How can I change my body clock?
March 29, 2005 6:30 AM   Subscribe

How can I change my body clock?

My body clock is messed up. I find it very difficult to fall asleep before the time my body is used to, but I find it just as hard to wake up again, even at the "normal" time.

Currently I can't get to sleep until 2 or 3am, but on weekdays I have to wake up at 8ish (with difficulty) for work, so I don't get enough sleep. I make up for this at the weekends by sleeping in, often as late as midday, but this just makes getting to bed on Sunday evening harder.

I want to change my routine so that I can get to sleep at 11pm/midnight ish, and wake up at 8. How can I force my body clock to comply?
posted by Mwongozi to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Melatonin works for me. It is not a long term sleep aid, but it does seem to help in resetting the clock. Give yourself a set schedule, take the melatonin about a half hour before retiring and once you get into bed (on schedule) do not get up, no matter how awake you may be. If you keep enforcing the schedule eventually your body will adapt.
posted by caddis at 6:33 AM on March 29, 2005

Take a look at these sleep tips. I would guess the one you would benefit from most is "Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends." Stop sleeping in on weekends.
posted by revgeorge at 6:43 AM on March 29, 2005

Circadian rhythm is often affected by caffeine intake, exercise (or lack of it), and fluorescent light (to the point it's been suspected of greatly increasing risk of breast cancer).

At any rate, this post from a blog devoted to circadian rhythms will probably interest you.

Also, I remember reading of a section in Mind Hacks which was supposed to detail ways do exactly what you're asking, but my Googlefu is failing me (I can't find the text, or even the post I first saw mentioning it)--anyone?
posted by Tuwa at 7:01 AM on March 29, 2005

Here's another link for more sleep and sleep deprivation information. It hasn't helped me too much, as I'm still getting around four hours of sleep a night and waiting for Tyler Durden to be around the next corner. Maybe you'll be able to get more out of it, though.
posted by Moondoggie at 7:12 AM on March 29, 2005

As a severe night owl who must, because of the ridiculous ways of the world, get up at 7:30 every morning, I can greatly sympathize. I know this might sound stupid, but... try pretending that you are an early bird. I used to trick myself this way in high school in order to get through math class. If you approach a subject from the point of view of "God, I hate this. This sucks." it will be nearly impossible for you to overcome it. So, try to find something that you like about waking up early and focus on that.
posted by crapulent at 7:30 AM on March 29, 2005

Get a baby! It worked for me :-)

I used to be exactly like you describe, and after having a daughter and surviving the first few months with little sleep, I've settled into a previously-unbelievable rhythm of 12-1 to 8.

Getting a routine helps (just like it does for little kids). A cup of chamomile tea and a book in bed works wonders for me.
posted by sd at 7:56 AM on March 29, 2005

A cup of chamomile tea and a book in bed works wonders for me

Books have always done it for me. Even if I don't have a book available, I can visualize pages and paragraphs of typing, and begin "reading". If I even start concentrating on the content I'm reading (i.e. the random stuff that falls out of my head) I doze off almost immediately.

Alternatively, you could eat a lot of heavy food (like Turkey and bread, for example) near to your target bedtime. Sure, you'll probably gain a few pounds with repeated efforts, but you might stabilize your patterns.

Only thing I don't like about that last bit is the irregularity it introduces into your daily bowels. Eating right before bed can induce some serious stomach ache if you're not a person given to exercise.
posted by thanotopsis at 8:03 AM on March 29, 2005

The book Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order has a detailed section on the science of sleeping rhythms. This knowledge may be the key that helps you body rock your body clock.
posted by user92371 at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2005

To echo what crapulent said, a positive attitude has worked for me too. I'm an unapologetic night owl, I hate getting up before 9 or 10, and I will never, ever be a morning person. However, I've found that by giving myself a simple pre-sleep mental suggestion: "I will wake up tomorrow at 7:20 and feel good and be happy" has worked suprisingly well. It doesn't seem like it ought to have any effect at all, but on those nights that I remember to "remind" myself before sleep, the morning seems much more bearable and I wake up without much struggle.

