"this is why i'll never be an adult"
September 22, 2015 2:49 AM   Subscribe

I have a problem with going to bed early/on time, because late night is my me-time. I have no other time during the day that I can devote entirely to myself the way I can late at night. But I am regularly going to bed too late and it's lessening the amount I can get out of the next day. Please help me balance these conflicting priorities.

I am incredibly frustrated by my inability to wake up early on weekday mornings. It impacts on my health (because I don't get time to work out), my appearance (because I throw on whatever clothes and rush out of the house instead of spending some time on myself), my quality of life (because I don't have the time to do pre-work chores) and my happiness (because I feel like a failure). I have this problem because I never go to sleep before 1am.

I've taken some time to think about WHY I seem constitutionally incapable of going to bed earlier and I have realised it is because I am a night owl, and late night (from about 11pm to 1am) is my me-time. I work till late, so I usually get home at around 9pm if I don't have anything social planned. Between 9pm and 11pm I am cooking dinner, eating, washing up, doing household/personal chores and replying to personal emails. 11pm to 1am is the only time I get in the entire day to just potter around and "be" for a bit. I am much more creative in the evening and night, so this is also the time I get my best writing done. Whatever I'm doing late at night, this personal time is extremely important to me and, thinking about it, it makes sense because it is the only time that I don't need to be doing anything else.

My folks (when they visit) are always extremely critical of my weird hours and that makes me feel bad about myself, but I also know that cutting out these 2 hours of spacing out makes me feel sort of... emotionally stretched-thin, if that makes sense.

Does anyone have any advice on how to hack my routine so that I can get more sleep, wake up earlier, be more productive but also get some time during the evening to decompress, write, and otherwise just "be" for a bit. I am going to experiment with hitting the gym after work rather than in the morning. Any other ideas I can try out would be gratefully received.
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
what time do you start work? there's nothing wrong with going to be late, but it sounds like you just don't have enough time in your life for you. so perhaps you are working too much? working 9 til 9 is not ok.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:55 AM on September 22, 2015 [10 favorites]

There are *real* differences amongst people in terms of what time of day they are mentally at their best, so don't beat yourself up for something that is integral to your make-up. I am not a morning person myself at all, and find it difficult to do any type of work that involves deep thinking/concentration. So (in my previous job) I used the morning to do emails and general work-related organisational stuff. The afternoons and evenings were reserved more for writing. I.e., I worked with (not against) my predisposition.

One thing I have to ask is whether you do, in fact, have enough time in each day to do ALL THE THINGS that you seem to expect of yourself. In particular, is it really a job requirement to work so late that you don't get home until 9pm? What time do you begin work? If there is a way to swing it, try to figure out how you can get home from work earlier, say between 6-7pm. You need to consider what your priorities are and determine if "being at work all day"* is more important than, well, nearly everything else.

If for some reason you have no choice in how late you stay at work and you are compelled to actually be there for 12+ hours...that is certainly a more difficult situation. Do you at least have a lunch break during which you could take a vigorous walk or shoot off to the gym for 1/2-hour?

I'm sure others will chime in with additional suggestions.

*And "being at work all day" may be a financial necessity, so I don't mean to underestimate the difficulty of this situation. If it is more due to being in a "macho" hyper-competitive work culture, however, then it is conceivable that you could actively choose to have a shorter work day.
posted by Halo in reverse at 3:03 AM on September 22, 2015

My folks (when they visit) are always extremely critical of my weird hours and that makes me feel bad about myself

Then, and i mean i'm trying to not go too hard here, fuck them.

Read through this thread. It's great.

I have literally been unable to fall asleep before midnight since i was about 11. It's just how my brain works. There's nothing wrong with me, i've been to the doctor, etc etc. My mom also just naturally stays up late even if she has to get up early every day. It's probably genetic.

I've worked schedules similar to you just because it's what works well for me. I also love my time at night. I just embraced it.

I'm now staring down the barrel of a possible 8-5 job that i really need, but really don't want just because of the hours. Like you, my brain is a runny turd in the morning until maybe 10am no matter how much sleep i get etc.

Others have made the assumption that you're working super long hours, but i'm assuming you're workday starts at 1? 12? something like that. Maybe even a bit later. And yea, that's atypical but not weird, it's what works for you and i'm assuming you like this job?

