How can I change my night-owl tendencies?
January 26, 2010 8:01 PM   Subscribe

How can I change my night-owl tendencies?

If I didn't have a day job, I'd probably go to bed at 2 a.m. and wake up at 10 or later. (On the weekends, when I don't set an alarm, I wake spontaneously at almost exactly 10:30 every time.) Instead, on the typical weekday, I try to sleep between 11 p.m. and midnight, and get up at 8. Now, for a variety of reasons, I'd like to wake up even earlier to start my day.

I've tried simply setting my alarm for an earlier time, but I invariably hit the snooze button (over and over) until the usual hour. Shortening my sleep doesn't seem to be the solution; I need to go to sleep earlier than my natural inclination so I can wake up feeling rested. But how can I make myself sleepy early?

A few other details: I tend to have insomnia if I try to sleep when I'm not thoroughly exhausted. I'll toss and turn all night and feel miserable in the morning. I don't think I'm doing anything to exacerbate the insomnia (e.g. overdoing caffeine), except perhaps keeping myself mentally alert by web surfing in the evening. I'm also a very light sleeper (which I suspect results in poor sleep quality even when I've had eight or nine hours). And my partner gets up at 3 a.m. to go to work, which sometimes disturbs my sleep despite his best efforts to get ready quietly.

So given all these factors, how can I make myself more of a morning person? Ideas appreciated!
posted by curiouskitty to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Put the clock on the other side of the room, so that you have to stand up in order to reach it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:10 PM on January 26, 2010

This isn't a healthy suggestion, but I take Benadryl to get to sleep early.
posted by amro at 8:11 PM on January 26, 2010

OTC sleep aids like Diphenhydramine or Doxylamine. Or Valerian root and melatonin, although that combo leaves me especially groggy.

Cutting caffeine at lunchtime and making 10pm or so "time to start shutting down" time helps too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:13 PM on January 26, 2010

I have your tendencies too. I think you're right on about the web surfing. That's what I think always keeps me from feeling sleepy, too. (I think it's a combination of not only the mental stimulation but the screen itself).

Is there something you love to do at night? That you either can't wait to get home to do or stay up all night doing? The more you itch for this the better. Don't allow yourself to do it at night, and keep it close by your bed so you can do it first thing when you wake up. If you start doing it right when your alarm goes off I think you will be motivated to get up.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:13 PM on January 26, 2010

I recently shifted myself from a 4AM-12PM sleep schedule to a 1AM-9AM one -- something I was extremely anxious about but which hasn't been nearly as difficult as I was worried it would be. In part, it's just a matter of forcing yourself to get up early for those first few days (leaving the bedroom curtains open to let the morning sun in helped with this) and not allowing yourself to take any mid-afternoon naps when you get tired. I've also been doing my (very low-key) exercise routine in the late evening before I go to bed, and even that little bit seems to make falling asleep easier.

Mr. Narrative swears by melatonin pills and seems to have had some luck with them, FWIW.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:27 PM on January 26, 2010

Pick a day when you don't have anything to do and pull an all nighter. When you get tired enough just let yourself lounge around in a semi-awake state. Go to bed at the time you'd prefer, and make sure you wake up at the right time as well.
posted by biochemist at 8:28 PM on January 26, 2010

I am a total night person. I can wake up early but it means being groggy and icky and I like staying up late and I don't get truly fall-asleep-in-5-minutes tired until very late into the night.

I decided I needed to just shift things over by a few hours, so that I'm getting tired earlier in the evening and waking up earlier, but still getting the exact same amount of sleep. Going to bed earlier and earlier doesn't work for me, it's just too difficult and I can't force myself to sleep. But I can force myself to stay awake longer.

So I stayed up later and later until I was waking up early. When I had a few days where it didn't matter what I was doing, I started staying up for 20 hours and sleeping for 8, 28 hour days.

So, I stayed up late, went to bed at 5AM one night, woke up 8 hours later at 1PM. Then I stayed up until 9AM, slept until 5PM. Kept going, awake 5PM-1PM, asleep 1PM-9PM, awake 9PM-5PM.