As far as being actively awake past midnight, you might want to cut back on the things that are keeping your mind busy, such as computer/internet, books or TV. I loosely enforce on myself a no-internet-past 10pm rule and a no-TV-past 12am rule and, though I'm probably still sleep deprived, I get a lot more sleep than I used to.
posted by contessa at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2005

I have worked every shift imaginable (Morning, Noon, Swing, Graveyard) and I found that the best way to change my "Body Clock" so to speak is to set up a schedule.

Go to bed at the same time every night.
Wake up at the same time every morning.

After a little while you can start to fudge with the times (like on the weekends) but for at least the first month I would stick to the schedule.

Or you can do like my girlfriend does and take a couple Benadryl to knock you out.
posted by thefinned1 at 8:13 AM on March 29, 2005

Best answer: (IANAD, but I do host a discussion list for people with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome or Non-24 Hour Syndrome.) For what it's worth, some of the suggestions given here don't work for everyone. (Many people with serious sleep delay have tried them over and over, but setting a schedule, or taking melatonin, just don't seem to work universally.) If just trying to wake up earlier and be happy about it worked for everyone, there would be a lot fewer subscribers on my night owl mailing list. There are obviously many people who can do that, but sleep clocks are an odd thing, and they tend to be more "sticky" for some than others.

Something you might try is chronotherapy, in which you stay up a couple hours later each night until you are at a "normal" schedule. A problem with this is that you have to stay on a strict schedule from that time forward, or you'll slip -- one late night plane flight, or one midnight movie, and your body says "hey, I'm up late -- I remember this and I like it!" and soon you're a night owl again. Another problem I have heard is that you risk turning a delayed sleep phase into a non-24 hour running phase, in which your sleep phase is different every day, and that is much worse than a consistent night owl phase. And the big problem for many is having to take a week or two off work to do it.

Having said that, though, I am in the middle of my third attempt at this kind of chronotherapy. Third attempt, because it didn't stick the last two times -- but it did stick for a few months. I woke up at 10pm last night and will go to sleep at 3pm today. By this weekend I will be on a "normal" schedule.

Some people have found some success with light boxes and dawn simulators, though they haven't worked well for me.
posted by litlnemo at 8:37 AM on March 29, 2005

litlnemo, there's a name for what I do?

Thank you so, so much.
posted by cmyk at 8:46 AM on March 29, 2005

Room-darkening curtains are great for signaling to your body that it's time to go to sleep.
posted by Raspberry at 9:44 AM on March 29, 2005

Occasionally I've found myself on a bad sleep schedule. I do a drastic version of what litlnemo suggests. I stay up all night one night, and go to bed early (like 6:00pm) the next, dead tired. The next day I stay up a little later, eventually hitting the "tired at 11:00pm" thing.

I'd cut the sleeping in on weekends right out, it's contributing to your body's confusion.

Also, when I was younger I felt that I was resistant to a "change in state" from sleeping to waking, and vice versa. Maybe reminding yourself of how much you like sleep, and that it's okay to let go of the day, would work.
posted by lorrer at 10:39 AM on March 29, 2005

I had GREAT difficulty with this for many years. I've recently discovered that I no longer struggle in this area.

Here's the bit of info that was critical for me: when I need to adjust my body clock, I must employ a large handful of small tricks. That works. One "main trick" has never worked for me.

Here are my tricks, most of which come from many years of asking many people, mainly health professionals.

--) First thing in the morning, immediately upon awakening: Take a DMAE supplement. Acetylcholine is critical for regulation of sleep-wake cycles. Source Naturals has a tablet that I put in my mouth and demolish with my front teeth then keep under my tongue. Very, very sour, but totally worth it. DMAE is a "smart drug". You'll feel the change rapidly if you mainline it thru your tongue.

