How to stop yourself from waking up at 3AM

I woke up at 3am today. I’ve always had little jags of this kind of thing, but lately it’s been a lot more common. Sometimes it’s anxiety, as it has been a lot recently. That happens to everyone once in a while and you just ride it out. Or, if it works for you, you medicate it. I can usually just ride it out. 

My anxiety has been lower in the past week or two, however, and today it was not that. Today it was “my brain just wants to be awake and it can’t stop thinking of all of the things we can be doing now to get ahead of the daily schedule.”

This is a Calcaterra family heirloom. My dad has suffered/prospered from it for as long as I can remember. He wakes up at ungodly hours and just starts his day. It may be little jobs in the garage or cleaning or a shopping trip to a 24-hour grocery store. When I was in high school my bedroom window was above the driveway and I remember the floodlight on the front of the house turning on in the middle of the night and hearing him wash both cars because, hey, why not?

This tends to work for him, mostly because he figured out how to pair it up with going to bed super early too. He and my mom eat an early dinner and he doesn’t watch TV at all, so I suppose it’s not that hard a trick for him. I, however, keep more traditional evening hours. I don’t like to eat dinner at 5pm, I watch movies and stuff and I like to go out sometimes, so I’ll never be able to just shift my schedule like that. Even if I could, I really don’t want to spend the next 30 years washing cars at 3:30am (no offense, dad), so I need to do something about this. 

This morning I came up with a plan. It may work, it may not, but at least it’s something. Basically, I am forbidden from using this time to get a jumpstart on my day. I am not allowed to use it as a basic efficiency. No cleaning. No paying bills. No laundry. No getting an early start on my baseball writing. No doing anything that can be considered a necessary task. I have to use this time, if I’m not going to sleep, to improve my life, even if it’s insanely marginal, in some way that does not involve simply checking tasks off a mental list.

My thinking is that, if I did use this time to complete those necessary tasks, I would begin to condition myself to want to wake up at 3am because efficiency and getting jobs done gives me little endorphin rushes and over time I’d come to see rising unhealthily early as a good thing, despite the fact that it’s probably pretty damaging. I’m never not going to be a person who gets off on having his quotidian shit together, but there have to be limits to how much that, and not other stuff, brings a person satisfaction in life. Even a Calcaterra. 

So today, after devising this plan, I subscribed to a non-sports/non-entertainment periodical I pick up sometimes and read something on the weightier side. The next time this happens I’m going to start doing a yoga video series I’ve been thinking about. Or I may practice some new kitchen knife skill. Or I may just sit and pet my cats. The upshot is that they have to be selfish little things that, while good for me, are not in the category of “sheer enjoyment,” but nor are they in the category of “highly necessary.”

Worst case scenario: waking up at a dumb hour actually serves to improve my life a little bit. Better case scenario: my brain realizes that, if it wakes me up and won’t go back to sleep this early, it’s not getting ahead of its satisfyingly quotidian, left-side agenda. Rather, it will have to do the more challenging-for-me right side work that has fewer immediate rewards. I know my brain well enough to know that, even though it appreciates those things as benefits over time, it’s harder for it to buy in and commit to those things sometimes. 

Put differently: I have a lazy streak when it comes to real self-improvement. While I’m doing what I can to arrest that during the daytime, maybe it can work in my favor from 3-6am. Maybe my brain, defeated in its efforts to get the housework done, will prefer to simply go back to sleep. 

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Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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