How can I manage "shift sleeping"?
September 13, 2012 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Shift sleeping... I work standard office hours, but my boyfriend is a boozehound who works till very late (or early). What can I do to preserve my sleep/sanity - and his?

We live together. He works from 4pm to anywhere from 1.30am to 4am - doing 5 shifts a week (exactly which days varies). Count in another half hour or so once he gets home from work.

I have to leave for work every morning at 8... and function best on 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. So in an ideal world I'd be off to be at 11pm.

But I've gotten into bad habits (hello internet and screens), and often I seem lie awake waiting for him to walk in the door at any moment. By the time I do actually fall asleep, he gets home and I snap awake again. Rinse and repeat! I also worry that in the mornings I am ruining his sleep, so I try to slip out of the bedroom quickly. Unfortunately we live in a shared house, so I do mostly need to get ready in the bedroom.

This situation is not going to change for a long time, so I need some tactics, tips and advice. How did you deal with a partner on a different schedule?

Things I am thinking of doing: making sure we have a blanket/duvet each, upgrading our bed from a double to something bigger, wearing a sleep mask...
posted by teststrip to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Would sleeping with earplugs or a white noise machine help you to stop listening for him to come in, or stop him from waking up while you get ready in the am?
posted by bq at 3:38 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another thought might be laying out your clothes & stuff for the day set out.

White noise helps me somewhat with divergent hours though they aren't as predictable as yours. I also got into a drop off to timed noise.
posted by tilde at 3:49 PM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Put everything you need to get ready in the morning in a little bag. Do this the night before. Wake up, grab the bag, and head to the bathroom. Finish your process there. You will find that dressing in the bathroom doesn't add more than a minute or two to your toilet time, and shouldn't negatively affect other roommates' access to the facility. This is what I have done in a similar situation. Personally I find it "icky" to get dressed in the bathroom, but if it comes down to disturbing my partner or getting dressed in the bathroom, well, then icky wins every time. As for you not being disturbed at night, perhaps you can try a night face mask and ear-plugs? Try them and see-- try for more than one night, as well. They are always uncomfortable if you aren't accustomed, but it is surprising how quickly you can get used to them-- even come to rely on them and find them comforting. Also talk to your boyfriend about how the bedroom should be only for sleeping (and sex)-- not for lounging, eating, watching TV or any other thing. Having that conversation and talking about those boundaries together will get buy-in from both partners. Another thing that has helped me is to have good curtains and a door-mat to make the bedroom really really dark-- it helps you fall asleep, and studies have shown that sleeping in a completely dark room results in better sleep. (Something about light falling on retinas even through closed eyes can inhibit the body from going into REM sleep-- the "good" sleep.) Finally, and you may be nothing like me, I would add that personally I often have trouble sleeping if I am not exercising regularly. Exercise has so many other benefits, but a good night's sleep has to be on of my favorites. Good luck!
posted by seasparrow at 3:50 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend also is a night owl (most of the time) for no other reason than he just has a weird circadian rhythm thing going on -- seems to be on a 36 hour day or something. Anyway, a mattress that doesn't transfer motion (we have a TempurPedic knockoff from Walmart that cost around $250 for a queen!) has been awesome, in addition to having different blankets (and 4 pillows) available so we're not fighting for them when one of us first gets to bed.

The whole "I lie awake waiting for him" thing stuck out to me too. Maybe you are just up for your own sake, but keep in mind that time in bed together, whether you are snuggling or doing sex things, is super important for most peoples' relationships. Maybe you're looking for more of that, since you are waiting (or trying to wait) for him to get to bed too before you fall asleep? Even if my BF is not going to come to sleep with me (he may have only been awake 3-6 hours when I'm ready to go to bed), I often ask him to come "tuck me in" and just hang out and cuddle for a little bit. It seems like your schedules would prevent this on most nights (right..?), maybe give it a shot when possible.
posted by jorlyfish at 4:07 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can he stay awake until you wake up? You could shift your sleep schedule around a little as well to meet him halfway or so.

Is there an endpoint to his shift work? Is he saving up for school or looking for other jobs? If not, this is going to wear on both of you for a looong time and may be worth prompting some changes, whether one or both of you changing jobs or finding a place where you can have separate bedrooms.
posted by Etrigan at 4:09 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband is a stand up comic and I work a normal schedule. When he first started doing it full time, I woke up wondering when he would be home, and I woke up every time he came home, and then I was wide awake and couldn't fall back asleep, and I would sometimes wake him up accidentally while getting ready in the morning.

I think for us a big part has just been getting used to it. It sounds weird to other people but it has become normal to us. Also, he tries to leave me phone messages letting me know when he expects to get home, so if I wake up and wonder when he'll be home, I can actually find out.

Our memory foam mattress has helped, too--we have the Finnvik.