When i still went to the gym(yes i'm a lazy sack of shit), i'd just do it after my late-starting workday, eat a good dinner, then do... me stuff. Or go out and meet friends, or whatever.

It seems like your biggest problem with this is other peoples opinions and self doubt brought on therein. and well, fuck them. That's discussed in that thread i linked at length, including by myself.
posted by emptythought at 3:42 AM on September 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

At first I related to your question, but then I realized you're a night owl and I'm a morning person. Why do you want to get so much done in the morning anyway? What if you planned to accomplish nothing in the morning. Work out during work hours or in the evening. Lay your clothes out and pack your bag the night before. Definitely don't do any pre-work chores -- see what you can get done in your post-work time and what you can defer to the weekend (do you have weekends?) There's no reason you need to wake up early and have a productive morning. It's okay to embrace your owl-ness.

(That being said, I do agree with the posters above -- it sounds like you don't have enough free time. Add up the hours you spend working, sleeping, doing necessary self-care and home-care things, and then remind yourself that people need downtime too. Are you coming up with a number more than 24?)
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:49 AM on September 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the answers! Many of you have asked about my work hours. I do not work a 12 hour day. On a normal day I wake up at 8am and start work at 10am, though I hit full productivity around 11am so I feel obligated to stick around at least until 7 to 7:30pm in order to do an honest day's work. If I leave then I am normally home by 9pm (I live out in the sticks and commute into the centre of town).
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:39 AM on September 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's totally possible to be an adult and stay up until 1 am every night. What's *not* possible is to work really long hours (or, on preview, have a 3-4 hour commute!) and have as much leisure time/chore time as most people would like and/or benefit from. Or to take your leisure time from 11 pm to 1 am if you have a job that requires you to get up at 6 am to start the next day (unless you're blessed with unusually low sleep needs).

2 hours of veg time is not unreasonable and doesn't make you not an adult. I think my parents are pretty typical for their generation, for example, and obviously my personal models of "how to adult," and they both pretty much vegged in front of the TV for 2 hours every night. It's not any more virtuous or adultlike that they did so from 8:00 pm to 10:00.

I really think you just need to add up your numbers, figure out what your priorities are (and it's no more or less adultlike to prioritize veg time over fussing-over-appearance time) and figure out what times are most productive for you to block out the things that are still on your list. To me your current numbers look something like this:

1. 8 hours of productive work.
2. 3 hour commute
3. 7 hours of sleep
4. 2 hours of veg time
5. 2 hours of dinner/emails/house chores in the evening.
6. 1.5 hours of non-productive time at work
7. 30 minutes getting ready in the morning

That's how you're currently spending the 24 hours that everybody gets every day. If you want to have more time to work out, or spend more time doing chores or prepping in the morning, you have to cut down on SOMETHING already on the list. Maybe you would like to do a 1/2 hour workout and cut down your veg time to 90 minutes. Maybe you would like to give yourself another 1/2 hour in the morning for chores or prepping but buckle down and get productive at work sooner after you arrive.
posted by drlith at 5:25 AM on September 22, 2015 [10 favorites]

On a normal day I wake up at 8am and start work at 10am, though I hit full productivity around 11am so I feel obligated to stick around at least until 7 to 7:30pm in order to do an honest day's work.

You are a good person but I do not think this is an obligation most people feel. Leave at 6:30! It's okay. That extra hour will make a big difference in your life.
posted by something something at 5:32 AM on September 22, 2015 [26 favorites]

I feel like 8 hours of fully productive work is a hard or impossible thing to do. People need breaks. A bit of downtime here and there is actually good for productivity. Given your work schedule and commute, no wonder you have no me-time.

I'm not sure what your work culture is, but I think a step in the right direction would be to leave at 6 or 6:30pm if you come at 10am. You get home an hour earlier, and that means you can go to bed and hour earlier as well.

