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Can't sleep: Why am I lying in bed worrying?

Surely if you slow down, you sleep more? So why is Suzy Walker lying awake at night worrying? In her ‘My slow year’ experiment, she has time to think it through

by Suzy Walker

Can't sleep

2 minute read

For me, going slow is synonymous with sleeping – napping, lie-ins, duvet days… Experts say you should only use your bed for sleep and sex but mine is a top spot to hang out. I have sloppy sleep hygiene – I don’t go to bed at the same time every night, I work and even eat in bed and Oscar the dog is a permanent bedmate. On my birthday, in his speech, my godson said one of his favourite memories was being in bed with me, my son and Oscar eating pizza for breakfast on a Saturday. ‘My mother would never allow it!’ he announced gleefully. My bedroom is certainly not an oasis of calm.

The darkest hour

So maybe I’ve only got myself to blame for my recent nocturnal awakenings. I’m not sure if it’s stress, hormones or coffee too late in the day, but I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep. There is a word for it, says Grace Tierney, founder of award-winning blog Wordfoolery. It’s called ‘uhtceare’ (pronounced oot-care), an Old English word for being wide-eyed before dawn because you’re worrying. ‘Uhtceare is a joining of two words – uht meaning “the hour before sunrise” and ceare meaning “care or worry”. The idea of a worry being a care is not common in modern English – and that’s a shame because it tells us an important fact,’ she says. If we worry, predawn or not, it’s because we are concerned about others – parents fretting about bullied children, people thinking about sick friends. ‘Suffering from uhtceare is a form of love,’ says Tierney.

I love this idea. It reminds me of a meditation practice called tonglen, recommended for when you are struggling by Pema Chödrön – my go-to wise woman, Buddhist nun and author of my favourite book for tough times, When Things Fall Apart (HarperCollins, £6.99). It transforms worry into a practice of love. Visualise breathing in the suffering of others and, on the out breath, imagine breathing happiness and love back into them.

My speedy life was often about running away from worry, but reframing worry as an act of love has stopped me in my tracks. Maybe if I stop running away from my worries and beam out love into the world, I will sleep more soundly. 

Listen to ‘My slow year’ podcasts: Browse the ‘Psychologies’ podcast channel on iTunes, TuneIn and AudioBoom to hear Suzy in conversation with various experts.

Image: Getty

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