How can I start waking up early?
February 5, 2014 11:24 PM   Subscribe

I’m a 25 year old woman, and have had this issue since high school: I just can never go to bed or wake up early! I feel like it's getting in the way of a normal and productive life.

I took a lot of writing courses in 12th grade, then majored in English for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s, so I would stay up really late writing and reading after everyone went to bed; it was the one time all day I wouldn’t feel distracted and did my best work. I scheduled afternoon hours at work and night classes for school, so I would sleep away half my day: my bedtime was from 5:00am to 12:00-2:00pm.

It’s become such an engrained habit over the past eight years that even after finishing grad school in December, I still tend to do the same thing. I work in after school child care, so my job hours start at 3 in the afternoon. I stay up until 5 in the morning, job searching, reading, watching movies, cleaning, showering…everything a normal person would do during the day, or at least at a decent time at night.

So although I’m productive at night, I still feel as though my sleep schedule is really getting in the way of true productivity: a lot of my errands get put off way too long because I’m just too drained during the day, sometimes I don’t even make important phone calls(such as following up about job applications or bill payments, etc.), and I’ve missed appointments and cancelled brunch plans with friends because I just can’t function before noon. Even after I wake up, I'm exhausted and irritable until about 6 or 7 in the evening..then I feel happy and productive again.

What can I do to stop this habit? I really want to function with the rest of the world, especially since I would like to have a full time job sooner than later. I know exercise is supposed to help, and I do yoga and zumba regularly, (in the evening, of course, haha), so I’ve already got that in my routine. Are there other things I can do? Perhaps changes in my diet, lifestyle, books I can read, affirmations, etc? I’m willing to try just about anything, as long as it won’t harm my health. :) Thanks in advance for your answers.
posted by summertimesadness1988 to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing that turned around my night owl ways was motherhood. Having the kids up and full of energy everyday at 7:00 am no matter what means I am up and running around at 7:01 am everyday. I still take the chance every time I get to sleep in (when Daddy or Grammy entertain the little ones).

Pre kids when I had to switch from a 5 pm - 1 am work shift to a 6 am - 2 pm shift I just stayed up a whole day and crashed around 8pm. This helped me get into a 10 pm bedtime routine.
posted by saradarlin at 11:32 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have to be at work (in a school setting) at 8am. Unlike my previous corporate jobs, being late is really not an option-- someone has to be there for the kids. I wouldn't say I'm a "morning person" now, but I'm definitely much more functional before noon than I've ever been before. Any chance you could switch from after-school to a role during school hours? TA, tutor, etc?
posted by charmcityblues at 11:37 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

No TV in your bedroom. No screens at all, in fact, except eReaders that don't emit light. Only use your bedroom in the evening when you're going to sleep. Keep the lights in the house dim after 8pm, and set your alarm to go to bed as well as to wake up from it. Have a well-worn book at your bedside, read it by dim light -- since you have read it before, you won't be captivated into sticking it out until the end. The moment you feel your eyes droop, close the book, hit the light, close your eyes and relax.
posted by davejay at 11:40 PM on February 5, 2014

Response by poster: I did make the switch to before care (7-9am), but I just stopped doing the shift because I couldn't stay awake at work. I also bailed on signing up for work-related trainings that start in the morning, because I've been known to not be able to make it. So I feel like the problem needs to be combated from within me before I look for a job where I need to report early.
posted by summertimesadness1988 at 11:40 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. That Wikipedia article mentions some possible treatments you can research.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:45 PM on February 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

SAD lightbox. I got mine from, I believe, Northern Lights. It was years ago and the lightbox is still going strong, though I've replaced the bulbs a couple times.

You will need at least 10,000 lux at a distance no greater than 12" for a white light (I get 10,000 lux at 20" from my box). You can get a less-intense blue/green light, and those work okay for me, but there are fewer studies with those. I have a blue/green visor light in addition to my white-light box. I can see better what I'm doing, but it was pricey. Expect to spend at least $100, unless the SAD lightbox landscape has seriously changed.

You will also need a friend willing to wake you in the AM for about a week.

Put the light in front of you. Do something that involves looking in its general direction for 15-45 minutes. You have to do this in the early morning, and shortly after waking. You have to be close to the lightbox (whatever distance grants a minimum of 10,000 lux). It will take about a week to notice improvement.