Boom, now I'm tired early evening. I went to sleep about 8PM the next day, and again the day after that, and blam-o. I've switched. A morning person. Around 7PM or 8PM, I'm where I used to be at 10 or 11PM, and now my old "early" bedtimes feel like staying up really late. I don't need an alarm clock, I'm waking up early morning as easily as I used to wake up at noon.

posted by floam at 8:28 PM on January 26, 2010 [11 favorites]

I'm exactly the same way, right down to the natural 2AM-10AM sleep time. I've tried, and I can't get up any earlier on work mornings than I absolutely have to in order to not be late for work. It doesn't matter where my alarm clock is - I'm perfectly happy to walk across my room in order to hit snooze and go back to bed. In my sleepy stupor, my brain convinces itself that I could definitely use that extra 20 minutes of sleep, no matter how much sleep I've gotten, and I am very happy to walk back to my bed and lie down after hitting snooze. The only thing that really ever gets me up early is to make some sort of appointment before work that I just can't miss.

However, as for falling asleep earlier: while I can stay up indefinitely if I'm surfing the 'net, reading books/magazines (those with long articles, like New Yorker, that you have to really concentrate on) makes me feel tired earlier. Maybe pick a time to start reading every night and then do that?

Another thing that occurs to me is maybe you're getting too much sleep? It sounds like you're getting 8-9 hours every night. I find that I have a harder time getting up if I've gotten a full 8 hours of sleep than I do if I've gotten somewhere between 7-7.5. There's a certain point where I get so much sleep that I only want more.
posted by wondermouse at 8:36 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also had to switch to from night owl (my norm) to lark hours (not natural for me) I've found that I cannot shift from going to sleep at 2am to going to sleep at 11pm without my body and mind putting up a heck of a fight. Here's what I do - If 2am is your normal bedtime, start going to bed at 1:30 am for a week, then 1am, then 12am, then 11:30... you get the picture. Or if you don't have that time, try going to be an hour earlier 1am, then midnight, then 11, etc...

Anyway, that worked for me. If you're used to sleeping eight hours, you should wake up in eight hours with no alarm (at least I do *shrug*) YMMV. So by the time you get to 10 pm, you should wake up at 6am.
posted by patheral at 8:39 PM on January 26, 2010

floam, I swear I remember hearing a researcher on a radio program who talked about a study suggesting that pushing your sleep schedule forward "around the clock" as it were was the most effective method of altering your sleep schedule. I can't dig up independent confirmation though and this was a while ago so I don't recall any of the specifics. It's possible you're not so crazy though. The transitional period has got to be a bit of a mind-bender though...
posted by nanojath at 8:40 PM on January 26, 2010

I have the same sleep tendencies as you and have recently had some success with melatonin. I'd avoided it before, because I found the most common dosage (3mg) made me too groggy and it didn't seem to kick in at a predictable time, but I recently started taking a much smaller dosage (0.5mg) in a chewable form and it's worked really well. No groggy feeling in the mornings, and I start feeling drowsy within an hour or so of taking it.
posted by everybody polka at 8:42 PM on January 26, 2010

Oh, and I agree with Narrative Priorities about the sunlight thing. That definitely helps. I wonder if your partner could try opening the shades/curtains a bit when he leaves, since it'll still be dark at that point no matter what season it is and then you'll get some light coming in as soon as the sun comes up.
posted by wondermouse at 8:43 PM on January 26, 2010

Pretend it's Daylight Savings Time (or, um, the other one) and do *everything* an hour earlier.

(FWIW, I have used floam's technique every so often. It's easier if you're unemployed, though.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:51 PM on January 26, 2010

I've dealt with this (Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome) my whole life. Right now I just live with it - I work at home so it's no big deal to sleep from 5PM to 1PM.

The only things I've found to help when I needed to follow a "normal" schedule:

- Control when you get up, using alarms across the room or whatever. You can't control when you go to sleep.