--) First thing in the morning, immediately upon awakening: Spend 10 minutes or so looking at the sky. Going for a walk is even better. There are thingies in your eyeballs that literally alter your hormonal balance in response to the sun. And for Christ's sake, it's fucking beautiful, that sky we almost never intentionally notice. Even when grey.

--) Exercise. Work your body hard. In one jetlag study I read about, "strenuous exercise on the first day of the trip" was an incredibly strong determinate for whether or not the test/control group quickly adjusted to the new timezone.

--) Make your bedroom completely dark.

--) Hugely important: Get a Sun Alarm

--) Be outside when the sun sets. This is especially good if you went for a walk the same morning.

--) Dim the lights about 90 minutes before bed. I like to dim them slightly at first, then darken the room/house gradually.

--) 5-HTP. IIRC, 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin which, along with melatonin, is highly correlated to sleep related stuff. I MUCH prefer it to melatonin: no weird dreams and no grogginess in the morning. I could also swear I'm "happier" the next day, what with the serotonin boost. Jarrow Formulas has a capsule that I twist open and pour under my tongue. The reason I do sublingual is because it bypasses the stomach which, based on its current contents, can greatly interfere with the 5-HTP getting to your brain.

For me, it's this whole "protocol" that works, not any one tactic.
posted by Moistener at 11:09 AM on March 29, 2005

Over the past 2 weeks, I changed my bedtime from 2am to 9:30pm just for the hell of it. On the up side, I wake up at 5:30 (no alarm) and have plenty of time to do things before work. On the downside, If I had a social life, it would be suffering now.

The key, I think is being consistent, and not sleeping in. There are 2 methods I have successfully used recently and in the past to change my clock.

One is setting an alarm for your desired wake up time. When the alarm rings, get out of bed. Possibly tortuous, but get out of bed and stay out. After you have been awake for ~14 hours, you can enterain notions of sleeping. Set the alarm again for the same time. Get out of bed every day at the same time. It will be painful for a while, but shortly, you won't need the alarm.

The second option is the one I've used most recently. Go to bed 8 hours (or whatever) before your desired wake up time. You may not be able to sleep, but stay in bed and relax. Go to bed at the same time every night. Do not stay up later to watch the beginning of a movie.

As I said I have used both of these methods. They both require some mental discipline, and may not work for everybody. I suspect that there are better ways.
posted by recursive at 11:18 AM on March 29, 2005

Best answer: As a practicing circadian biologist, here's my take:

Melatonin may or may not help. Human data is inconclusive; we see it as a "sleep drug" because it is released at night. Nocturnal animals, however, also release melatonin at night, when they are awake, thus the inconclusiveness of the whole thing. Some people say it helps. I say worth a shot.

Based on a shiftwork study presented at the last biological rhythms conference I attended, I'd do the following:

-Completely black out your bedroom. No light whatsoever. Soundproof it if possible. Blackout curtains may not seem like such a lovely accessory but you'll get the best results if you use them.

-Strong light as soon as you get up, for at least 15 minutes. Strong light will help reset your phase relationship (helps your internal clock adjust to the external environment). The sort of light used to treat seasonal affective disorder is ideal, a full-spectrum light such as the ones used for plants or lizards is an alternative. Strong sunlight is the best here but take what you can get.

-Limit light near bedtime. If you have to go outside, wear Blue Blocker shades, to kill the wavelength your eyes and thus your circadian system are the most responsive to.

-Regular bedtime. Even if you aren't tired yet, force yourself to lay there quietly until you fall asleep.

-No exercise near bedtime. Exercise amps up your system and makes it harder to fall asleep.

Last but not least, if all else fails consult professional help at a sleep clinic, especially if you feel that this may be related to some sort of sleep disorder.

Best of luck.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:47 PM on March 29, 2005

I feel I should add to my comment above that positive thinking alone isn't what helped me reset my sleep/wake schedule. The positive thinking part only helps me hate the morning less, which in turn makes it a bit easier to wake up & get on with the day.

