How can I fit my nocturnal self into a diurnal world?
November 18, 2012 1:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm almost nocturnal but feel almost guilty about it, and don't see it working out in the long run with a family even though it is the perfect set-up for me right now while I'm on my own still. Definitely want a family, though... Any advice or similar situations solved or coped with?

I'm looking for anecdotal or scientific support or advice here. I am a nocturnal person, and I've always struggled with fitting it into the normal daytime hours I feel are expected of a worthy, grown-up, responsible human being, and that school pressed on me growing up. Well I tried an experiment and just worked from midnight till early morning, slept till noon, resumed working until 6, had dinner and went out or did my own thing till midnight, and repeated.

Well, I've never been more productive than that couple of weeks, and it made me pretty darn happy with myself. Problem is, I'm single now but would like a family, and apart from that, I feel a lot of pressure to keep "normal" hours for some reason-- a combination of internal and external. So I feel like I can't make this last forever... can I?

Okay, so has anyone been in a similar situation and made the transition to "normal hours?" Anyone with a family? I'm self-employed, and my job happens to work fine this way-- just working at night, dealing with people in the afternoon.

I guess I want to hear from anyone who's solved a similar situation or learned to deal with it, and now feels kind of objectively "successful," I guess.
posted by dubadubowbow to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I've never been more productive than that couple of weeks, and it made me pretty darn happy with myself. Problem is, I'm single now but would like a family, and apart from that, I feel a lot of pressure to keep "normal" hours for some reason-- a combination of internal and external. So I feel like I can't make this last forever... can I?

You do what makes you happy now and if you meet someone amazing and start a family, that person and you can work on it then. Stop worrying about it until then.

You are just beanplating problems for a future that isn't real yet. You're happy being nocturnal. Some people are. Some people are also introverts, extroverts, gay, straight, asexual, agnostic, religious, etc. etc. etc. etc. do you see my point?

What hours of the day you enjoy being awake is not really different from those since it's hardly a choice your body made and if you meet someone, you can deal with it then.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:23 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it works for you and your work, all that matters is that it works in your future hypothetical family situation. Until then I wouldn't sweat it. Live your life in a way that makes you happy.

FWIW I'm nocturnal in a diurnal scenario. Not married with kids, but living with a SO and a dog. She's an early riser, hit the gym then go to school type. Our lives have just kind of fallen into a rough pattern that works around our schedules/lifestyles.

In the mornings, she'll feed the dog and head to the gym (even Dog doesn't want to go out at that time, he hoovers his breakfast then steals her spot in the bed) and upon returning will put a cup of coffee and the leash next to the bed and give me a gentle kick. I walk him then we both go back to bed for a couple hrs. At night, we'll hang out in bed and read until she's passed out, and I go back to work (or answer AskMe;s...).

Look at is a good barometer for if you've found the right person, they'll understand you, they may or may not be similar to you, but you'll find a way to make it work and still have a happy life. But don't stress it.
posted by mannequito at 1:25 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am very much like you. I'm typing this at 3:30 in the morning and just starting to get into my groove.

Unfortunately, I've always had jobs that I had to do in the morning and afternoon. I've made the transition to "normal hours" when necessary and while I have trouble waking up in the morning and never feel quite on top of my game, it works out, especially if I go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day. I've actually learned to enjoy it, even though I realize that indulging my late-night impulses usually leads to concentration and creative clarity.

My sister's husband works overnights and he wakes up at 7:00PM, works all night, comes home in the morning and goes to bed about noon. My sister works in the afternoons and evenings so she makes him dinner and spends time with him in the morning, goes off to work, and comes back home to wake him up for work around 7:00PM. Neither of them is in love with the set-up but for awhile the solution was for her to work overnights too. Anyway, it works. On his weekends they spend a lot of time together.

Just do your thing for now and you can always change later. Or try meeting someone who works overnights and will appreciate your weird hours.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:26 AM on November 18, 2012

I've been in a similar situation. I guess you could call me an extreme night owl. Given my freedom, I stay up until about 4am and get up around 10am. For a while last summer I was entirely nocturnal. I knew that with an upcoming job I was taking I'd need to do the normal 9-5 thing and was looking at a rough adjustment.

I used light therapy a bit. This article includes a table that tells you when to use the light given your score on the Morningness-Eveningness scale.

I also got some rx help from my doc. I took Nuvigil, which will inhibit sleepiness in the am and a sleeping pill at night for just a couple weeks to help me get used to more "normal" schedule.