I have pretty profound SAD (like, sleeping literally 20 hours a day profound) and my lightbox and visor have given me my life back. I'm only awake at this late hour tonight because my dog is a jerk and woke me up. Normally, I am asleep right now. Without my lightbox, this was never the case, as I am naturally (even in the summer) a night owl.

Tldr; to alter your circadian rhythm, get a quality SAD lightbox from a reputable manufacturer. Read the instructions and follow them every day.
posted by tllaya at 11:53 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also came in to mention delayed sleep phase disorder, which is something that I've struggled with for as long as I can remember. My daughter, who's eleven, seems to have the same thing.

This is how I've coped--it may or may not help you. First, figure out what your sleep cycles are like. For example, I know that I can wake up after 30-45 minutes of sleep and be alert. Three hours, same deal, and then anything over about six hours is great. I can't wake up at, say, 90 minutes, though, or four and a half hour--I'll just drag. Forever.

With this knowledge, try to figure out when you should set your alarm to wake up in an ok place (even if it feels counterintuitive to wake up at three hours instead of four), and try to figure out where in your day you can find time for a nap. When I was working 9-5, we had an hour lunch break, and I spent 45 minutes, every single day, in my office with the door closed, sleeping under my desk. It wasn't ideal, and I still ended up doing work at home from my less-productive mornings, but I managed. I've trained myself to function on three hours of sleep overnight, a 45 minute nap at lunch, and then another nap after work. It's not great and it's definitely something you have to teach yourself to do, but it's possible, and for me, at least, it's been much more successful than trying to somehow train myself to go to bed by midnight and get up by seven. (Or whatever.)

That said, in my opinion, the best thing you can do for yourself is accept that this is going to be an issue for you, and try to arrange your life so that you don't have to get up early. Don't look for a job where you're going to have to report early in the morning--look for one where you're going to report in the afternoon. (You might even get a bonus for working later hours!) Find a supermarket that's 24 hours. Schedule phone calls and appointments for midafternoon, or the last appointment of the day. It's not that weird, or that difficult, to shift most of your activity to later in the day. Sure, sometimes you're going to have to do the three hours and some naps thing I mention above, but it'll be for things like a week of training or a one-off thing that's only offered then.

Anecdotally, my life got infinitely easier when I stopped trying to fight my natural sleep schedule. I hadn't realised how unhappy I was getting up at seven every morning until I didn't have to do it anymore--literally everything suddenly seemed so much more doable. This year, I finally let my daughter transition to going to online school, sleeping when she wants to sleep, and it's honestly like having an entirely different kid. There are definitely trade-offs to arranging your life so you can sleep through those dreaded hours from five a.m. to noon, but if it's something that you think might be possible for you, I really can't recommend it enough.
posted by MeghanC at 12:07 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fellow natural night-owl here, posting from the cheerful high noon hour of 1am. I don't have a solution for you because I've never fought it, I kind of like being off schedule with the rest of my local world.

In the meantime though, to address your problem of shrugging off important stuff like bills and returning phone calls because you can't function by noon - what I do is make a little list of the important from-home errands the night before. My rule is that after getting up (10-11 am for me) I'm only allowed to have one cup of coffee before I deal with the list. Honestly, it's pretty amazing how smooth it tends to go. Everyday I feel like there's no way I can deal with that shit, but once I sit down determined to do it, everything flies by and I'm on to cup #2.
posted by mannequito at 12:53 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you tried bed time rituals, bedtime enforcement, having a sleep study done, really anything beyond a few times trying to readjust by brute force? Not to sound trite, but bedtime is a serious habit. A very hard one to change. You can enlist help.

There's also an app for this. Well, not for this exactly, but for this:
For example, I know that I can wake up after 30-45 minutes of sleep and be alert. Three hours, same deal, and then anything over about six hours is great. I can't wake up at, say, 90 minutes, though, or four and a half hour--I'll just drag. Forever.
The one I use is called Sleep Cycle and I use it on my iPhone. It uses the sensors in the phone to track movement when placed in the bed. With that information, it does two cool things. It makes a graph of your sleep quality, but even more useful, it decides when to wake you up. You select a range of time and it figure out when in that range you're going to be least miserable getting up. Because you'll be most awake. So, if you're beginning to fall back toward sleep, it wakes you up earlier, but if you're climbing toward wakefulness, it waits until you're more awake.

I love it.
posted by bilabial at 3:28 AM on February 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know what to tell you about getting yourself to bed at a reasonable hour and fighting the night owl.

This week has been my first finally successful experiment at hauling myself out of bed fairly consistently at 6:00 a.m. Work starts at 8:00, but I need the time to shuffle around slowly and feel stupid.

