How to break the cyle go to bed early? Is it procrastination?
July 21, 2013 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I have an annoying tendency to go to bed very late, like 3 or 4 am and wake up at lunch hour. I've tried to change this by getting used to wake up when the sun comes up but I'm always breaking this habit and going back to sleep with the windows covered. I think I got this annoying habit because I procrastinate during the day and when the day comes to an end I don't want to go to bed because I didn't do what was most important during the day. So I try to do that important thing until like 4 am and them go to sleep. I want to break this cycle but it's so difficult!
posted by tsuwal to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Grant yourself permission to pick up that day's most important thing the next day. You're already into the next day at 4 AM.

Start with that nice and natural delimiter: at midnight, you're done. The day is over, even if you're still awake. If at all possible, and quit right at midnight. Sleep hygiene time. Come back to it the next day, armed with those hours on the other side of sleep.

Keep at it. It'll take time to break the pattern, but you can start a new one.
posted by RainyJay at 9:22 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Schedule something that "costs" you if you miss it (either money or social status if you constantly flae) for before noon like a class, social engagements, gym or a volunteer commitment.
posted by saucysault at 9:28 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to readjust from restaurant hours. What seems to be helping is a mix of what RainJay says and just forcing myself to get things done before lunch. Nothing really happens before lunch anyway, so on those weird occasions where people have wanted to do stuff I had the extra bonus of not being busy.

Plus, chunk things out. Cleaning the kitchen is a big thing that you'll probably never finish. Emptying the dishwasher is doable. Plus emptying the dishwasher is something concrete that you can check off the list.
posted by theichibun at 9:31 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sleep is one of the most important things, so doing that should be on your priority list. I would set an alarm to go to bed on whatever device you want, then literally force yourself there. It may take a few nights of lying in bed fretting and not sleeping at all. Keep at it. Just lie there, in as dark a room as you can stand, and don't allow yourself to get up or out unless you need to use the bathroom. Eventually, you'll train yourself.
posted by xingcat at 9:33 AM on July 21, 2013

I didn't really do this until I got a regular job, that starts at 8 AM. It took years, but I don't think I even need an alarm clock anymore; I wake up like a dog who knows it's time to go on his walk.

Perhaps following the kind of routine that they tell insomniacs to try would help. No caffeine in the evenings, stop looking at screens an hour or so before bed, lower the lights, listen to some relaxing music. Then just get in bed, at midnight or whatever you decide, and stay there.
posted by thelonius at 9:41 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might just have a late luteal phase. Back when I was healthy and working, I spent years taking sleeping medications, forcing myself into sleep hygiene regimens (which you should try if you haven't - google is your friend there; I'm not very up on sleep medicine - perhaps other commenters will help), and generally feeling like a bad person because I seemed to naturally sleep between 2 am and 10 am. Sleep doc did a comprehensive sleep study (which I recommend and suggest you make sure they're not just testing for sleep apnea) and after finding no abnormalities, the sleep doctor told me that it's extremely normal to have a late phase like this. I didn't have a job that required me to get in at any particular time or kids. There wasn't anything wrong with when I was sleeping/working and it wasn't an uncommon thing. That was incredibly freeing. It really wasn't a problem. You sound type A like me. Maybe you get your best work done at night? (Of course, IANAD.)

So, for you I would say:

1. Get a sleep doctor appointment. Find one who isn't just concerned with sleep apnea through social media or recommendations. Do see a sleep doctor and probably get a study. GP's are really behind on sleep, in my experience.
2. Read about sleep hygiene and try recommendations there - that should help some. Realize they don't all apply to everybody. I had a studio apartment. Obviously the advice about not doing anything but sleeping in the room where I slept didn't hold.
3. Flesh out why this is (or will be) a problem. The funny thing for me was that when my distress about the situation lessened I started sleeping from 11pm to 8am or 12am to 8-9am. I think you will do ok.

I'd be really wary of putting commitments in the morning right away, before you've gotten checked out. Sleep disturbance wears really hard on me, at least (its severe worsening is a big part of why I am disabled), and I'm a very bad driver / employee / etc if I'm tired.
posted by sweltering at 9:45 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

I also was on the same sleeping schedule as you, after many years of working in restaurants. Like the above poster, I didn't really start snapping out of it til I got a 9-5 job seven years ago and even then, only in the last couple of years has it become easy to wake up for that. In my experience, I had to have something to do in the morning to be able to be tired enough to get into bed at a decent hour.

