I'm solar-powered, and I want a backup battery.
September 21, 2010 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Whenever it's dark outside, my brain starts winding down for the day. This is fine in the summer, but right about this time of year it starts to suck a little. How can I get going in the evenings?

For some reason, I don't like doing anything after dark. This includes errands, housework, creative projects, leaving the house in general. When the sun goes down, all I want to do is change into sweats, plop on the couch, and relax - even if I'm not actually tired. I enjoy relaxing, but I'd like to get a little more stuff done, and every evening I think "well, it's getting late/I'm a little tired/I need to take a break tonight, I'll do it tomorrow." As a result, I tend to only get things done during the day on weekends. I've even consciously thought, for example, "I want to clean this room, but it's night. I can't clean at night! I guess I'll have to do it on the weekend." Cleaning at night just feels wrong to me, somehow. I don't really know how I got that notion in my head, but there it is.

Weekend evenings are the same, so it's not really an after-work thing. Cloudy days have a similar effect on me; conversely, bright sunny days energize me. I also have more trouble waking up when it's dark outside, but once I'm out of bed and moving around I'm okay.

This is not exactly a question about seasonal affective disorder, though I think it's related. I am prone to depression, and it is seasonally triggered, but I've been successfully treating it. I take antidepressants, a multivitamin, and fish oil. I work out 5-6 days a week, usually in the evenings. I walk part of the way to work, which gets me outside for 20-30 minutes of daylight in the morning. I have a small full-spectrum lamp, which I've used during the day in past winters. All of this has worked well for me, and I'm not down or sluggish or sleeping excessively, but it hasn't stopped me from associating nighttime with sleepytime.

I have been getting about 6.5-7 hours of sleep a night, which seems to be the right amount for me, and I keep a consistent sleep schedule. I don't think the problem stems from a lack of sleep. And I don't want to sleep less, I just want to do more with the time between, say, 7 and 10 pm.

I suspect the solution might be some variation of "just start making yourself do stuff at night more often," which I keep planning to do (and inevitably adding "tomorrow, because it's already late and tonight I think I need to unwind a little," stupid brain). But if there are any specific tricks I haven't thought of, I want to hear them.
posted by Metroid Baby to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I have the same problem; I find that if I force myself to get at least a half-hour of aerobic exercise, it wakes me back up for a few hours until it's time for bed again.
posted by kataclysm at 11:24 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ugh, sorry, didn't see that you already work out @ night...
posted by kataclysm at 11:25 AM on September 21, 2010

How well lit is your house? Making it brighter inside might help.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:28 AM on September 21, 2010

I try to save my most-fun indoor hobbies for the winter months, since I feel a little guilty hiding indoors during the summer (even when it's super hot outside). The giddy, little-kid fun stuff might motivate more than a general resolution to do more housework or whatnot. For me this is quick-hit stuff like terrariums, poking around with electronics, new boardgames, and the like. If I see something nifty on the Make blog or instructables, it goes onto a mental checklist 'for the winter'. My completion rate of said items is beside the point.
posted by jquinby at 11:39 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

When do you use your full spectrum light? Perhaps if you do a session with it in the afternoon, around four or so, you can condition your brain to keep active a bit later.
posted by freshwater at 11:40 AM on September 21, 2010

One thing I've found that helps is to prevent yourself from noticing the transition from day to night. It's not an energy-efficient solution, when I get home from classes or work (prior to sunset) I draw the shades and turn on indoor lights while the sun is still up. When I do eventually realize that it's nighttime, I'm already "in the zone" so my productivity doesn't slow down. The trick is to maintain a high level of activity during the transition from sunlight to civil dusk to darkness so that your brain doesn't sync its winding down to the end of the day. I'm not sure when you're working out, but this might mean switching your nightly workout session to sunset when possible.
posted by thisjax at 11:57 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The literature that came with my 'happy light' thing recommends using it in the afternoon or evening if one is having trouble with going to sleep too early. That's not exactly your problem, but I do think that you might as well try it later in the day. Maybe even at sunset or once it's dark, depending on how far from your bedtime that is. (My pamphlet says not to use it within a few hours of sleep or you may have trouble falling asleep.) It might give you a burst of that sunny-day-energy right when you need it. (OTOH, if that's not working and if you're also having trouble waking up, you could try using the lamp in the morning and see how that affects you.)

