenure.

My solicitor wisely pointed out not to sell until I knew where I was going and the more newspaper stories I read only reinforces the concerns building up inside me about stepping away from something secure - if a tad too big - into the unknown where, in the current property shortage, anything could happen.

Yes, leaping into the unknown can wake you up with a jolt. For someone who always dropped off to sleep with great ease and has no problem sleeping on long or short flights, I'm currently in a biphasic sleep pattern. You sleep for around four hours, wake up and then go back to sleep again. I was intrigued to discover that in London and Paris in the 18th and 19th centuries, shops and tea-houses would open for business for a couple of hours during the night. People would dress, go out for a walk and to meet others, then go back to bed.

I've taken a decision not to get up at 4am though some recommend you should if you are awake for more than 30 minutes. Heck, there are some who recommend being extra productive and getting up at 4am so you can tackle personal tasks before sunrise and find focus before distractions begin.

That's a 'No' from me. I like eight or nine hours of sleep each night and if this current disturbance means going to bed earlier, show me the PJs. The night cap is gone because while alcohol acts as a sedative, it can be a sleep disrupter too. Friends suggested reading in the dark with a blue light blocker on, but I passed on that idea. I've banned the smartphone and electronics from the bedroom. They now recharge on the landing so there's no reading of emails or scrolling through Instagram in bed.

Rather than let next day insecurities run loose at 4am, I'm all about getting ready the night before, right down to clothes and packing my bag like a schoolchild, leaving it at the door. I plan to try the meditations recommended in Arianna Huffington's book The Sleep Revolution. Former Editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, Arianna wrote her bestseller after breaking her cheekbone when she passed out from sleep deprivation. It was the wake -up call (sorry, bad pun) and she recommends we look beyond the tools and techniques like lavender pouches, blackout shades and space-age mattresses.

Ariana says: "At the end of the day, literally, being able to do something as natural as going to sleep shouldn't require chronically medicating ourselves or putting ourselves on a nightly war footing against all the screens, foods and activities that stand between us and a good night's sleep. Rather, it starts with something as simple as it is profound: asking ourselves what kind of life we want to lead, what we value, what gives our lives meaning."

Tonight, I'm sleeping on all of that. Through the night I hope.

Irish Independent

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