Mostly, we both love our jobs and have found a way to make this work because it's worth it for us to be happy.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:25 PM on September 13, 2012

Our schedules aren't quite as disparate and are also voluntary but we did just get used to it. He's learnt to do the pirate trick so he can come to bed without waking me up, and when I was working I would lay everything out and get mostly ready in the bathroom/loungeroom (so partially dressed/fully dressed in the bathroom, then hair and whatnot in the loungeroom while I got breakfast ready etc.). It took a while and sometimes I still lay awake but I've mostly trained myself out of it.

No fancy mattresses or anything, but I sleep reasonably heavily and so does he. He also gets back to sleep much easier than I do.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2012

Have you tried deliberately segmented sleep? It comes naturally to me so I'm not sure how hard it would be to train yourself to do it, but if you're going to have to deal with this for a while it could be very worthwhile. Go to bed at 9pm, get up for about an hour or two when your boyfriend comes home, then go back to sleep. The trick is that you're planning for it by going to bed earlier so you get your full sleep quota and you just time shift some of your normal evening tasks to that time slot so you still get everything done.
posted by anaelith at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

My wife sleeps very lightly, and so got custom earplugs, which cost about $125 but did wonders cutting out a bunch of ambient noise (and dampening sudden, sharp noises), which did wonders improving her sleep. If you and your boyfriend both get them, then you'll each have a bit more latitude to not be tiptoeing around while your partner is sleeping. Because they're custom, they're very comfortable.

Seconding a larger bed, and one with a mattress that doesn't transfer motion. Separate blankets also do wonders for avoiding unwanted interactions with someone who's trying to sleep. Basically, do everything you can so that the person sleeping isn't disturbed--there's a lot, and it makes a huge difference.
posted by fatbird at 10:44 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Etrigan - no, unfortunately. He's a professional, worked in/managed bars for the last decade... the most likely change I is from this late night cocktail joint to opening his own place (eep).

Thanks everyone - I'm looking forward to sorting out our room a bit this weekend! If anyone else has any suggestions please share them...!
posted by teststrip at 4:05 AM on September 14, 2012

Have you talked to your partner about this? Does he know that he wakes you up when he comes in? Could he be quieter?

You say "I also worry that in the mornings I am ruining his sleep" but I'm not clear on whether you *know* you're ruining his sleep. Some people are hard sleepers and don't wake up at all. Even if it seems like he's stirring, he might not notice any difference, so I recommend having an open conversation about this. Sleeping comfortably with a partner can kind of be a teamwork effort, in my experience.

Also, something to think about: are you staying awake because you need more quality time with him? If so, taking action on that front might help you get to sleep when you need to.

If you haven't, talk to your guy. You can work this out together. Good luck!
posted by purple_bird at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2012

My husband is a bartender and I work a standard office schedule. The way we deal with it is that I go to bed at the time I need to okay, okay, a little later than I ought to — I blame MeFi. He comes home when he does, usually spends some time on the computer, then comes to bed. (This doesn't wake me up because I sleep in earplugs anyway, sometimes with a brown noise generator or a recording of waves playing — he tends to snore and it's the only way I can get a reasonably uninterrupted night's sleep.)

When my alarm goes off in the morning, we both get up. He makes coffee and usually spends the time on the computer or petting the cats while I get ready for work. (And talking my ear off about the gig last night, or the FPP he's reading, or…) When I leave, he kisses me goodbye and then goes back to bed for however many hours he needs to in order to get seven to eight hours of sleep. (He reports it helps when one of the soporificats zonks out on top of him.)
posted by Lexica at 7:05 PM on September 14, 2012

I'm the night owl in my marriage. My husband is 9-5, and goes to bed at midnight most nights. I am... unpredictable in schedule. We've been doing this for a while now, and he doesn't notice when I come to bed, and I don't wake up all that significantly when he gets up in the morning. Actually, on weekdays I sleep through his alarm, though on weekends or at nonstandard hours it wakes me up. Which I find kind of interesting.

I use a sleep mask or just throw a shirt or something over my eyes, so I don't even notice when he needs to turn on the light to get ready. But I don't wear earplugs, and I think the key to success in this for both of us was just getting used to it over time. I think it's been about 4 years since our schedules have been essentially the way they are now. It hasn't been difficult for a while. However, most of his getting-ready time is in the bathroom, and all I need to do when I come in to go to sleep is slip off my clothes and lay down. It may be more difficult for you that way.

By the way, I *highly* recommend a queen-sized bed. Fancy mattress or no. I do not think we would be nearly as successful in a double.
posted by Because at 2:04 PM on September 15, 2012

My friends are in a similar situation--one has to wake up at 4:30a, the other at 8:00a. They moved their bed into the living room so that the early riser can do all of his getting ready in the actual bedroom (sans bed) and wont bug her. He's super loud, clumsy, and often has to be on the phone early maybe a room reconfiguration, or a room reorganization would work for you? Works for them.
posted by manicure12 at 9:27 PM on September 15, 2012

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