Do you toss and turn all night only to finally fall asleep at the most inconvenient time: when the birds start chirping and the sun rises? If so, know that you are not alone. This phenomenon is called surrender sleep. Let’s take a look at why it happens and how you get to a place where sleep happens much earlier and without struggle.
To understand surrender sleep, we need to quickly review how sleep is regulated. There’s a gas pedal in our sleep system called sleep drive. Sleep drive is how much our body needs to sleep at any given time and increases with wakefulness. The longer you’ve been awake, the stronger your sleep drive. But we also have a brake pedal in the sleep system called hyperarousal. This is a heightened state of alertness from anxiety or excitement or frustration (or any other strong emotion). The brake pedal is there to make sure we don’t sleep when it’s unsafe to do so. Finally we have the circadian drive. This is a counterweight to sleep drive. Starting in the morning, the body produces alerting hormones that keep us functioning even as our sleep drive increases. This is why you can function well even at 10 pm after many hours of wakefulness.
So, why is it that you sleep the best at 5 am? Here are our three reasons.
1. Sleep drive is stronger.You’ve been awake for a longer period of time at 5 am compared to 11 pm. A stronger sleep drive means the likelihood of you falling asleep is higher.
2. Circadian alerting signals are absent at 5 am.At this time, the body sees no reason to keep you alert and functioning and therefore produces little alerting hormones.
Before we go over number three, know that this is the big one. Here’s the thing, insomnia is driven by anxiety and your behavior of chasing sleep, trying to get more by any means. And even with a strong sleep drive, like at 5 am, sleep doesn’t happen if you’re trying really hard to get sleep. Similarly, if that brake in the sleep system is pressed down, it doesn’t matter if circadian alerting signals are absent, sleep still won’t happen.
So what’s number three then? Here it comes!
3. You’ve given up on sleep.When you went to bed at 11 pm, you were aiming for 8 hours. At 1 am you start to feel desperate, but if you manage to sleep no you’ll still get 6 hours. At 4 am, you’re praying for at least a wink. All this trying, all this struggling and all this effort makes it impossible for sleep to happen. Finally at 5 am you give up. You no longer care if you sleep or not. And the moment you do, the foot is off the brake pedal. You are no longer trying to achieve sleep, your efforts have evaporated, and sleep comes to you easily.
As you may have guessed, we say surrender sleep because those zzzs come to you when you’re no longer trying to get them, when you have surrendered.
Here’s the thing, you don’t have to wait until 5 am to surrender! You can go to bed in the evening without any goal or intention, you can give up right from the start.
When you do, that sound of chirping birds and the sight of the rising sun will signal something very different to you. Not that it’s the time you finally sleep, but that it’s time to wake up and start your day.
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