- Sunlight, or really intense light therapy lamps. The only time my schedule has really reset to the point where I woke up at 8:00 AM feeling well-rested was when I spent a week in Florida and was out in the sun first thing every morning.

- Melatonin (take about an hour before your desired bedtime) - this works for me for a week or two but quickly loses effectiveness.
posted by mmoncur at 9:21 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get up and get out. As in outside. For a walk. Have everything ready so you roll out of bed - attend to essentials and roll out the door. Yes before you shower, do it - its not like the joggers are going around smelling like the morning dew. If it's cold outside (or you live someplace super gross) try some exercises you enjoy (key) around the house. Small errands.

Now, I have had to get up at all sorts of times and I once noted to my partner - "Get up? For cold cereal? Nooooooooooozzzzzz" so in addition to the activity try to get yourself something worth getting up out of bed for in the morning. Cause sometimes cold cereal just won't cut it.

Stick to it - you changing a really core habit so don't feel discouraged if isn't super quick.
posted by zenon at 9:41 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to do the same, and though I've recently fallen off the horse (because my routine was broken for a while - routine is so important for this kind of change) I was having success with having two alarms. One woke me up in the morning as usual, but the other told me that it was bedtime. It made it more difficult to put off going to bed - I'd hit snooze instead of turning the alarm off. It was kind of like being a child again, when your parents tell you to go to bed - and the alarm reminded me that it was important to go to bed early. (I read somewhere once that you shouldn't try to get up earlier, but should try instead to go to bed earlier - it's easier, more effective, and you don't get sleep deprived).
posted by Bergamot at 10:31 PM on January 26, 2010

Oh, also: I stopped eating in the evening. Not so early that I was starving at bedtime, but cutting out evening snacks made me spring out of bed with breakfast-enthusiasm in the morning.
posted by Bergamot at 10:32 PM on January 26, 2010

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Learn to live with it. It's yours for life.
posted by Crotalus at 11:04 PM on January 26, 2010

Everyone's clock can be reset. People move to other time zones all the time.

And my partner gets up at 3 a.m. to go to work, which sometimes disturbs my sleep despite his best efforts to get ready quietly.

Start living on his schedule: get up at 3 AM and have breakfast with him. If you make it clear to him that you're serious about this, he can make sure you get your ass out of bed. Just don't get in his way -- he's going to work immediately and you have tons of time.

When he goes out the door, you'll have a really long morning to do the stuff you used to do late at night and you'll still have tons of time get to work. You could start and finish work early, if that's possible, or you could go downtown early and enjoy yourself while other people are making their last-minute dashes to work. You'll have zero-stress mornings. The early hours, just after he goes to work, are the quietest hours for getting things done (driving, shopping, exercising, etc.) and for relaxing (listening to the birds wake up).

If you start doing that, you'll have no trouble getting up because he'll help you, and you'll have no trouble falling asleep at night because you'll have had a full 16-hour day by about 7:00 PM.
posted by pracowity at 11:10 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Morning. Cardio. Nothing crazy: just 6-10 minutes of a heavy jog.

The difference is drastic. I rediscovered the feeling of, "Oh wow I really need to go to bed now!" *Plop* *SNORE*

That energy is gonna get spent somehow -- better on the pavement than rolling around in bed.
posted by dualityofmind at 2:09 AM on January 27, 2010

At night:
Low impact activities, if you use a computer switch it to black background or manually get rid of the blue from the rgb (google 'blue light sleep' etc, it's the main spectrum that keeps you up). Read books instead. Take 0.3mg - yes, the health stores sell it in counter-productively large doses, so just split pills). Valerian or chamomile tea work for a lot of people.
Drink a glass of water before shower->. Right before you are ready to sleep, have a hot shower, quickly dry off and collapse into bed while you are still cooling down from 'too-hot shower' temperature. The drop in body temperature usually zonks me and most humans, right out.
Wear an eyemask to sleep - You want it to be really, really dark. Turns out dark therapy might be as useful for a bunch of things (sleep, manic disorders), as light therapy is, so this may help with the sleeping deeper.