Your long commute also seems to take a huge chunk (3-4 hours) of your day. Is there a chance that your work would be willing for you to do flexible hours? If you work from 10-7:30 four days a week (which is already over 40 hours, btw), can you take a day or a half-day off on one day?
posted by the_wintry_mizzenmast at 5:39 AM on September 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Drlith's got it here, I think, and it might be really useful to break out your time that way. The first thing I see looking at that is your big chunk of commute time - is there any way to make that either more useful or relaxing for yourself? Any way to spend part of it answering personal or work emails or doing some of your house chores (billpaying, etc.), or doing some of your creative pursuits (if they're something portable like writing), to help free up some of your other time?

I would also agree that it's okay for you to leave work earlier than you are doing. The vast majority of office workers are not working solid eight-hour days from the second we step into the office, in my experience. We're messing around on the internet. We're getting coffee. We're staring blankly into space. It's an expected part of the eight-hour work day in many places, and not something you have to make up for. Of course your workplace's expectations may be different, but I wonder if you looked a little more carefully at your coworkers' habits, what sorts of patterns you'd see.
posted by Stacey at 5:39 AM on September 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

This question is alarming, because I did not know that I had made a sockpuppet account and posted a question from it.

I absolutely identify with every single thing you've said. I am far more productive and alert at night.
I do my best work at night, I'm massively more alert and creative and capable after late at night. (Example, last night I built a flight of stairs starting work at 2200)

Things which have helped me (a little)

Cycling home from work, (fortunately only 5 miles or I wouldn't manage) helped me unwind a bit quicker.

Having a shortcut on my desktop whereby I can drop a media file and it would open VLC, play that file and then shut off the computer. This is a good signal that I should shut down and go to bed (I'm normally up late reading, pottering, writing code, watching shows). Helpful for me because all my media is in files on a drive, less useful if you use Netflix or have a TV. I tried a timed shutdown, but it didn't have that flexibility that I needed, I just resented past me and tried to find ways round it.

Catching up on sleep on the weekends sometimes help, as does having a lunchtime sleep.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:27 AM on September 22, 2015

This is absolutely me as well, so you are definitely not alone. I graduated from college three years ago and am only now really starting to appreciate that my chronotype is likely a permanent thing and not just some sort of adolescent or college-related tic. I feel the most energy I feel all day at around 10 PM and I used to have serious issues with insomnia because I absolutely craved those few hours at the end of the day when I was at peak energy and could have some me time, with no disturbances. My chronotype is most definitely genetic--my parents have pretty much never slept before midnight, that I can remember in my life and often sleep much later, even when they have to get up at 5 or 6 AM.

I really do sympathize with your feelings about feeling lazy, disorganized and abnormal for not having the kind of sleep schedule that is rewarded or regarded as "adult" by society. I've definitely had that feeling many times as well. However, I really do not think this is something that can be altered, nor do I think it is inherently unhealthy or disordered. The only "solution" to the possible problems posed by this (like feeling sloppy because you're just throwing on clothes in the morning) I've found is getting as much done as possible the night before, so the effort you need to expend in the morning is as slight as possible.
posted by armadillo1224 at 6:51 AM on September 22, 2015

> On a normal day I wake up at 8am and start work at 10am, though I hit full productivity around 11am so I feel obligated to stick around at least until 7 to 7:30pm in order to do an honest day's work.

Hello, me ten years ago! It's okay, you mean well, but this is a mistake. If you come to work with the attitude that you might have to stay till 7-7:30pm, you just will. Your mind and sense of productivity is absolutely tempered by the deadlines you've set. You'll just end up pacing your productivity and focus to the extended time at the office. Then you go home and wonder where your Me Time went, and end up borrowing it from the next day. In the morning you wake up groggy and hating the world, but off to work you go to do it all over again, where you will spend a couple of fuzzy hours drinking coffee to feel awake enough to do real work.

So you have two options. The first is to get a job that is flexible enough to allow you to start late. This is doable but not for everyone. The second is to simply force yourself to leave on time. Once you've set yourself a hard deadline for leaving the office, your productivity levels will absolutely adjust to a better schedule. Maybe not an ideal one sure, but certainly a more sustainable one than what you have now.