Here's what helps me, a lot. I wasn't able to change my sleeping habits by forcing myself to go to bed early, because I would just lie there, irritated, for hours. Now, I sleep with my blinds half open, so that the sun gets in in the mornings. Even when I'm tired from tossing and turning all night, I wake up relatively early in the morning because I just cannot keep sleeping in a bright room. It can be really annoying, but my god, it works. The trick is to get up at that point. You'll be tired enough in the evenings to be able to get into bed at a decent time. But you know, YMMV.
posted by ohmy at 9:53 AM on July 21, 2013

I am like this too: I hit peak productivity at about midnight. I'll procrastinate all day long if I have to, and as soon as it's dark work just comes in to focus and I don't think about anything else. Its helped to think about this not as a personal failing ("I wasted a whole day! Now I have to stay up!) but rather as having a brain that's a little time-shifted and working around that. So I sleep in (just not till noon) and do easy tasks that require little thinking in the morning, work hard till midnight, and after midnight do a few more quiet, non-physical things before bed at 3 or 4.
When necessary, I can get myself on a 9-5 schedule via morning coffee and evening melatonin.
posted by velebita at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've always been a night owl, more creative in the evenings, etc, but a few months ago I decided to reform myself into a morning person (or the closest approximation that I could manage). So far, so good. Here's how I've been doing it:

1. Get up at the same time EVERY DAY. No exceptions, not even for weekends and holidays. The trick to doing this is to start at a time that's ridiculously easy for you to get up at each day. You get up around noon now? Set your alarm for 12:00PM and resolve to jump out of bed the moment that alarm goes off every day.

2. Once you get the hang of a "level" (say, 12:00PM), and you've done it consistently for a week or two without issue, move the alarm back 15 minutes. Stay at that level until it's a smooth, automatic habit that you'll jump out of bed at that time. Repeat until you get to the waking time that you feel is most reasonable for your lifestyle.

3. If possible, give yourself a time buffer in the morning to do something you enjoy as you wake up slowly. I stumble into my home office, sit in my chair and surf the internet as I gradually wake up. If I had to head immediately to the shower and out the door I think I'd have trouble keeping the habit. There has to be a reward to getting up early so you don't dread it.

4. This point might be controversial to some, but it works for me. I have a bottle of No-Doz/caffeine pills I keep in my home office. Immediately upon stumbling to my office I take one. I figure this is the same as getting your morning cup of coffee, only without the hassle of actually making the coffee.

5. If you start to follow this routine you will discover that you feel sleepy earlier in the evening and it will be more natural to go to bed earlier.

As for the procrastination and working on big projects at night - I used to be like this also. However, I came to the point that I decided I'd rather use my most "alive" hours (evening) to do things I enjoyed, not things I had to do under the gun. Now I do all my work during my newfound morning hours and enjoy the evenings more because they are not burdened by the pressure to finish some project.
posted by sherlockt at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Exercise is really good for this. It doesn't have to be a lot, just enough so you get a bit of that tired out feeling, and going to bed starts to seem like maybe a good idea.
posted by vasi at 10:03 AM on July 21, 2013

I identify with Sweltering's reply on this. The first thing to do is to try standard sleep hygiene things - and part of this would be if you work at your computer at night, getting a programme like Flux or other to cut blue light from your computer screen at night, and also cutting blue light from other light sources, as that can help perpetuate being awake later at night, also making sure to get daylight early in the morning, or whenever you get up, for long enough to set your body clock.

But be aware it may be nothing to do with procrastination, you may naturally be an extreme owl and work better at night. In my case accepting that allowed me to get out in the afternoons and enjoy the sun or a bit of relaxation. Once you accept it and let yourself enjoy doing other things, it ceases to be procrastination - you just accept that you're going to work later and better. But no harm at all in checking it out and trying the sleep hygiene tips first - that way you'll find out whether it will really help you to change it or not.
posted by Flitcraft at 10:05 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I procrastinate during the day and when the day comes to an end I don't want to go to bed because I didn't do what was most important during the day.

Procrastination, impulse control deficits, and nocturnal sleep habits can all be symptoms of depression. I'd recommend a physical with bloodwork, to rule out straightforward medical causes, and then a chat with your GP about an assessment with a psychiatrist or therapist.

The way you break this cycle is to get up in the morning. Get up before 8am non-negotiably, make sure you are getting enough daylight into your eyeballs during the day that your pituitary gland knows what time it is, take some light exercise like 30 minutes of walking, and put yourself to bed with a routine at a specific time rather than wandering into it when you're simply too tired to be up anymore.

