Are you a 3 a.m. planner?

An alarm clock showing the time twenty to three with a background of the moon and stars.

We all know that worrying is bad for us. Plenty of people have told us so. I did a quick search and came up with these mic drop quotes:

‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.’ Corrie ten Boom

‘Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.’  Erma Bombeck.

‘A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.’ John Lubbock.

Jesus famously said, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’

I’ve always found Jesus’ injunction not to worry, and his reassurance that God knows what we need in terms of food and drink and so on to be immensely comforting. ‘Don’t worry,’ I tell myself. ‘You’ll be fine. It’s better not to worry.’

So when I found myself waking up at 2 a.m. and being unable get back to sleep night after night, I thought I wasn’t worrying. I knew that worrying would be wrong and unnecessary and I was sure I wouldn’t be so silly. 

No, what I was doing, for a couple of hours each night, was planning

Planning is different.

Planning is being a responsible adult and making sure things don’t fall off the radar. 

Planning is thinking through the day ahead and making sure you have figured out what you need so that you can remember when you wake up and can do something about it.

Are you a 2am ‘planner’? Or do you turn the light off and ‘plan’ in bed until you go to sleep?

I’ve got bad news for you. That is not planning. That is worrying.

 My psych gave me an activity to do, which I’m sure I’ve shared before. She said that each morning, before 8 a.m. if possible, I should set aside time to worry. Yes, planned worry time. 

In that time, I write down my worries. Everything that I can think of. I put them all down on paper. Then I take that paper and put it into a worry box. Safe. 

I am a Christian, so I call that box, ‘God’s In-box’. I give the worries to him. They are no longer mine, and I know that he can take care of them better than I can. But even if you don’t have that joy, I am sure that this exercise will be helpful to you anyway. Because I’ve had two major epiphanies from the process of using a worry box.

A few weeks after I started the exercise, I dove into the box and pulled out some worry lists from the early days. I looked at all the things I had been worried about. I thought through the situations and saw how few of them were worthy of worry. How often things just turned out all right. How few of my imagined disaster scenarios actually came to pass. 

The people I was worried about could look after themselves. They didn’t die, or lose their jobs, or fail their exams. And if they did have something go wrong for them, they usually dealt with it quite well.

The dinner guests came and we had great conversation and the food was delicious. And if there was a catering mishap, it was easily covered over.

The costs for the house maintenance were covered in good time and without us having to starve or go cold.

Things were just not as bad as I was prepared for them to be. I didn’t need to be quite so prepared and geared up for catastrophe as I thought I did. We were doing fine. I realised that I didn’t need to worry as much as I thought I did.

The second thing, and this led to the planning/worrying epiphany, was that when I tried to think back and remember what I had been worried about the night before, I realised that the things that seemed like real worries at 3 a.m. were ridiculous when I looked at them at 8 a.m. after I had drunk a cup of coffee.

I had wasted hours worrying about things that, once my brain was properly awake, I could see weren’t even plausible. 

The fact is that the middle of the night is just not a good time for rational thought and planning. Even if I was planning, I was planning irrationally. It was much more worthwhile to save that planning time until the morning when I could write lists, check my calendar, even make phone calls or send messages if that was what was necessary. 

I hadn’t been planning after all. I had been worrying.

Do you know which part of the brain works extra well at night? I haven’t read any scientific studies on this but I reckon it’s the imaginative side. The creative part. And you can use that imagination to plan disasters, envision major calendar clashes, and figure out scripts to arguments with your friends and loved ones (that scripting never works – the other party hasn’t read the script and they’ll get their part wrong) or you can use your imagination to make up stories and songs, things that you don’t need to remember until the next day but that will work with your brain, helping it to relax, until the stories become dreams.

At least, that’s what works for me. I now choose to think about the novel I’m writing. I tell myself the part of the story that I’m working on at present. For me, it’s a good use of my time. If I work out a plot hole or a new bit of dialogue, then good. But more often, most of the time, I will tell myself a story, and that story will become a dream, and before I know it, I’m asleep.

Tomorrow’s worries can wait until it’s worry time.

I wonder if others have the same planning/worry mixup that I had. Have you ever got the two confused? And how do you put yourself to sleep? Or is this never a problem for you and do you sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow?

It’s good to be back after my summer break. If you’d like to hear my podcast on this subject, head to ruthamos.com.au/podcast. If this could help someone you know, please feel free to share it (or the podcast) and feel free to drop me a line (and answer my questions) at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or on Facebook or Twitter. I’d love to hear from you.

How and why to sleep well

I’m not an ‘early bird’ or a ‘night owl’. I’m more some kind of ‘permanently exhausted pigeon’.

From https://www.gemmacorrell.com/

No, that’s not quite the truth, it’s just a quote from Gemma Correll’s brilliant comic that I like. I’m more of an early bird these days. But I do seem to need more sleep than your average bear.