My personal effort has been to get to bed really early and wake up early - even though it's the most stupid and awful thing in the world - because I get a bit of extra time in the morning to wake up before I have to get working, and it's just as quiet and free of interruptions as the night-time. It's taken me years and I still fall down often enough, but it's made a big difference to me. Meanwhile I have a couple of bright, young and keen employees who would probably stay at the office until 10 at night if I let them, but I kick them out at EOB.
posted by vanar sena at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

And yes, unfortunately, waking up early means going to bed early. People will give you all sorts of tips for sleep hygiene etc and they're all great, but all of them are useless unless you get your full sleep each night.
posted by vanar sena at 7:03 AM on September 22, 2015

I struggle with this as well. One thing that has helped me is using an app like f.lux to limit the blue light from my computer screen and iPad. I've definitely had a much easier time sleeping after using it - and just momentarily switching it off at night it's AMAZING how much glaring blue light is coming from computer screens. Basically I notice that I get sleepy earlier in the evening, so I go to sleep earlier.

Of course, this doesn't really fix the problem that you just don't have enough personal time. But I think my personal time is of a higher quality if I'm not sleep deprived.
posted by pravit at 7:11 AM on September 22, 2015

Oh, yeah. I use twilight on my phone, and that does help a bit.
Although I think this is not an insomnia issue as such as an internal clock doesn't match societies timings issue?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:26 AM on September 22, 2015

I was a night owl too. Exactly as you described.
I started a new job last week. As I was terrible at waking up, and this job means A LOT to me, I knew I had to start getting up earlier with no excuses.
So I set my alarm for 7am and I get up. No matter how I feel I get up. This wasn't as tough as I realized. I immediately get out of bed and wash my face with cold water and brush my teeth. Once I've done that, I have no thoughts of going back to bed. Now I have 1.5 hours before I go to work and I LOVE it. I've gotten used to getting up after only a week.
I also still get up at 7am on weekends. I get some chores done like cleaning and I read the paper. I take naps but getting up early removes all guilt for doing that.
You can switch from being a night owl to an early bird. You just have to do it and not make excuses. It does take time to get used to it so don't give up if it isn't easy right away.
On weekends, I feel like I get 4 days out of 2 by getting up early. It feels amazing. And early mornings feel so much better than late nights. It's the best time of day.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:47 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am a morning-ish person, and the end of a typical work day is never a productive time for me. I deal with this by planning work for that time that requires persistence but not much creative thought: reading routine emails, going to meetings, organizing paperwork, etc. You could probably flip this, and find useful but not thought-intensive tasks to do at the beginning of your work day.
posted by yarntheory at 11:45 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I keep similar hours, especially when stressed. I recommend not doing this. If you start work at 10, after decent sleep, you'll be more productive, and can leave at 6 feeling like a good worker, 7 if you want to be extra thorough. Get in the habit of laying out clothes and breakfast and any other prep possible the night before. I own clothes that all go together, so I can throw on pants, cardigan, and maybe a scarf or necklace and be appropriately dressed with minimal effort, but I often prep the night before if I want to look a bit better. Use morning commute time for radio or music and general organizing of brain cells. I drink the 2nd cup of coffee while driving in. I like NPR, so my clock radio goes off a bit earlier so I can listen. That helps me wake up a bit. I prep the coffee maker timer to have the coffee ready, and the thought of delicious, life-enabling coffee really helps me get by butt out of bed. Use evening commute time to listen to music or an audiobook, something intentional, so that it will feel like 'your' time. If you are a cranky driver, try to learn to be a patient driver. It might add 1 or 2 (probably 0) minutes to your commute, and removing impatience from drive time makes life much better.

You're spending too many hours at work. They don't appreciate it. Be nicer to yourself than work, at least *as* nice. Do everything you can to learn to be relatively productive as soon as you arrive at work, and also realize that most people have lots of slack periods when they aren't well focused. For many people that happens in the afternoon, for us, it's in the morning.

up at 7:30
depart 8:30 (1.5 hr commute)
work at 10
lunch at 2, includes a brisk walk
leave at 7
home at 8:30, dinner
by 9 or 10, relax with a glass of wine and a book, tv show, netflix
bed by midnight
posted by theora55 at 11:45 AM on September 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I tend to be a night owl too. Don't have any advice on getting to bed earlier; it sounds like you need that time alone anyway. What I can suggest is that you do some prep at night for the next day. You say you're throwing on any clothes? Set out an outfit at night. No time for making breakfast/lunch in the morning? Make both at night. I even set up the coffeemaker so we just turn it on. I'll sleep until the last possible minute so having everything I need for the day ready to go helps so much, and I can do all that prep in a few minutes at night while in the morning the same tasks would take twice the time. I'm just slower upon waking.