Following sleep hygiene rules such as getting up at the same time every day helped with the "oh my god, why am I up before the sun" pain. I get up at 7, get home around 5:30, nap until 9 and then stay up until 2 or 3. By splitting my sleep like that, I can get enough to function during the day and still enjoy my nighttime.

So it is doable. I still function best after 9pm though, and have given some thought to shifting my work hours to adjust. At the same time, I kind of like having 9pm to 4am to myself to enjoy, and if it means a bit of adjustment, oh well.

If you're really looking for help, check out a therapist trained in CBT-I, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. In particular, sleep restriction is a hardcore but effective way to shift your sleep. You can also do some research on "circadian rhythm disorder".
posted by gilsonal at 1:34 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

If this were a truly permanent, unsolvable problem and shifting your body clock were truly impossible, no-one would ever recover from jetlag.

I used to strongly prefer nocturnal hours, but then I took a job which required me to wake up at 4am. When you really have to, you just make it work. You go to bed early. Or you go to bed late, get up early and suffer through an awful, sleep-deprived day, or two, or three, after which you collapse into bed in the early evening and sleep the sleep of the gods. Gradually, your body clock shifts.

Looking back, a lot of my nocturnal tendencies were a result of being young and having few real consequences for waking up late or starting my day tired and groggy. That changed when I took the 4am job, and so did my sleeping patterns. These days, I actually enjoy waking up early (not quite 4am early, but certainly 5 or 5:30) and it's easy to do because I have the self discipline to get myself to bed at a reasonable hour.

That's not to say that people who prefer nocturnal hours are lazy or lacking in self-discipline - I know some incredibly creative, productive people who are nightowls and I completely respect their sleep habits. But if there comes a time when your goals and aspirations require you to be awake in the daytime, you will find the strength to make it happen. Light and exercise in the morning can help, but mostly it just takes stubborn determination.
posted by embrangled at 2:11 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Babies don't care whether you're a night owl or not, they'll make you conform to whatever damn schedule they like and if you manage to grab a few hours sleep here and there, you'll thank them for the privilege.

I used to be a night owl, get all my best work done after hours or late at night. These days I'm a newish SAHM with a baby that wakes at 5.30am thanks to daylight saving, and because I'm extra lucky, 4am yesterday. It's not a case anymore of sleeping in the time period I would like to, I'm just grateful if I can get sleep full stop. I'm told this won't happen for ever and everyone adjusts... I'll let you know when that happens. So yeah, for now getting up ultra early is my new normal.

I think you do it when you have to, and if your situation changes, you'll adjust too, if there's no choice.
posted by Jubey at 2:16 AM on November 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am by nature a night owl too, but here I am- up at 5am and starting my day. When your life circumstances change, so will your sleep schedule. This is NOT to say that you will be happy and cheerful at 5am when your two year old climbs on top of your head to see if you're awake yet, just that you can deal with it because the rewards of family are lovely. If you have a severe problem getting your schedule turned, there are medical interventions you can use to help.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:21 AM on November 18, 2012

I agree with Jubey, there's no need to worry about fitting your odd hours around a family - whatever your schedule is, a baby's going to screw it up.

Both of my kids thankfully take after their parents and wake up around 8am, but will happily stay up till 11 or later. I'm in the habit of bringing home bits of work like marking or reading to do after the kids are asleep, so I've actually had to become more of a night owl, sometimes working till 4 or so. Wrecks you for work the next day but that's par for the course when you're a new(ish) parent!
posted by nomis at 2:47 AM on November 18, 2012

I'm mostly nocturnal. However, when dating someone, i get on a totally normal schedule b/c I adapt to theirs. That's one of the best things about dating, for me, actually. YMMV.
posted by kellybird at 2:48 AM on November 18, 2012

I actually think this could work fine with a partner and baby. The only time you are asleep when other people are normally awake is between around 7 and midday. So your partner would have to take full responsibility for the child(ren) during that period. That could work. Single parents manage somehow. If you are earning enough, you could hire childcare for some of that time.

On the plus side, you would be able to take care of the kid(s) when they wake up during the night, which would give your partner far more sleep than most parents get. So that's an advantage to your situation.

