Are You Waking Up at 3 a.m.?

I am. Every morning, I wake up at 3 a.m. Sometimes I am able to use meditation techniques to stop ruminating. Sometimes, my mind is racing so much that I can’t stop it, and I toss and turn until the alarm goes off at 4:45. The worst part of this is that my cat senses my restlessness and begins knocking things off my bedside table. I am convinced she’s on her ninth life and the other eight lives all became poltergeists when they passed on.

As I talk to more people, I am convinced that there is an epidemic of waking up at 3 a.m. and chewing on our shrouds. I know my husband suffers from this. His sister has mentioned that she has this problem. I was on a call with both of my sisters and they are each suffering from this. My mother, who at 79 is cared for hand-and-foot and has nothing to worry about, wakes up at 3 a.m. every morning and then moves to her chair in the living room where she spends the majority of her time now.

My colleagues at work mention in passing, “when I woke up at 3 a.m., I started thinking that…” or “this is keeping me up nights.”

Everyone thinks it’s just them. It isn’t until you start to connect the dots that you see that we are all suffering from interrupted sleep.

Why are we all waking up at 3 a.m.?

It may be that this is another symptom of the social isolation that we’ve all been suffering, of the stress of being under threat of a disease that we are only just starting to understand, the social unrest, the terrorist threats, the dysfunction of our political institutions, the increase in gun violence. The having to look ourselves in the eye and admit that America has, to put it mildly, treated people of color unfairly for years; and that about half of our population a) refuses to see this; and b) thinks nothing needs to change.

As a faithful watcher of House Hunters International, I am struck by the number of Americans who say that they want to move abroad because they lack the quality of life in the U.S. They are unhappy with the length of their commute, of how little quality-time they get with their family. They describe their life in the U.S. as a race from one activity to another – work, school, after-school activities. They say that they want to simplify. To slow down. And they feel they need to leave the U.S., get out of their comfort zone, to do this. They often describe having to take a lower salary; or switch careers in order to make the move.

And then they sit down with the realtor and, when asked what they are looking for, describe a unicorn of a home – truly American – at a price that is a fantasy. The realtor smiles and takes them to visit properties, most of which are “too small” – the kids must each have their own room. There must be a separate guest room for visitors. They need a full-sized fridge and a big oven. Maybe a separate playroom for the kids. A big back yard. In other words, they want to recreate their U.S. home in their adopted country.

And perhaps this is why we wake up at 3 a.m. Deep down inside, we suspect this life we are living isn’t working for us. We push ourselves and our kids to do more, and are then unhappy that we are racing from place to place. We have to get bigger and bigger homes, that need more and more stuff, so we have to work increasingly long hours or take jobs with more responsibility, so that we can make more money to pay for all this stuff or to be able to say Yes to our kids or so that we can take vacations to far away places where we can fantasize about slowing down.

And we cling to all these things. I was talking to someone the other day who complained that she is run ragged. What is running her ragged? She works 40 hours a week at a demanding job – a recent development. She cares for her mother and manages the 24/7 caregivers who are eating up her mom’s estate. She is an officer in an organization that she belongs to. She grocery shops for herself and her mother, going to four different grocery stores – one, across town, because they have the best fruits & vegetables; one in a different direction because they have the cheapest pantry goods; and two others which are the only places that she can pick up certain staples that her mother requires. She cooks meals and does laundry for her family. She balances the family checkbook and manages mom’s finances. She gardens. She drives the kids to their activities.

What would she give up? Not working full-time because this is the first time that the family has had enough cash that she can say Yes to her kids and buy hamburger meat that isn’t pumped full of chemicals. Not caring for her mother because she loves her mother; she just wishes this were easier. Not being the organization’s officer because no one else can pick that up. Not grocery shopping because she actually enjoys grocery shopping, she finds it calming (I do, too, mostly). Not gardening because that also calms her. She wishes that someone could take balancing the checkbook and bill-paying but doesn’t see an end to that. She tried to get the kids to take on cooking dinner or doing their own laundry, but it always seems to fall back on her. These things need doing, someone need to do them, and no one else is picking them up, so she does.

And then she wonders why she wakes up at 3 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep.

So I ask you, is this working for you?

What do we do instead?

A crisis is an opportunity to do something different.

So let’s try something different.

Just so we can sleep through the night…

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