Other than that... One suggestion I have might be to start really small. Don't make your evening task a big thing like "clean my room." Pick some task that should only take a few minutes, like taking out the trash or wiping down the kitchen counters, and save it for a weeknight. Convince yourself to do it because it'll only take a few minutes and then you'll still have lots of time to relax, so you'll always be able to do it tonight instead of putting it off. This could help get you into the habit of doing more in the evenings and you can ramp up gradually.
posted by mandanza at 12:00 PM on September 21, 2010

There are some great yoga sequences for AM or PM. But, since you're not trying to wind down at night, try the morning routines. Some inversions (like handstands) can be worked up to after practicing and helps bring oxygen to the brain to give you a boost.
posted by jddizzle at 12:05 PM on September 21, 2010

Maybe schedule something for the evenings? Something organized like a class or book club or anything else that requires you to be outside of the house, thus keeping you from plopping down on the couch in your sweats. That works for me, and it makes the days seem much longer since I didn't think anything could get accomplished in those non-sunlight hours.
posted by Neekee at 12:28 PM on September 21, 2010

I was never interested in taking 'sun' vacations--I used to think they seemed kind of sleazy and I thought there was something kind of uncultured about wanting to go lie on the the beach and drink, or at least that it was wasteful. But more recently, I tried it and I've found they're very good for my mental health and can be really nice experiences. November was always a hard month and it turns out that November is a sort-of off-season when prices at holiday destinations are really low, while at the same time weather is beautiful. It's nice to just enjoy the weather, the beauty of the light, the possibility of taking long walks at night. So, that might be something that helps and it can be more affordable than you'd expect.
posted by Paquda at 12:34 PM on September 21, 2010

My husband has a similar problem. I got him a full-spectrum lightbulb ... for lizards. Costs a lot less than for people. (Possibly there's some way in which it's going to kill him, but I don't know about it.) Put it in an old desk lamp, and I make him read under it for an hour or so in the winter when he gets home from work. It perks him up considerably and makes him more active in the evening.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:35 PM on September 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

I also have more trouble waking up when it's dark outside, but once I'm out of bed and moving around I'm okay.

Get stuff done in the morning.
posted by desjardins at 12:41 PM on September 21, 2010

Caffeine is often underrated.
posted by callmejay at 12:46 PM on September 21, 2010

I wonder if you could put a light source on or above your windows to make it look like it's not dark (or not as dark, anyway) outside. Even a small light under drawn curtains, so you can't see out but it looks like there's sunlight coming in, maybe. I've seen little lightweight battery-powered LED lights that you can "stick" onto walls, that would probably be safe to put directly on a window.
posted by galadriel at 12:57 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Clearly you are solar powered. Use this knowledge to your advantage and install bright day-light bulbs in rooms you can be active in. In other words; expand the full-spectrum lamp to a full spectrum room. Fortunately, most hardware stores now carry a ton of different bulbs in varying color spectrum, try and get one that seems most like sunlight to you.

You may also want to look into doing energizing things beyond exercising once it gets dark: find a video-game that gets your blood pumping (online shooter maybe?), or loud angry music combined with whatever you are doing inside, cleaning, cooking, etc.

Basically, look at what they tell you to not do right before you go to bed if you are having problems sleeping, and do that.
posted by quin at 1:38 PM on September 21, 2010

Caffeine and 'just do stuff in the morning' is rather similar to telling a depressive 'Just cheer up!' That's ineffective and unhelpful. The problem is feeling productive once it starts getting dark at 7 pm instead of 9:30, because for some people (myself included) once 'dark' hits the body goes 'okay, time to stop working and just be lazy'.

I haven't been using a lamp or anything because I can't afford one, so I can't speak to that suggestion.