Sleep is so very important. I’ve been reading the book Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and I’ve learned a bit about what sleep can do for you:

  • It helps your body to grow
  • It helps your body to fight infection
  • It helps your body to repair wounds and scratches
  • It is a time when myelin is generated (a substance that helps your body to send nerve signals and is damaged in MS)
  • It is a time when your brain washes out toxins
  • It is a time when brain injuries are repaired

Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of ulcers, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, dementia, and cognitive decline.

Sleep is a time when your brain solidifies its memories. Visual, emotional and procedural memories are solidified during rapid eye movement sleep, and verbal memories during slow wave sleep.

And while we sleep, our subconscious mind works on problems from the day, which can lead to moments of insight. We can wake up and find that our problems are solved!

When we are busy or trying to be productive, it can be tempting to cut into our sleep time. To think of sleep as unproductive, wasted time.

‘No sleep is going to be lost time’ says Pang. And when I look at the list of things that sleep helps with, I have to agree.

Sleep occurs in cycles that are 90 – 110 minutes long. If you get woken in the middle of a sleep cycle you feel groggy and horrible. But waking at the end of a cycle makes you feel more refreshed.

You can plan for this by looking at the time you wake up and counting back in 90 minute blocks to find the best time for you to go to bed. For example, if you need to wake up at 6 am then going to bed at 10.30 pm will get you five full cycles (if my maths is correct) and 7.5 hours sleep. 

I need more like 9 hours sleep myself, but my husband Moz is fully loaded at 7.5 hours. A while back, he would do his best to head to bed at 10.30 pm in an attempt to get all his cycles in before the alarm went off in the morning.

There was a problem with this calculation though. The thing was that in order to get all the sleep he needed, he had to drop off to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. He came to bed needing to fall asleep straight away. And that kind of stress is not very sleep-inducing.

Now, he’s fixed that by heading to bed a little earlier. He’ll be reading in bed at around 9.30 or 10 pm and turning the light off shortly thereafter. That means that often his sleep cycles finish early in the morning. He often wakes quite relaxed and refreshed at 5am. But that’s ok. He just gets up and goes to his study (leaving me still peacefully snoring) and plays on the computer or peruses the internet until it’s time to get going for the day. The activities he used to do at night he now does earlier in the morning. And he’s a lot less stressed, but he’s still getting the sleep that he needs.

There are even smart watches that keep track of your sleep cycles. You can tell them the time that you need to be awake and they will use a vibrating alarm to wake you at a time near to that where you are in a good place in your sleep cycle and less likely to be groggy. No more waking out of deep sleep to the insistent buzzing of an alarm.

Even naps are helpful. Did you know that Winston Churchill took afternoon naps all the way through World War II? Even a five minute nap apparently helps your memory work better. A 30 minute nap helps renew your depleted energy (I took one of those right before writing this) and a longer nap can cut your day in two so that you can work longer into the evening. 

I know that some people who nap for longer wake up feeling disoriented and groggy, so I prefer a nice 30 minute nap. Enough to restore energy, but not too deep into the sleep cycle.

I want to finish with a few tips for getting yourself a good night’s sleep. 

Turn off your screens an hour or so before going to bed. The blue light from screens keeps you awake and the dopamine hits from social media or the adrenaline from playing games or watching TV dramas are not going to help with the calming down either. A book is a great alternative.

Keep your screens and your work out of the bedroom. Use the bedroom for sleeping. Keep your work life elsewhere in the house so you’re not drawn to worrying about it at night.

If worrying about things keeps you awake, choose a time of day when you will worry, either a few hours before bed, or first thing in the morning. Dedicate that time to worrying and write down your worries. Then give them to God (I put them in a shoebox that is God’s inbox). When worries wake you at night, you can tell yourself that you will worry about that in your ‘worry time’ and go back to sleep. (It sounds strange, but it works for me.)

Make sure you do some exercise, again, earlier in the day and not immediately before you’re going to jump into bed and turn your light out. And make sure you don’t drink caffeine late in the day either. Most people stop drinking caffeinated drinks after lunch so that the caffeine has a bit of a chance to leave their systems.

A warm, milky drink before bed and a cool room should be a good combination that will lead to a peaceful and restful night’s sleep.

I am still working on my sleep habits. But I know it’s worth working on and getting right. Sleep is not wasted time, it is incredibly important for both mental and physical health. I hope you can prioritise your sleep and be energised and ready to face each new day.

PS here are a few websites you might also find helpful 🙂

https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep/sleep-calculator#not-enough-sleep

https://startsleeping.org/sleep-calculator/

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep-hygiene#general-suggestions

Saving your time

Pumpkin time

Saving money is really hard. I mean really saving money – for the future. Not for a holiday or for next week or for the next time that we run out and need to buy something, but for the long term future. It’s hard. I find it hard. But it’s necessary. It’s a good thing to do. It’s good stewardship, delayed gratification, healthy and wise.