You don't say whether you are male or female. If you would breastfeed, then that would interrupt your morning sleep somewhat, but interrupted sleep is the norm for a woman who breastfeeds whether she is nocturnal or not.
posted by lollusc at 2:49 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Two of my best friends are changing shift shiftworkers , and my brother is a permanent night shifter, and they make it work; two have stay at home partners, the other has a part-time normal hours partner. They adjust. When I was working normal hours my partner was at home and he ended up split sleeping; up late, nap with the toddler. It worked for him, but now he's working normal hours so he has had to adjust. If you can make it work as far as employment goes, or your partner's job, then it is totally doable.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:11 AM on November 18, 2012

I strongly recommend you read this blog post by Coturnix, a scientist who studies circadian rhythms:

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sleep (But Were Too Afraid To Ask)

I am certain you will learn useful things from it, and it's a great read.
posted by fullerenedream at 3:19 AM on November 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

FWIW my husband and I are both like this. We managed to find (and marry) each other so it must be possible.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:04 AM on November 18, 2012

Marry a morning person, they can help carry the load of childcare while you get a little rest and vice versa.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:08 AM on November 18, 2012

I think those hours would totally work with a family.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:36 AM on November 18, 2012

I solved it. I wasn't an extreme night owl, but I'd often be up until 3, 4 AM.

I think the two main things are a) an intrinsic desire to change your sleeping habits; no amount of external pressure with make you want to switch things up and b) realize it is going to take weeks of forcing yourself to wake and sleep early before it feels normal.

Most advice for insomnia can be tweaked to create better sleep habits that will help you switch. I wake up at 5 AM every day now, with or without an alarm.

I can definitely see it being beneficial to have an opposite sleep schedule from your partner with an infant, but there's the whole bit about dating and cohabitating with a morning person. I have tried dating people with different schedules; I'm usually tired and cranky when they are most active, and vice versa. I'd be more inclined to say if you can't change, look for another night owl! Kids will force you both into a semi-normal schedule once they are in school.
posted by peacrow at 6:51 AM on November 18, 2012

Given total freedoms, I prefer a schedule like yours, but having just started my first long-term, consistently 9-5 job, I have changed my body clock.

It did take a few months. For the first month or two I still felt groggy in the morning, even after getting 8 hours of sleep. My body still wanted to stay up until 12-2 am. But I've now been "on the schedule" about 3 months. I get up at about 9 even on weekends. I sleep about 11-7 and I get to sleep at 11pm no problem.

Yeah, I didn't think it'd happen to me. I used to sleep until noon at least on weekends, even when I had to get up early-ish during the week. I used to never be sleepy until about 16 hours after I'd woken up (I envy people that can sleep in late and still go to bed early that night if they've got something early the next day).

I never thought I'd be a "morning person", but having been on that schedule and consistently getting 8 hours of sleep beforehand, I can get up at 7 and be pretty clearheaded.

It takes more time than you think.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:10 AM on November 18, 2012

Stop fighting it. You'll be happier and healthier that way... and may even find, as I have done, that there are periods of reasonably "normal" hours every so often as well.
posted by infini at 7:14 AM on November 18, 2012

It is entirely possible that your child will also be a night owl. My mom and I are (my dad was pretty average, I think, but we all leaned towards staying up late) and she gave up on putting me to bed before 11 when I was two. It just worked better for everyone and I slept through the night because I didn't have to attempt to sleep when I wasn't tired.

But to some degree, life is just going to dictate how it goes for you. The screaming baby years, well...yeah, that schedule doesn't work for anybody and you just have to adjust. The years where the kid has to go to just have to adjust. Inevitably, all night owls end up having to adjust to the early birds' schedules for some reason or other, whether or not it's because of kids. That is just sadly life for all of us. Enjoy living life on your terms while you can, and you'll have to learn when you have to learn.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:03 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If this were a truly permanent, unsolvable problem and shifting your body clock were truly impossible, no-one would ever recover from jetlag.

Read about delayed sleep phase syndrome. Not everyone is as flexible as the norm about this stuff.

I'm like you--my hours are pretty similar, in fact, though lately I find myself waking up at 9:30 no matter what. Still the morning, but not morning enough for a morning-person job. When I've worked regular jobs, I'm usually okay conforming at first--but my sleep debt gets worse and worse as time goes on and by the one or two month mark, I'm a zombie. Years later, I realized I was a zombie through most of high school.

All of this works fine for my lifestyle right now. It might not someday, but why worry about it? Even if the opposite were true--and you were a total early bird--you might end up with a night owl kid who is just hitting their stride around 9 pm (that happened to a friend of mine). Life is unpredictable. Do the best that you can now, and go with the flow.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:04 AM on November 18, 2012

Just find a nocturnal lady or gent to share your life or time with.

Personally, I naturally go to bed around 1-2am and get up around 10. I honestly do like being up in the early morning (sunrises! Calm! Bright morning fresh world! Dewy grass!), but I never feel truly rested regardless of how much sleep I've had. The hours between 2am and 10 am are the hours when my body feels like it is not supposed to be awake and everything just seems a little "off" somehow, regardless of whether I'm physically tired. I'm most productive and energetic after I've been awake for a really long time, so shit doesn't really start getting done until 5pm-ish, which is inconvenient if you need to go to the bank but otherwise mostly fine.