I worked 3-midnight for a couple of years, and when it came time to work a day job again I finally figured out that I have sleep windows where if I go to bed, I will fall asleep. One of those is around 10:30, and if I missed it the next window wouldn't be until 12:30 or 1:00. (Now that I'm older, the sleep windows start at 9:00 and there's another one along every 15 minutes.) I had to get my act together and into bed by 10:30.

That's a learned behavior. Most people don't actually learn to put themselves to bed until some point in adulthood.

I found the best way to reboot was to stay up through a day. So instead of going to bed at 4:00, stay up until 10 the next night. Don't hole up inside, either - sunlight, exercise, spend some time doing something mentally taxing. Start your beddy-bye routine about 9:00, stop looking at lit screens at 8:00. Go to bed, stay in bed. Play the Alphabet Game or count sheep or tell yourself a story or recite the plots of your favorite movies, but stay in bed and don't do anything exciting. Get up when the alarm goes off. Set five alarms if you have to. Repeat every day. Within a few weeks, your body will come to expect it as routine.

And if you don't get your stuff done during the day by 8:00, you're just going to have to reschedule it for the next day. It's not more important than your health.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:32 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your lifestyle allows you to wake at lunch time. Alter your lifestyle so you have obligations which make this impossible.
posted by mani at 10:35 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to cutting out light sources at night that can keep you up, you may want to try a light alarm in the morning. This will allow you can mimic sunrise, but you can do it at a time that will be less jarring to your system than actual sunrise. You might want to get two (set one next to your bed and the other across the room as backup, to counteract it if you just turn the first one off), or get a second conventional alarm to go off after 15 or 30 mins. of light.
posted by scody at 10:41 AM on July 21, 2013

I tried everything from alarms to supplements to eating and/or exercising at particular times and nothing really worked for me until I moved to an apartment that gets so much sun that I can't practically block it without making a serious investment in heavyweight curtains. It took me some time to adjust naturally but after a month or so I found myself unable to sleep much beyond 8 unless it's a really overcast day. I would try getting rid of any light blocking curtains altogether in favor of something that's sufficient for privacy but will let the light shine right through.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:08 AM on July 21, 2013

You may be a fellow DSPD sufferer.

I've had very little luck with resetting my internal clock, changing my lifestyle, etc. I can get by for weeks or months on a more typical daylight schedule, but as soon as I have a free day or two, I naturally shift back and then struggle when my free time is gone. Vacations are their own special kind of struggle for me.

Go see a sleep specialist--it's well worth it.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

You said you sleep around 3-4AM and wake up around lunch, which I'll assume is 12'ish. So that's still 8-9 hours which is a healthy amount of sleep. If you don't have any morning obligations which force you to be up earlier, is there really a problem? When I was unemployed or on vacation I naturally ended up sleeping around 2AM and waking up around 10-11AM. I've always felt most mentally alert at night time; I think some people just naturally have cycles which work better for them.
posted by pravit at 11:15 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've got some of that delayed sleep phase yellowcandy links to.
It's worse when I'm somewhere it's light late (e.g. summer months at high latitude). I have always been most productive at night, and became a much happier person when I accepted this and decided it is ok to work on projects at 11 pm if that's when I think most clearly.

Supposedly DSPD can respond to a full spectrum light box applied in the morning hours- I haven't gotten organized enough to try it myself yet.

What has definitely worked for me, though, was when I could work out in the mornings. I wasn't going to be able to think at 8 am, but I could get up and work out, which settled me enough to get some work done in the early afternoon. Also regular exercise keeps my sleep cycle stable (if not on the schedule the early birds of the world wish it was).
posted by nat at 11:39 AM on July 21, 2013

Ah, yes. This is also my schedule. I am a night owl. I'm sure it's not depression or anything else because I've literally been like this for as long as I can remember. My parents always had to yell at me to put my book away and go to sleep. Luckily, I know have a job where it's totally okay for me to go to sleep at 2 and wake up at 9:30. However, I too know the desire to be a morning person -- it seems like morning people get so much more done! And that's how I moved everything back to sleeping by 1, and getting up at 8:30. That's the best my body could do -- it's like a compromise between Night Me and Morning Me. The way I did it, seriously, was as everyone else said, sunlight. Your body is made to respond to get up when the sun is shining on you. Get a sun alarm or sheer curtains that essentially keep the room darkish at, say, 6:30am, but will let in enough sun at 8ish that your body will start to wake up.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:54 AM on July 21, 2013

Nthing all the comments about light. In northern latitudes especially, people need blackout curtains half the year or they just can't go to bed. There's something peaceful about gardening at 1am, but at the same time... Problem is, come morning it's hard to get up to a dark room.