If left to my own devices, assuming no daily obligations whatsoever, I'm on more of a 26 to 28 hour cycle of 16-18 hours' wakefullness and 10 hours' sleep. I also require a fully dark room to sleep in, 3 alarm clocks to wake me up, and even so I'm not even mentally "there" until about an hour or 90 minutes after I lurch out of bed.

I also know that I have a "point of no return" -- that is, if I can't get myself to sleep by, say, 3:00 am, and I have to be somewhere in the morning, I have to screw sleep entirely, because I simply will not respond to any external stimuli that would normally wake me up. Then I do the go-to-bed-at-6:00 pm thing that evening to make everything right. Sort of.

Something I did to get myself on a normal schedule (normal to the evil morning people who run the world, not normal to me) is to avoid doing the weekend catchup. I gradually forced myself to wake up at a semidecent hour on Saturdays and Sundays so that the tiredness would catch up with me during the week. Within a month or so I was not having trouble getting to sleep by midnight. YMMV.
posted by contessa at 3:39 PM on March 29, 2005

If you have to go outside, wear Blue Blocker shades, to kill the wavelength your eyes and thus your circadian system are the most responsive to.

Actually, Blue Blocker block blue, hence their name, not the wavelength your eyes are most responsive to, which is yellow.
posted by kindall at 3:57 PM on March 29, 2005

I did some research on this for a freelance article in a magazine.

The experts think that circadian rhythms are based on our exposure to light. The circadian rhythm is like a sine wave -- there's a peak and a valley. You can move the peak/valley by as much as 12 hours by varying your exposure to light.

Corporations concerned about their night-shift workers now "dose" their graveyard employees with light prescriptions. The average circadian nadir comes at about 3 a.m., and our zenith is usually 3 p.m. Scientists believe that by dosing people with light at the right time (it doesn't even have to be a special kind of light), they can advance the circadian nadir to 6 a.m. or 9 a.m. or noon, or afternoon, etc.

It's all about getting the right dosage of light at the right time.

In other words, getting in to the routine of getting up at 3 a.m. will do you no good if you're in a dim environment.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:48 PM on March 29, 2005

"I also require a fully dark room to sleep in, 3 alarm clocks to wake me up, and even so I'm not even mentally 'there' until about an hour or 90 minutes after I lurch out of bed."

Contessa, you sound like me. In my case, though, when I am trying to keep a "normal" schedule, I have to leave the window shades open and try to get as much light in the room as possible. Which makes it tough to make the room pitch black at night, since I don't have any mechanism to automatically open the blinds in the morning. ;) If I don't have a ton of light, it's much harder for me to wake up. My theory is that I am not light-sensitive but light-INsensitive, and so I need more light than most to respond.

I did use a SunUp dawn simulator for a while, with four halogen lamps pointed directly at my pillow. I found that it did not necessarily wake me up! The lamps stay on for 3 hours after "dawn", and I could sleep through it the whole time! But it did seem to stabilize my sleep phase somehow, even if it did not advance it. I stopped using it after a while because the hum of the halogen lights irritated me when I was trying to sleep, but it could be possible to deal with this somehow. And for those who are light-sensitive it's a good tool.

I will be trying to use a light box starting later this week, once I'm waking at a "normal" time, to see if that helps.

"Regular bedtime. Even if you aren't tired yet, force yourself to lay there quietly until you fall asleep."

Of course, if you really don't sleep... if it takes hours and hours and sleep doesn't come... that's the real problem, and with delayed sleep phase it's pretty typical.

Someone e-mailed me about the night owl mailing list I maintain -- subscription info for the list is at The page needs an update, but the info there still applies.
posted by litlnemo at 2:53 AM on March 30, 2005

« Older Things to do in PIttsburgh.   |   Interlinked pages for search engine optimization Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.