I'm a nightowl, seriously. How do I make this work.
June 30, 2015 1:55 AM   Subscribe

I have real problems functioning during the day - during daylight hours I am depressed, I am foggy, I am tired, I seriously have issues 'getting through the day'. Come night time I am fine - happier, functioning, a better more productive person.

I know this is not about sleep patterns - I can go to sleep around 10 - 11 at night, wake up at anywhere from 6 to 7 in the morning, go without naps, and this still happens. I am not 'not functioning' during the day due to being tired because I can be tired during the day and having issues yet 'perk up' in the evening. I have also tried over the years to see if different sleep timings have an effect, and they don't.

Firstly, could this actually be a real 'thing' to do with daylight/circadian rhythms, and if so, what is it? Where do I look for help with this? (I am living in a foreign country where I have access to health care but probably not sleep specialists and the like).

Secondly is how to deal with it if it is - I am married to someone who has to work during 'normal' hours. I have a child that I have to mind all day. I could probably get my child to fit a more night-time based pattern, but I can't ask my husband to start staying awake all night to spend time with me. And our time in the evening is our time together sans child. Has anyone else made this work? I am happy to get up in the morning with him, see him off to work and go back to bed, but does that kind of sleeping in two blocks really work? I am not worried about convincing society I am not lazy, I am more concerned with the logistics of how a household where one member has to be up and functioning during daylight hours copes when another member just can't.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Being a night owl is definitely a real thing. Some of us are just wired this way. We can alter our sleep schedules for the sake of the day walkers, but it will never feel any more natural to us than working an overnight shift would feel to them. I used to work as a sleep tech, and it was kind of cute to see how my co-workers would get so sleepy and stupid around 3 AM. I'd let them take little naps and stuff, and I'd be sitting there wide awake until dawn. When I have to see a doctor or something at 9 AM, it's torture. It's like waking up at 4 AM would feel for most people.

Unless you're sleeping well into the afternoon or evening, I don't think this has to be a huge problem in terms of the time you spend with your husband. I am a night owl, and even at my night owl-iest my sleep schedule doesn't usually limit the time I spend with my girlfriend. If I sleep from 4 AM-noon, let's say, I see her every evening and on the weekends we run around all afternoon and have the evenings to do stuff.

Raising a child complicates the heck out of everything. If your child is a baby, being up all night has its advantages. But if you're staying home to care for your older kid, I think your sleep is just going to have to suffer as the kid grows up. Maybe you could work out some arrangement where your husband gets the kid ready for school while you sleep, then you care for the kid when she comes home... but that's the kind of thing you'd have to work out with your husband, and in my experience the daylight dwellers are not very receptive to arrangements like that. No matter how much you get done in the hours when you are awake, if you're not awake in the mornings they will often feel like you're a slacker.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:00 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

If this isn't a new thing that's emerged after medication or some other kind of change, and you've always been this way (sounds like it), totally - it could be delayed sleep phase disorder (see also here).

Where do I look for help with this? (I am living in a foreign country where I have access to health care but probably not sleep specialists and the like).

I think still try your doctor and see how that goes. If there's some other reason, it'd be good to rule that out.

I am not worried about convincing society I am not lazy, I am more concerned with the logistics of how a household where one member has to be up and functioning during daylight hours copes when another member just can't.

Are you saying you want to continue to live this way and are asking for advice on being a wife and mom with your family in a different time zone? (I can't speak to doing two shorter sleeps indefinitely; I've hated the resulting grogginess.)

Or do you want to shift towards a more normal sleep/wake schedule? If you did want to change things, here are some approaches - basically, light and dark therapy, plus a super small dose of melatonin* 12 hours before your target sleep time, used as a chronobiotic (vs a sleeping pill), plus rigorous sleep hygiene (check out the links in the sidebar). Moderate exercise can support a change; you can experiment with timing. (Late at night isn't supposed to be a good time - certainly not vigorous workouts - but I've personally found an hour of swimming or moderate elliptical at 8-10 pm can be good for mellowing.) I always manage it better when I'm working 9-5, myself.

*like 0.5 mg, a teensy piece of the size of the pills as usually sold.

I think you have to think through your tradeoffs. You might feel (say) 20-40% better physically if you live that way, but it's hugely isolating, or it has been for me, when I've let it structure my life.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:04 AM on June 30, 2015

My mother is a severe night owl and my father is a total morning person. They are each others' best friend and have been happily married for over thirty years and have raised two children and are now both retired.

It did suck for my mom when I was in a school that was a fair drive away; I'm terrible during the day also so 6am school wakeup was bad for everyone. But carpool helped for part of that for her (she picked us up after school), I know, and also she would absolutely go back to bed for a while after I was out the door. My dad likes to do things now like wake up as the sun rises and go fishing. When he had a full time day person job it was often crappy and he'd sack out at 9pm and my mother would do a lot of chores after dinner - that sweet spot of home from work but not yet exhausted was always a bit at risk, and I remember trying hard not to be snotty during dinner as a teen because I knew my parents were mostly seeing each other only at those times. (I didn't always succeed.)

Once both their kids were out of the house, it turns out my mom co-opted our bedrooms for her own lights-on purposes in the evening and would often fall asleep there, wake up in the small morning hours to pee and get into bed with my dad at that point. (Don't ask me about the sex, but apparently they make it work.) When I was small, a lot of it was sort of who was "on duty". The deal was that if it was night out, Mom was the go-to. If Dad was home and it was light out, he was who dealt with problems, even if Mom was up and doing stuff. This still dumped a lot on Mom by default but school schedule is sort of purposefully built for kids to be elsewhere while day people work, and we never got Mom up early on weekends for anything if we could help it.