I advise you do what it takes to make sure there's plenty of light assaulting you by 9-10am. It will wake you naturally.

Another thing, if you really want to do this, I recommend by 11pm you reject all technology that glows (e.g. TV, computer, video games, smartphone). The brain activity involved is not conducive to restfulness. Read, clean, whatever.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:06 PM on July 21, 2013

Start getting up earlier, which will help you be tired enough to sleep earlier. To go to sleep by midnight, I have to avoid any caffeine at all after 2 p.m., so use caffeine to get jump-started and then no more. I get in the habit of hating to go to sleep, probably part of being depressed. It helps to turn off the tv and computer, and read a book, and to remind myself that sleep is warm, comfy, brainrest that will make me a happier person the next day. It's much easier for me to fall asleep while reading a book than while finding interesting stuff on the Internet while listening to Dave Letterman and Jimmy Fallon. Also, I am always more satisfied with having read a book, so even if I don't sleep right away, it's still a win.
posted by theora55 at 12:22 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think some of us have a different clock. I wonder if it is a remnant of tribal living when someone had to be awake at night in case of enemy attack, or tidal wave. It is necessary to force yourself into the mode required by the corporate world if you need to live in the corporate world.
posted by Cranberry at 12:23 PM on July 21, 2013

My approach should get you short-term results.

Say Day 2 you need to get up at 8 am. On night 0, feel free to go to bed at 4 am, because you're getting up at 8 am on day 1! Only 4 hours of sleep, you'll be tired enough you'll have to go to bed early, so you'll be decently rested on the day you need to be up. No napping day 1, but day 2 it could help you remain fresh.

On weekends, I really like sleeping in. So I basically do this every week.

Also, edit your router so it turns off the Internet at 10PM.
posted by flimflam at 12:30 PM on July 21, 2013

The sleep timing issue is generally easy to fix for most people: Stop using artificial lighting at night. If you must, use a [pure red only] LED lamp to read if you do that at all, start getting natural light during the day, get some exercise and otherwise force yourself to get up early for a week (7AM, leave the blinds open). Don't use a computer after sundown even with gimmicks that don't work like Flux.

The procrastination issue behind all this is a lifetime struggle, though.
posted by rr at 1:00 PM on July 21, 2013

You sound a lot like me a year ago. I had to first change my work habits; it turns out that the reason I was most productive at night was that was one of the few times I didn't have some sort of distraction. That by itself wasn't enough though. What helped was the following:

1. Explicitly setting sleep as a high priority and acknowledging that this meant that I would have to go to sleep instead of doing work and that this was the right choice. Right in the sense that it corresponded to my priorities. You might not get much done while you make the shift, but that's ok because this is more important, right?

2. Setting both a bedtime and a "must start getting ready for bed" time. So for me that means that if I want to go to bed at 11.15, I have to start winding down and starting my bedtime routine at 10. Having a time when I needed to start doing things, as opposed to a time by which I had to do things made it easier for me.

3. Installing something like StayFocused and Flux. StayFocused blocks me from doing anything in my browser after a set time, which for me usually means I can't goof off or work even if I want to. This comes back to number 1) and what my real priorities are. I installed Flux after I was already regularly going to bed when I wanted but was having trouble feeling sleepy and found that it had a significant effect. Whether that was a placebo effect or not I don't know, but it might be worth trying.

4. Cutting myself some slack. Going to bed at 2am when you want to go to bed at 12am? That's still huge progress from going to bed at 4am. Totally something worth being proud of, even if there's still more work to be done.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 4:53 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Some good exercise earlier in the day can make a difference. If you're actually tired at 10pm getting to sleep often happens.
posted by sammyo at 5:39 PM on July 21, 2013

Just make up your mind to wake up early tomorrow morning (e.g. 8AM), do exercise right away (e.g. go for a jog, or even something easy like putting on an album and dancing for half an hour). Live on coffee (until 5:30PM), organize a busy day where you are obliged to other people to be there on time, and get plenty of sunlight until your ideal bedtime why which time you will probably be more than happy to visit snoozetown (11-12 at night). Expect to have a few groggy days. Once you break the 'pain barrier' I think that this is actually quite easy.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 10:03 PM on July 21, 2013

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