Also try to do something productive on your long commute-listen to a book on tape/cd, make hands-free calls if you're comfortable doing that.

Can you take short walks or something during the hours you feel you're not productive at work, that are causing you to stay so late after hours? Sometimes just getting up & moving for 5-10 minutes refreshes my mind. If you could cut down on staying late you may be able to get your personal time and still get enough rest.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:40 PM on September 22, 2015

Does anyone have any advice on how to hack my routine so that I can ... be more productive?

Yes: stop staying late. You will benefit your workplace by swapping a stressed-out, unhappy employee for a colleague who is more relaxed and productive.

Short workdays are good for workplaces, in lots of cases. Overall, UK workers spend longer at work but are less productive than workers in France or Germany -- and not just less productive per hour, but less productive per worker. (Mentioned here, along with other case studies, and supported here.)

Plus you will be giving yourself time for your own creative work.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:40 PM on September 22, 2015

You may very well have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD).
posted by lock sock and barrel at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am also an evening person who has trouble feeling productive at work first thing in the morning, so what I do is deal with non-critical things first thing in the morning. For me, that's inbox triage, review of yesterday's bugs, industry news, and quick answers to emails - all things that need to get done, but don't take much mental effort. This leaves my afternoons clear for focused productive work, while still getting me out of the office after eight hours. And sometimes my mornings are for bullshitting with my coworkers, if that's what happens ('reinforcing intra-departmental relationships').
posted by anne_severson at 5:47 PM on September 22, 2015

I really identify with this question. If I don't have utterly unstructured me-time after work, I get really cranky and resentful. I also stay up late trying to suck all that me-time out my waning day. I end up mad at myself when I wake up the next morning exhausted and with a sore throat.

I'm going to go against the grain here and say no, definitely don't add more duties to your evening. Don't spend your precious time after work on preparations for the following workday. That way lies drudgery and an even more insatiable desire to stay up late doing the things you actually enjoy. Furthermore, all those chores and cooking tasks you're spending time on when you get home? Respectfully, fuck that. Do those things on weekends to the greatest extent possible. Basically, your evening should look like this:

- Get home
- Microwave dinner you made over the weekend or had in the freezer (5 mins)
- Eat said dinner (10 mins)
- Change into whimsical loungewear (2 mins)

I also agree with those who say you should leave work earlier. Putting in a solid 8 hours of hearty labor just isn't in the cards for most people, I don't think. You're human. Give your day the old college try, advance the ball in a few areas, take a 30 minute lunch, and click your heels on the way out the door at 6:30. Get home at 8, be fed and comfy by 8:20, and bliss out until midnight.

Sent at 11:43 pm from my strategically dimmed Android device.
posted by delight at 11:45 PM on September 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, as mentioned above, you should have downtime between 9-11pm. Do the chores and stuff for 2 hours, before work.
posted by kinoeye at 1:01 AM on September 23, 2015

Or .5 hours of chores at night and 1.5 hours of chores in the morning. It's 4 hours past my bedtime.
posted by kinoeye at 1:07 AM on September 23, 2015

That would be a massive step, but if you're in a career type of job, maybe move closer to your workplace? As someone whose commute is an 8 minute walk and who finds that an obvious improvement over the 45 minutes that I had to travel twice a day until 2 years ago… I cannot even imagine 3-odd hours of that crap every day.
posted by wachhundfisch at 1:45 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey everyone - thanks for the answers! Although I have only best-answered the ones that I have directly implemented, all your answers were helpful. Also great to know I am not alone in this.

It is far too early to say whether I will be able to change my habits long-term, but the idea of imposing a hometime deadline has made a lot of sense to me over the past week and getting home an hour earlier has made it much easier to wind down sufficiently by midnight and be in bed by about 12:30am, which for me is pretty good going and has made it less of a hardship to be up an hour early in order to get to the gym and be in at work on time. (edit: Holy run-on sentence, Batman!)

(I tried the gym at the evening thing, but it played havoc with my anxiety levels - no idea why but I know that this does happen to some people.)
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:45 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

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