I set my bedside radio clock for 6:00. I have two cell phone that I set for a little after 6:00 that I leave around the house. One is right by the coffee pot that I set for auto-brew the night before, so I can shuffle over and start pouring it right down my throat. It's all that works; even an alarm across the room can be shut off with me back in bed before I ever knew it was on.

I hope this helps; it's miserable to be night owls on weekdays.
posted by mibo at 3:39 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You may well grow out of it.

I was a night owl through high school (we had a late schedule that meant we often didn't start until 10am) and through university.

Scientifically, there is something that happens in teenagers' brains that causes a delay in the onset of sleep. While apparently most people grow out of this by about 20, my anecdotal case is that I was in no way a morning person until I got to at least my mid-twenties.

The older I get, the better I am at getting up in the morning, and I now can understand how people can actually enjoy the morning. For years, I was like you, doing a lot of my writing work late into the evening.

This may not help you manage it now, except to understand that your life won't necessarily always be like this, and it may be more biological and not your fault! You might also consider trying melatonin though.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:43 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's perhaps cliché, but I've found that exercise is helpful in getting to sleep at night. However, in my case it has to be a lot of exercise, like at least an hour of running or two hours of bicycling. Weight training seems to have the opposite effect and keeps me awake. The best seems to be outdoor swimming. I'm not sure why, but even just recreational swimming in the ocean or an outdoor pool anytime during the day seems to knock me out later in the evening.

The other thing that has helped is getting a lot of sun during the day.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 3:57 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The night owl chronotype is discussed quite a bit Internal Time (author's a sleep researcher). The problem, as he describes it, is less a day/night thing than that night owls have slightly longer (~25+-hour) daily cycles that, if not regulated, will push their activities forward in time until they hit a practical barrier-- in your case, the mandatory noon- or 3pm wakeup-- that makes them stick there.

IIRC he recommends getting as much BRIGHT sunlight as possible, as early as possible during the morning; and also no blue light at night (you can get cool blue-blocking glasses for this) Also never, ever doing the "stay up late/sleep in" thing on weekends, because that screws your sleep cycle for the entirety of the remaining week.
posted by Bardolph at 4:13 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Same here. What works for me:

a) Melatonin; I take one around midnight. Makes me sleepy by about 1am. Apparently I have some well dug-in habits about going to bed because often I'll find I've procrastinated about actually taking it, and sometimes I'll find myself stubbornly staying up even as my head nods. But if I can manage to overcome those habits then it works well; take pill, get tired, get in bed even though you're sure it's not bedtime yet, asleep in a few minutes. Wake up spontaneously at the right time next morning, feeling refreshed and un-stressed.

b) Fl.ux is pretty effective; since I started using it I've definitely been feeling more drowsy after midnight if I'm on the PC (which is usually).

Modafinil in the mornings, ideally half a pill the moment I open my eyes, then the other half around 11-12pm. Very effective, cheap, no particular side effects as long as I don't exceed that dose, also helps with my ADD. Much better than coffee.

d) Many alarms, even though my subconscious does everything it can to make sure I don't set them up properly. I find it's best to set them once I get home from work. Three works best for me -- a radio that starts up first at a fairly quiet volume, a snooze-button buzzer alarm-clock that starts maybe 10 minutes after that, then my phone is set to literally verbally announce when it really is time to get up and any more delay = late to work.

Haven't tried Sleep Cycle or a lightbox yet but a lot of people swear by them.
posted by Drexen at 4:21 AM on February 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Get a cat. Trust me on this. Problem solved.
posted by Naberius at 6:10 AM on February 6, 2014

Lots of bright light during the day, no bright light at all during the night.

Sleep with the curtains open. If there isn't enough natural light in your bedroom get a bright light on a timer.

If you're using the computer at night, use F.lux (or better yet set the thing to automatically shut down at midnight at the latest: I can easily stay up for hours in a click-trance but having the computer remind me "hey, I'm going to shut down now" is a very helpful reminder that I need to go to bed too.) Put your household lights on dimmers, or use lower-wattage bulbs, or just use a lot fewer of them after sunset.
posted by ook at 8:03 AM on February 6, 2014

Best answer: This has been me, and then I got a job, and I sorta had to fix myself, and now I naturally wake up at the ungodly hour of 7:00 am every morning, like clockwork. If left to my own devices I would probably sleep from 2am to 11am but the world don't operate on that schedule.