In the same way, I need to put aside time to rejuvenate myself. This is time where I have nothing booked, time just to be. Time to invest in myself and my energy so that I have energy in the future.

It is difficult to block out time for this because it doesn’t have a label attached to it. It’s not exercise, or doing something for someone, or cleaning the house, or working. It’s rest time. Just rest.

It’s easy to eat into it – “Yes, I can do that – there’s nothing booked into my calendar.” Maybe there should be “Nothing” booked into your calendar so that you don’t book anything else in. I plan to do nothing. Just to be. To read, to think, to write in my journal, to go for a nice walk, to sleep.

It is investing in your future.

My husband Moz has found that this principle applies very well when it comes to sleep.

A few years ago you would have found me heading to bed at 9:30pm and Moz would be an hour or a bit longer behind me. I have to go to bed at 9:30pm – that’s when I turn into a pumpkin.

One evening a few years ago now, I came home from work, totally fruited, at about 7:45pm, and Moz heated up my dinner and served it to me on the couch (home made pizza – yum!) and at first I didn’t want to do anything but watch the box and chill out. But after a little blob time I was ready to surface and we both decided to turn off the box and connect with each other. We talked about the day – how his work went, how mine went, interesting things that happened, interesting things people said. Then we started talking about our plans for the future, little bits and pieces, lovely conversation.

Then, in the middle of conversation, DH looked at me, read my body language, looked at the clock and said, “Yep, it’s nine thirty. Pumpkin time.”

You see, I need a lot of sleep. About 9 1/2 hours a night does me beautifully. I am probably more of a morning person than an evening person but I’m not the kind of morning person who wakes at 5am refreshed and happy and ready to  start the day. No-siree-bob. I am the kind of morning person who wakes very slowly and becomes an intelligent being by drinking a cup of coffee in bed. I am so incredibly privileged to have a husband who is happy to get up in the morning and bring me a cup of coffee in bed. Perhaps it’s because I’m just totally useless without it.

Moz used to see me to bed once my brain stopped functioning and then he would stay up for around an hour, playing on his computer, learning things, reading articles, and then he would come to bed at 10:30-ish and – here’s the thing – try to immediately fall asleep so that he could get his 8 hours before the alarm went off in the morning.

Have you ever tried to immediately fall asleep? It adds a little stress to the scenario. Each ten minute interval that you’re not sleeping is a drama. You know that waiting ten minutes to get to sleep means you’ll want to wake up ten minutes after the alarm goes off next morning and you’ll therefore wake up groggy and grumpy.

When Moz was coming to bed at half past ten, woe betide me if I asked him to head back up stairs to turn the heat pump off, or to check if my phone was plugged in. He needed to fall asleep right then. Straight away.

A little while ago he decided that this was silly. Now, when pumpkin time hits and I go into the study to say goodnight, he says, “Is it bed time?” turns off his computer, and heads to bed too. We turn off the light early and he gets his eight hours. Actually, he’s worked out that he needs seven hours and fifty minutes sleep each night.

So he sleeps for seven hours and fifty minutes and wakes up naturally between 5:30 and 6 am. He gets up, heads to the study, and does the things that he would have done at night. He plays computer games, reads interesting articles, and learns things. At 6:45am when the alarm goes off he makes us a cuppa and brings it down to wake me up. He’s accomplished something already and he’s had a restful night’s sleep.

They used to say about daylight savings time that it’s daft to cut one inch off the top of the blanket and put it on the bottom and say that you have a longer blanket, but it looks like that very strategy has worked for Moz. He’s a happier, healthier person because he is investing his time in sleep.

I have another friend, Trish, who blocks out an entire month of every year to go on a retreat. She is a minister, and this is her way of investing in her growth and prayer life. She goes away, stops all of her commitments, and spends the month reading, writing, praying, retreating. It’s saving, investing in her future.

What do I do? I make sure that I don’t block up every time window in my schedule. I make sure that I am not out in the evenings more than twice a week and that Sunday evenings are kept free so that I can use to get my head together for the week ahead. And I only work four days a week. I give myself half a day to visit with people, and half a day to be by myself, to do whatever needs doing to rejuvenate. Sometimes that means writing, sometimes reading, sometimes I lie on the couch and watch TV, it’s time to invest in me.

I couldn’t always do that, of course. When you have small children there is not much chance of time alone. Sometimes life circumstances just do not allow the space that you need. But sometimes we bring it on ourselves – the busy-ness.

Is there something in your schedule that you can cut out to allow yourself some time just to be? Is there some time-savings that you need to make for your future?

The good book says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This time-savings idea has been good advice for a very long time. I highly recommend it.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42