All in all they're happy and the problems me and my sibling had were never because Mom wasn't at her best during the daytime. Mom did seem to get the short end of the stick but I think part of that is stubbornness. For example, Dad never learned how to cook breakfast. That's ridiculous and she should have insisted, but she's also the kind of mom who, after you load the dishwasher, will rearrange all the dirty dishes because you loaded it "wrong". She also could have made a place in the house to spend time being productive at night with the lights on before both her kids left the house, instead of lying there awake in the dark master bedroom trying to convince herself that closing her eyes was as good as being asleep. There are a lot of "could haves" but she's a great mom anyway, and my dad always seemed aware of her daytime issues and has never tried to force her to be a morning person. I guess it also helps that they're introverts, so the mornings are Dad's alone time and late evening is Mom's so even when they drive across the country together with a dog (twice a year!) they naturally give each other space.

I guess my advice is, try to focus on resources for child care assistance when you need it most, so you can be on when you're at your best. (I bet you're a great parent for handling nightmares.) Look at your relationship with your husband and think more long term. Maybe schedule some regular time together a few weeks in advance so even if your lives don't match up day to day you're both promised a whole day together soon. And if it's really a source of anxiety and doubt that's impacting your life, this is absolutely something to speak to a doctor about and possibly a therapist, to see what your options are. But I've lived my whole life watching a situation similar to yours work out fine.
posted by Mizu at 5:03 AM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

My night owl friend recommended the book Chronotypes. I haven't read it yet, but he says it's essential for understanding the different kinds of circadian rhythms.
posted by Cinnamon Bear at 5:40 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

tldr: Nthing cotton dress sock.

More detail:
After having similar experiences to what you've reported (serious night owl, groggy and depressed all day), I was diagnosed with delayed sleep phase syndrome by a sleep specialist, and dealing with it has significantly improved my life across the board.

IANAD, IANYD, and everyone is different. These were the things that my sleep specialist had me do, and some more info about the things that have worked for me:

- Keeping a sleep diary - By actually charting out when I was going to bed, how long it took me to fall asleep, when I was waking up in the middle of the night, and when I was getting out of bed, I realized that I wasn't getting nearly as much sleep as I had thought. I used to say things like "I'm asleep from 11 pm until 7:30 am," fully believing that, and the sleep diary provided a useful reality check.

From keeping a sleep diary for 4 weeks, a general late-ward shift in my sleep pattern became pretty evident.

- Melatonin (low dose) - At least in the US, I usually see melatonin tablets sold in much higher doses than my sleep specialist recommended. Taking 0.3-0.5 mg usually works for me; higher doses tend to leave me foggy the next morning.

Timing this right is key. Because my schedule tends to shift about 3-4 hours ahead of my ideal sleep/wake timing (for going to work), I take melatonin about 3 hours before I want to be asleep. Usually, by the time that rolls around, I've gotten tired enough to easily fall asleep. When I take melatonin, I also have an easier time not waking up in the middle of the night.

- Bright (blue) light therapy - 20 minutes bright light therapy, first thing in the morning - this has been just as crucial as the melatonin. After doing the melatonin for a few months, I added bright light therapy, and this is what actually cut through the grogginess for me.

Best of luck, and feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk more.
posted by brackish.line at 6:35 AM on June 30, 2015

If you haven't always been like this, a visit to the doctor is not out of line. I'm not suggesting this is you, but as an example liver disease can cause a person to behave as you do. Their days and nights become reversed.
posted by cecic at 6:48 AM on June 30, 2015

This is exactly how I was before I discovered that I have hypothyroidism. Have you had a blood test to rule out stuff like that?
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:35 AM on June 30, 2015

You mention that you're living in a foreign country- how long have you been there? Some people take a very long time to adjust to time differences. Also, how much daylight are you getting? I saw a study once that took "night owls" camping for about a week; they were outside all day and didn't have artificial light at night, and they quickly reverted to a more natural schedule based on daylight. If you can go for a walk at noon, or when you first get up, that might help.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:01 AM on June 30, 2015

Melatonin, I have the 1mg pills that I quarter, so .25mg (seriously, the over the counter dosages are incorrect). The best effect for me, is not inducing sleepiness at bedtime (dose should be low enough that you don't feel super-sleepy), but that when I wake up, it feels like 'morning'.

Have Flux/Twilight etc on electronic devices. One type of 'night owl' is more accurately, super sensitive to artificial light at night. If you didn't feel like too much of a dork, buying amber safety glasses and wearing them from before sunset onwards might help.

Daytime sleepiness: Modafinil

Eat something small first thing in the morning. If you are sleeping in (weekend catch up), put a snack next to the bed, set alarm for normal time, eat snack (half a muesli bar, some yoghurt), then go back to sleep. It stops my body from immediately and completely 'resetting' later if I have a sleep in.

For child: Depending how old they are, prep everything night before. If really young, I'd give breakfast, change etc, then let them play with their toys while you have another nap. At 3-4 years I'd have breakfast prepped night before, and then get up, give child breakfast on a tray, and a laptop with a reading game on it, they sat next to me in bed playing, while I went back to sleep for another hour (terrible parenting, blah blah, actually I regret nothing - btw reading progression was boohbah zone, followed by Starfall, followed by Reading Eggs). I think it's important to make sure kids get alone time, practice playing and exploring by themselves, and self-soothing time. So, it may as well be while you aren't very functional anyway. Make sure they get your full attention when they have it, not your zombie state attention.
posted by Elysum at 4:26 PM on June 30, 2015

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