If you do have a tendency to just want to spud on the couch and watch television, maybe you could find something crafty to do with your hands while you watch TV? Most people I know IRL don't realize I'm incapable of watching television without knitting. Sewing, knitting, macrame, whatever. Try it by putting on a movie you know and love so you don't feel guilty about having to not pay attention for a second because you just dropped another goddamned stitch on your sock AGAIN...

Oops, personal rant, sorry...

If there's a concert at a local bar/club/whatever place with a band you like, there's another opportunity to tempt yourself. 'Remember how we always wanted to go see Band X, Self? Weeeelll...'
posted by Heretical at 1:59 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

@Heretical: "I haven't been using a lamp or anything because I can't afford one"

Full-spectrum lizard bulb: $6 at pet store. Old desk lamp: $1 at garage sale/thrift shop/etc. Or new for $8, or free if you've already got one hanging around.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:31 PM on September 21, 2010

"I want to clean this room, but it's night. I can't clean at night! I guess I'll have to do it on the weekend."

I so do this!! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. The only way I've found around it is if I throw myself at whatever task needs to be accomplished immediately upon getting home. Like set down bag, pick up sponge immediately.
posted by grapesaresour at 2:36 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try and organise social events / gym visits that you go to straight from work (do not pass Home, do not collect sweats and couch).

And as grapesaresour suggests, get stuck into your chores the minute you get home - decide on the way home what you want to get done before your reward of cosying up on the couch, and do it. You may even find that you get on a roll and get more done than you had planned!

(But also, don't beat yourself up about it too much - one of the joys of winter is curling up on the couch and eating comfort food and watching repeats of CSI)
posted by finding.perdita at 2:57 PM on September 21, 2010

As someone who works a lot of night shifts in customer service (where I have to be chipper and friendly if I want to make any kind of decent tips) I would definitely say that caffeine is your friend here. You don't want too much as you presumably want to eventually go to bed, but maybe a cup of tea or something around the time that your usual slump begins would do the trick to wake you back up for a few hours without making you overly wired.

I'm not sure how suggesting a cup of tea is either ineffective or unhelpful, by the way. It's a time-honored method that has been used by billions for centuries in order to give one's energy levels a little boost when your cerebrum knows you need it but your brain stem wants you to sleep. Unless you go crazy with it it's a safe, simple, effective, and pleasant way to give yourself a little stimulation to get yourself over the hump.
posted by Scientist at 3:35 PM on September 21, 2010

I turn tasks into winding down activities. Need to clean the office? Put on some jazz, pour a glass of wine, open up the file cabinet and start sorting. I imagine it sort of like a scene from a movie where I substitute looking at old photos with whatever I need to do. If it's dishes, I put on music and sing along. Crafts and such - get some wine or tea and put on comfy pjs.
posted by Terriniski at 5:46 PM on September 21, 2010

I'm going to rebut the caffeine suggestions -- my well-caffeinated yet completely unproductive all-nighter is a testament to the limitations of coffee. Caffeine will keep you awake, but it won't send that important "I need to be doing things right now" signal to your brain. YMMV.
posted by thisjax at 4:12 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm exactly the same, and am an energy hog in winter. I turn the heat up higher than most people, and around 3-4pm, I close all the shades/curtains and turn on the lights at full blast. This way, I am unaware it's dark outside and fully chirpy/productive (though it does make for rather a shock when I venture out for an event of any description!)
posted by shazzam! at 6:33 AM on September 22, 2010

Response by poster: I think it's funny that both knitting and reptile lamps have been mentioned: my full-spectrum lamp is, in fact, a reptile lamp, and I have picked my knitting back up this month after a semi-hiatus.

This past week, after writing this question, I think I got a bit more done after the sun went down. I realized that, most of the time when I'm home, I'm on one of the couches. Getting up, or sitting at a desk, seems to help. Squeezing my wind-down activities into a shorter window also helps some.

I did replace some of the burnt-out bulbs in the living room recently, so that may have helped, too.

posted by Metroid Baby at 11:14 AM on September 27, 2010

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