The 3 a.m. Wake-up Call

What the concept of “preventative law” has to do with a good night’s sleep

Many of my clients have confided that they have been plagued by consistently waking up at three o’clock in the morning.  It is a common challenge for many people, not just high-level professionals.  This wake-up feels exactly like the terror felt when you’re suddenly awoken from a dead sleep – the adrenal surge and then often followed by worst-case scenario thinking.  After this type of wake-up, it is hard to calm down, let alone go back to sleep.  Like the power of a phone ringing at that obscenely early hour, our own brains are capable of a 3 am wake-up call.  The brain can release a chemical cocktail that literally jars us awake.  The adrenal surge manifesting in a racing heart or knotted stomach, the worrying thoughts, can help us remember critical tasks forgotten during the day, or simply some nonsensical urgency uncovered in our dream state.  Either way, when this happens, we are now officially awake.  What can be done?

There are many theories for the 3 am wake-up.  Sometimes it is a change in hormones, alcohol or caffeine consumption, viewing screens before bed, or a lack of exercise. I am sure all of these are accurate, and I have found that the tool I use with my clients, called Preventative Law, can also help keep the 3 am wake-ups at bay.

I started formulating the concept of Preventative Law based on some of the struggles I faced as an entrepreneur in the early years of my business.  I went through a series of 3 am wake-up periods.  My husband, also an entrepreneur, went through this same challenge. The 3 am wake-up periods often corresponded with business stretches I was making, or as I was about to break through a new professional hurdle.  While some of the insights I gleaned at that early hour were helpful, which I would then write down in a notepad next to my bed, most of the ideas realistically could have waited four or five more hours until the business day was properly started.  I wondered, if I could train my brain to honor the business hours and wait on all of those great ideas until a more helpful and appropriate time of day? The Preventative Law tools were generated out of this personal voyage to train my own brain.  The following ideas and tools came out of that journey.

Preventative Law is Balance

What I wanted to know was: Could I learn to maintain a balance of both a constant diligence in addressing the embers of conflict, while also building the long view systems to keep my company running smoothly with minimal conflict and a big vision?  I began thinking that these are the perfect ingredients of Preventative Law: the Yin and Yang, the balance between the masculine and feminine aspects of leadership, the nimble quick work of conflict resolution and problem solving, along with the slow and steady visioning for many generations into the future.

The embers of conflict are those tiny red flags that we note and must be nimble and quick in addressing, lest they become full-fledged forest fires of litigation, harmful behavior or reputational damage.  That long view thinking that takes a Seventh Generation principle*, which inspires us to be thoughtful and creative about how our business decisions today impact well-being and sustainable business practices tomorrow.

Even as our entrepreneur challenges improve, due to mastering the Preventative Law balance, sometimes our brains do not get the memo.  The brain can remain stuck in that hyper vigilant, adrenal surge creating state, also known as the amygdala hijack.  Because we didn’t have the right tools to tell our brain that the crisis has passed, that the embers of conflict having been dealt with by swift and nimble actions, our brains continue trying to help us deal with non-existent issues by releasing life-saving chemicals into our brain at 3 am.  But why does our brain keep doing this, long after the crisis has been averted?

The most helpful way I have heard it described is that the brain, if it remains in a hyper vigilant state too long, becomes addicted (chemically dependent) on this chemical release. The good news is, that many of the time-tested tools used to help with chemical addiction, can also be used to help avoid the 3 am wakeup.

In addition, newer tools are being developed by emerging scientists related to Polyvagal Theory and Somatic Centering, which are helping folks learn how to detox their brain, so that it can move out of the hyper vigilant state.

Thus, Preventative Law, incorporates the balance of addressing conflicts along with long-view thinking. It can be significantly supported by daily and weekly practices that help the brain stay out of the hyper vigilant state, and also, help the brain quickly get out of that state, should hyper vigilance occur despite our best efforts.  Preventative Law is essentially the legal practice that supports forward thinking, and allows leaders to embody the balanced roles they must play to be effective.

How can I implement this today?

Here are the three tools you will need:

  1. Know your type. In an earlier blog post, I wrote about Knowing Your Type, which is your default type of response to conflict: Fight Flight Freeze or Appease (FFFA). By knowing our “type” we know what emotions and body senses are associated with conflict, which can help us realize that something is amiss. Think of this step as the early warning system of our bodies. The better we can get at learning what emotions we feel and what body sensations we have when something is amiss, the better we can get at being more responsive and nimble in identifying and responding to the embers of conflict.


  1. Build systems and processes for your professional sphere of influence. Building systems and core processes for your business or sphere of influence that support long view thinking helps minimize the potential embers of conflict, while also providing the added benefit of providing the necessary perspective that comes from seeing the big picture. Small things feel smaller.  Big things feel bigger. Things that wake you up at 3 am become things that become part of your system, so that you no longer need to hold that information in your brain.  Business leaders then learn to prioritize these issues and consider how decisions today will be felt tomorrow.


  1. Build a daily and weekly mind body spirit practice. One of my favorite emerging areas of practice on this topic, is based on somatics, an increasingly popular area of practice with many flavors. At its core, it is having a regular practice that stabilizes the nervous system, thus reducing anxious thoughts and helping avoid hyper-vigilance, while also supporting body awareness and health.  The Somatic Movement Center is one of the many resources available online.  https://somaticmovementcenter.com/what-is-somatics/ Also, the work of Stephen W. Porges, related to Polyvagal Theory, which connects the nervous system with supporting feelings of safety, has been really interesting to me.  On the advice of a friend, I am currently reading his book, The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe.  Even the definitions section of the book is fascinating.

Building the brain’s resilience to bounce back is also commonly connected with Somatic Centering, daily contemplative practice (even for 3 minutes per day), and building in body-based, weekly routines, such as yoga, nature immersions or time in fresh or ocean water.

Of course, knowing those things we can do to best serve our needs doesn’t always mean we will actually do them.   For myself, I can get thrown off track on my daily and weekly practices often. For example, as of today, I think I exercised just once this week and I did not do my morning ritual this week at all.  Yikes! Some weeks are just like that. But, like I tell myself, I know what works, and I just taking baby steps to get back on track again when I am able to.

For those of you who are working through your 3 am wake-up periods, I hope the concepts of Preventative Law and having a regular mind body spirit practice are helpful to you.  I would love to hear of your progress!


“The Seventh Generation takes its name from the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee, the founding document of the Iroquois Confederacy, the oldest living participatory democracy on Earth. It is based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy that:

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation (The Great Binding Law) explains “seventh generation” philosophy as follows: “The thickness of your skin shall be seven spans — which is to say that you shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism. Your heart shall be filled with peace and good will and your mind filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederacy. With endless patience you shall carry out your duty and your firmness shall be tempered with tenderness for your people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgement in your mind and all your words and actions shall be marked with calm deliberation. In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground — the unborn of the future Nation.”

This philosophy is not unique to just the Iroquois nation. Many Native American nations, tribes and other indigenous people around the world live by this philosophy.  Today, The Seventh Generation Principle also applies to decisions about the energy we use, water and natural resources, and ensuring those decisions are sustainable for seven generations in the future.

We should apply the Seventh Generation Principle to relationships – so that every decision we make results in sustainable relationships that last at least seven generations into the future.

By | 2019-06-14T23:01:03+00:00 May 31st, 2019|Business practices|0 Comments

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