So I typically work jobs with a later start or with changing shifts so that I don't have to be up early every day. It really hasn't negatively impacted my life that much; you can totally find ways to force yourself to get up earlier when you need to. I've tried being an early morning person and being fully nocturnal, and I've decided it's more important not to feel weird all the time. I'd say, don't fight your nature. Use it to your advantage. I don't know what line of work you're in, but there are plenty of real, grownup, important jobs that need people awake to do them in the wee hours.

Being a grownup means being useful and responsible and productive; it doesn't mean being exactly like everyone else at your own expense.
posted by windykites at 10:27 AM on November 18, 2012

Oh yeah ps; my mom is a night person. So is my brother, aunt, and both of my aunt's daughters. There is no reason being nocturnal should prevent you from having a family.
posted by windykites at 10:30 AM on November 18, 2012

Also, anecdotally: I've got a set of married friends who are nocturnal. They just have dinner late, put the kid to bed late, and take turns getting up early with him, because he apparently is a robot who doesn't need sleep. They nap when they can, all three of them.
posted by windykites at 10:34 AM on November 18, 2012

I have a lot of friends with kids who work night shifts at the hospital; it makes family life a little odd for things like weekend T-ball games, but they also can have two working parents with no outside child care. Daytime dad takes them to school in the morning and goes off to work; Nighttime mom picks them up, they all have dinner as a family and spend some time together in the evening, mom goes off to work after they go to bed, and comes home to sleep right before they get up. Then she sleeps until midafternoon.

The challenges are different than in a 9-to-5 two-parents-working situation, but they're not particularly worse.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2012

Married, three resident kids.

I used to beat myself up for being a lazy swine unable to get up in the morning until I discovered (via somebody else's AskMe question) that Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is a Thing, which a subsequent sleep study confirmed that I have a well-entrenched case of. And having forced myself for decades to work around the world's insane sleep schedule, I now feel no guilt at all for having started forcing my world to work around mine.

Much happier. Much healthier. Much more productive. Much less sleep-deprived.
posted by flabdablet at 5:41 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Okay, those answers were all excellent, but the best part is: I am now being diagnosed with DSPS. Apparently it's possible to have a 24.5-to-26-hour circadian rhythm, it looks like I have something like that, and I'm doing a sleep journal now to figure it out with my therapist. Life is a lot better now that I'm going along with it, though. Thanks everyone! It's nice to know that I'm not a freak who will never survive in the real world!
posted by dubadubowbow at 7:06 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Apparently it's possible to have a 24.5-to-26-hour circadian rhythm

If I understand the science correctly, something close to this is actually the default setting for most people if completely deprived of light cues, which are what the body's timing system uses to stay in sync with the rotation of the planet.

From an engineering perspective it would pretty much have to work that way. If the body naturally maintained perfect a 24 hour phase lock on its own, it would not respond well to seasonal variations in dawn time, so it has to be built to run either fast or slow absent external sync; and if it were to run fast the external light-change signals would need to retard certain chemical reactions rather than trigger them early, which strikes me as a harder regulatory pathway for evolution to discover.

There are two such sets of reaction cascades, one triggered by nightfall and one by daybreak. Those of us with DSPS respond very slowly or not at all to at least one of those light signals. You can play with your own lighting conditions to see which, if any, make a difference to you: if you find you can make yourself get sleepy earlier by shutting all your home lighting off at sunset for a week, you might be able to get a handle on your DSPS by keeping your lighting generally dimmer, reducing its blue content and avoiding evening screen time. On the other hand, if you find you can become alert earlier by exposing yourself to very bright light for 15 minutes on wakening, that might be all you need to do to pull your clock into sync at whatever time you choose (sleep apnea shops will sell you a face-sized bank of blue LEDs for this purpose). Or you might get value from both. Or you might find, as in my case, that neither intervention makes a lick of difference.

I do find that if I'm on a camping holiday and thereby deprived of all artificial lighting for at least two weeks, I find myself getting out of the tent progressively earlier. But that only goes so far, and it's a combination of the fact that a tent becomes unbearably hot once the sun's been on it for an hour and the simple practice effect of being forced repeatedly to respond to that; I'm still groggy as hell all morning, my brain still doesn't really come good until mid-afternoon, and it still takes me at least four hours to get to sleep after dark.

I like camping, but only if there's enough exercise involved to make exhaustion win out over the everyday jetlag.
posted by flabdablet at 4:26 AM on December 14, 2012

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