Kara Martin Snyder offers pragmatic health & lifestyle options for frazzled entrepreneurs with all heart and no bullsh*t. Take care of you as much as you take care of business.
I keep waking up at about 3 AM with my mind going crazy. It almost feels like I’m about to have a panic attack. What can I do to stop it? Please help me. – Ms. 3 AM Eternal
Oh snap, Ms. 3 AM Eternal, kudos for referencing The KLF’s 90s acid house classic track. I had to answer your question next…for that reference and because this is happening to more and more of my clients.
Instead of trying to figure out how to stop it in the moment, let’s think about how we can avoid waking up feeling panicky in the middle of the night before it happens.
The somewhat obvious question: Are you setting yourself up for sleep?
You’re an entrepreneur. It’s highly probable you’re TCBing and GTDing all day and, most likely, right up until you crash into bed. While you might get an A+ in Productivity 101, you’re setting yourself up to fail Sleep 101. While we’re sleeping, our brain does all the mental housekeeping after the day. When you’re racing right up until bedtime, it’s like inviting the maid over while you’re still having a party.
Start powering down before bed – you, your kitchen, and your devices. The light from your devices, computer and even TV will trick your body into thinking it’s still daytime. Having a totally full belly will divert your body’s attention from its normal nighttime to-do list to mechanically and chemically break down that giant dinner. Also, find a way to start processing the day sooner. For some, this might be journaling (gratitude or just free association). For others, this might be some passive stretching, light yoga or meditation. Then, aim for at least 7-9 hours of shut-eye.
The not so obvious question: Is it your hormones?
While we like to think we’re the boss of all things, our Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Thyroid axis hormones are like pffffffft whatever. Not to get too nerdy here, but every time we get stressed our body secretes cortisol from our adrenal glands. When we’re chronically stressed…and let’s be honest, who isn’t these days…we hijack cortisol’s daily ebb and flow or just deplete the supply. Sometimes, it will have to send adrenaline to do its job – like at 3am. Adrenaline = panicky feeling. Yet, it doesn’t just happen when we’re about to miss our train or have a big push at work. Our adrenals also have our back when our blood sugar crashes, another stressor for our body to handle at night.
Lay off the sugary, carby foods and beverages before bed that will trigger a spike followed by a crash. If you really must have a little nosh before bed, keep it small in size, but big in protein. Think: a spoonful of nut butter, a small handful of almonds, a hard-boiled egg, or a little bit of organic meat. These same snacks can also help turn off that 3am alarm, if you are still waking up.
Remember: Any sign of hormonal imbalance is a sign we’re writing rubber checks against what our bodies can cash. If you’re still not bouncing back after some of these changes, it may be time to consult a health practitioner. It’s much easier to reverse, before you’re dealing with adrenal/thyroid issues or insulin resistance/diabetes.
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