Number one thing is that adjusting your body's rhythms takes TIME. If you want to adjust your body's rhythm it has to happen gradually; my doctor told me shifting it 30 minutes per week is reasonable. My attempts at suddenly going to bed at 10pm when I would usually sleep at midnight were a failure, because I was wide awake at that hour. But if you just adjust your bedtime forward a little bit at a time you will get there. It did take me about a month to shift from 12:30am to 10pm. (That was a shitty month because I was getting up at 7:00 for work whether I got to sleep on time or not.)

Number two thing is good sleep hygiene. Dark room, slightly cold with warm blankets. No caffeine 8 hours or less before bed. Go to bed at the same hour each night. Don't watch TV or read in the bedroom, make it just for sleeping. Light exercise and a wind-down period just before bed. And, if you are trying to sleep and failing for 30 minutes or more, get up, have a cup of herbal tea, and read something boring until you feel sleepy again. I had never needed this stuff before, but when trying to go to bed earlier than usual it became important. All this stuff takes discipline to instill, but when it's in place it becomes routine.

Your next challenge will be feeling sleepy in the evenings when all the fun stuff is happening :/. There are downsides to being all grown up.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:04 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm the opposite--I'm often up at 4:30 and I feel like I miss out on anything that my friends want to do that threatens to run past 9 p.m., even on weekends. My first job was a paper route, and then I was opening shift barista in college, then I had a kid. I was "doomed" to be an earlybird, I suppose. I fought it for a long time. I feel TERRIBLE when I stay up until midnight or two.

On the other hand, I have a friend who is in her 70s and she has always been a night owl, cannot function well before 11 a.m., and simply structures her life and work around it. I know it's possible to make changes, and you may "grow out of it." This is not change advice, but if you can't lick it, and there's not an underlying health problem, maybe this is who you are.
posted by Lardmitten at 8:42 AM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Gonna suggest the sleep app also. I use Sleepbot.

Also, within the window of when you want to wake up, use a clock radio that has the option to use the radio for an alarm, and set it to a news station that will gradually get your brain working, then keep you awake. Music is probably easier to tune out after a while.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:22 AM on February 6, 2014

Best answer: I am a night owl and most energetic, creative and productive at night. Fighting it will not result in a happy existence. Although there were times when I had jobs that reacquired me to be in by 8 and I was able to do it, my overall quality of life was just not the same. Also depends on the job, but if you want to produce good quality writing or similar, I find it hard to get in the zone in the mornings.
So, I am in the work your life around it camp.

Re: Naberius' cat advice. Nope, I've had cats for the last 20 yrs and they are active at night and sleep through the day (most active during twilight). The last feeding does not happen before 1am, they get high quality food (raw meat or industrial food with a high meat content) so they are not hungry for a long time. Easy.

Now, if I have to be up really early, I stay up all night. If early-ish I only sleep for a few hours (3 works for me as well, like for MeghanC).

- use your high energy at night and get stuff done/front load as much as possible, so the early hours of your day go as smooth as possible
- manual work, errands, cleaning etc. are done in the earlier hours before the personal peak
- brain work is done in the afternoon/evening/night

- paying bills: online, paypal etc. as much as possible
- correspondence: online as much as possible. Write a polite email asking if you could schedule a phone call for the following day at 3:45pm or whatever. This way stuff does not slip through the cracks.

To me it sounds a bit like your issue might be the length of your sleep rather than the time you get up? Once you've figured out how many hours your body needs, you could try to reset your schedule by either staying up all night or going on vacation (different timezone). That often leaves the body confused enough and makes bigger adjustments easier.

Having said that, I just installed f.lux as per Drexen's suggestion. There is always room for improvement.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:23 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Could you get a dog?* I was a night owl (though not as extreme as you are) until I got a puppy. It's a cruel world for us night people, but I've never found an alarm system/app/whatever that really changes my life--I may get up, but I resent it and don't function at my best. A cute puppy is a better alarm because it's hard to resent him.

Possibly related: I also have trouble getting to sleep, but I've found doing a guided meditation can really help me fall asleep quickly, and I seem to get more restful sleep by not waking up throughout the night.