Get a powerswitch timer. Plug a bright, bright lamp into it (or a halogen heater in winter - light + warm = win!), and set it to go off about 30mins before you plan to wake up. Voila! About a 1/4 the price of most of the 'Dawn alarm clocks'.
Set music/radio to start playing about 15-10 mins before.
Set alarm clock to go off across the room. Put a glass of water and a carton of yoghurt/muesli bar/similar snack in front of the alarm. Optionally, put some cushions here and have it next to a heater.
When the actual alarm goes off, you stagger across the room, and hit the snooze button. The water and snack are right there in front of your bleary eyes, you eat them. Then, you either stagger back to bed and you get woken by the snooze alarm, by which time digestion and blood sugar are working their magic, and you usually need to go toilet as an added out-of-bed motivator (that's the before bed water), OR if you've gone with the cushions and halogen heater, you sit blearily on the cushion and stare at the bright heater while waiting for basic motor function to come on line.

Further to this, you may have an expectation that you need to be *awake* to start doing stuff in the morning. Nuh uh.
Just make sure you have absolutely *no* decisions to make.
When I'm at my worst with sleep-screwedness and yet functioning best, I lay my clothes for the day out next to the cushion the night before, so I can just pull them on (hopefully not backwards). Bag is already packed. I pee, brush my teeth (did you know it's apparently good to brush them before breakfast, not after? No food acid to damage enamel), and pick up my grab-and-go breakfast I also arranged the night before.
I usually find myself properly waking up once I'm out of the house and walking along the road.

Actually, focus on the morning routine before the evening routine. Short of sleep and cued that this time is now 'breakfast', your body will adapt.

You then don't have any naps during the day. No caffeine after 2pm. A couple of days of this, and you will feel more tired in the evenings, and the evening things will work better. Try the eyemask now though.

This has all been tested by me, usually after reading some damn study that I figured might help. With their powers combined, I! Can! Fake! Normal Sleeping Patterns!

(except when I say things like that)
posted by Elysum at 2:35 AM on January 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

I agree with those above who say that you are unlikely to make yourself a morning person. I am the same way (and in contrast to those who say that you can see how you can change by moving to a different time zone - once I get over the jet lag, I have the same sleep impulses here in Japan that I do in Canada). However, you don't need to become a morning person, you just need to get in the habit of "breaking" your sleep desires. Like Elysum, I find that planning my suit/shirt/tie/shoes/socks combo the night before lets me have more of that oh so useful stare at nothing while I eat breakfast time. I don't drink coffee, so I don't have the added chemical boost to my morning wakefulness, but I did decide that I would never use the snooze button - ever. Occasionally I get in trouble by turning off the alarm half asleep and heading back to bed, but it is very rare now. Once the alarm goes off, I get up, period. I want to sleep more, but I don't. Once you get into THAT habit, you've managed to fake being a morning person.
posted by birdsquared at 2:56 AM on January 27, 2010

It takes quite a few hours for food to be completely processed, and processing food can disturb your sleep (as well as make it harder to fall asleep.) So: Don't snack after the evening meal. And make lunch larger than supper. Nothing solid or sweet after 7pm.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:47 AM on January 27, 2010

You have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. There are known treatments. Look into them.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:01 AM on January 27, 2010

You should probably have a sleep study just to make sure that nothing really serious is wrong. However, I agree with those who say that you likely have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome or something related.

There are a couple of big things you can do that will make this easier. The first is to expose yourself to very bright light very early in the morning. I've moved my bed under a window and now sleep with the curtains opened so that light hits me in the face when the sun rises. That helps a lot. Additionally, I had good luck with Steve Pavlina's method for ending the snooze cycle. You feel really, really stupid while you're doing it, but it does help with that groggy cycle of forgetting that you promised yourself you wouldn't snooze.
posted by decathecting at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2010

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