*Obviously needing an effective alarm system is not a good enough reason to get a dog, but if you are at all inclined to have a dog, this could be a positive side effect for you.
posted by kochenta at 10:47 AM on February 6, 2014

I've seen many doctors at many different times for sleep issues, and one suggestion that many of them have made is to try a "system reset," wherein you advance your sleep schedule by 2 hours every day over roughly 2 weeks (or however long it takes, from your current normal bedtime) until you've reached your target bedtime. So basically, if you go to sleep at 5am normally now, you'd go to bed at 7am tomorrow, and 9am the day after that, then 11am, etc., getting your full normal period of sleep once you go to bed and making sure not to oversleep during the reset period.

Supposedly this often works very well for people who have mild to moderate sleep issues. Alas, YMMV; I personally have profound sleep issues (delayed sleep-phase and severe hypersomnia + SAD, with the occasional bout of depression thrown in for funsies), and so this has not worked for me personally. But I thought I'd suggest it, given how many medical professionals have recommended it to me. Best of luck to you!

(Also, Drexen, is Modafinil cheap where you are? I'm in Australia, and currently having to pay ~$240 a month for mine, if I take as much as I need to function every day. Yeowch.)
posted by po at 12:39 PM on February 6, 2014

I've dealt with this all my life and have found it a constant battle. Consistently maintaining sleep hygiene takes ongoing vigilance, and it's easily thrown by a single party or trip, or one night staying up late to (finish a book, binge- watch Archer, write songs, or just revel in solitude). All the above suggestions are good and often work for a time, but you may find you have to cycle through these various methods.

For a time, I also built my life around my natural sleep schedule and felt much, much better. My goals have changed, though, so I'm fighting it again. Good luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

If part of it for you is having that special quiet time, try to structure your day so you can have it earlier. I'm trying this now - difficult to do if you have a lot of other obligations (which makes those late hours all the more tempting, I find).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:47 PM on February 6, 2014

Tllaya has it right: light box. You can also try a dawn simulator which is like an alarm clock light that starts off with just a little light then slowly ramps up the lux. The other comments about avoiding screens in the evening and following good sleep hygiene routines are good advice.
posted by PickeringPete at 6:18 PM on February 6, 2014

I am a lifelong insomniac, so this is something I struggle with constantly. I've finally, finally, finally sort of got a handle on this. This is what I have to do to wake up at a reasonable hour:

1. I use a light box in the morning, as soon as I wake up. I sit down with my morning tea and turn it on to make sure my brain knows that it's morning. I also open all the blinds and make sure the house is super well lit. Even better is to physically go outside and experience actual sunlight for thirty minutes or so, but if it's really hot or really cold, I found I wasn't sticking to that as well as I should, so I got the lightbox.

2. I never drink caffeine later than noon.

3. Once it's dark, I try to keep the house as dimly-lit as possible. This is a really, really big, helpful cue to my brain that it's night and that I should start getting tired. Since I don't live alone, I can't keep it totally dark, but I turn the lights as low as possible. I also use lightbulbs that are less blue and more warm/orange.

4. I use f.lux on my computer, as others have mentioned.

5. An hour or so before I want to be asleep, I go into a totally dark room and read a book with a booklight while wearing orange-tinted glasses. There have been studies showing that blue light can interfere with sleeping. I don't know if the orange safety glasses actually do anything (the idea is to filter out blue light -- they seem to help, for me) but at any rate it's another cue for my brain that sleeping should be happening soon. And you can't really discount the placebo effect, either. I'll take anything, at this point.

And yeah, as others have said, it's a constant battle. But it gets easier the longer I manage it.
posted by ZeroDivides at 11:28 PM on February 6, 2014

Po : (Also, Drexen, is Modafinil cheap where you are? I'm in Australia, and currently having to pay ~$240 a month for mine, if I take as much as I need to function every day. Yeowch.)

Oh, heh. Well, I order it online for £5.99 per 10x200mg. Possibly not kosher to provide a link but y'all can memail me for details.
posted by Drexen at 2:36 AM on February 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have never gotten this down completely, here's a few things that have been working somewhat.

(1) a treat at bedtime. I keep a little tin of really nice chocolates by my bed, and give myself one as soon as I get into bed, as long as its before 11pm. I don't get them any other time, and if I miss my bedtime I don't get one. I don't have a TV in the bedroom, so all I can do is read or sleep. This seems a little ridiculous even to me, but hey, positive reinforcement.

(2) no screen time (including phone and computer) for two hours before bedtime. I have also used f.lux on my computer and that accomplishes something similar, although for me, there is always something to look at on the internet and it is too hard to pull myself away.

(3) light box in the morning, especially during the winter
posted by ReBoMa at 2:28 PM on February 10, 2014

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