Adjusting from 9-to-5 to ?-to-??
January 4, 2016 9:57 PM   Subscribe

I recently left my 9-to-5 job and have a lot of guilt about setting my own schedule! Help?

I very recently (last month) left my 9-to-5 job to finish grad school and work part-time on the side. I recently got my new job which is a great fit for me, and it happens to be work-from-home, whenever I want. Which is cool! But also super scary!

Because, left to my own devices, I routinely sleep in until about noon. After a month or so of adjusting to an early-morning schedule, I will keep to it for awhile out of inertia, if my impetus to get up is gone... meaning that on weekends, I'll still naturally wake up during my regular weekday time. But after about a week of no early morning obligations (e.g. on vacation, or when I make my own hours), I'm back to staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 AM and sleeping until noon. This has been going on since I was pretty young (13 or 14) and shows no signs of letting up yet (I'm in my late 20s). I'm not exactly an insomniac, but I used to be, in my teens. (Now as I get older I'm kind of tired all the time, so I can "make" myself fall asleep somewhat easier, though I still have trouble waking up.) I have considered the possibility that I have some kind of sleep disorder, and will always have a problem with this, until I start getting older.

Because being an insomniac and a late riser all my life has 1) resulted in shade being thrown at me by my parents and family ("OH, LOOK WHO FINALLY DECIDED TO WAKE UP," and various comments about how I would make myself sick, which may or may not be true, idk, etc.) and 2) resulted in me actually being tardy or truant in school and work, and precluded many early-morning opportunities and engagements in my life (like the Louis CK joke about how he passed by whole careers because he didn't want to wake up at 6:00 am), I kind of have a complex about this. For instance, I was recently on vacation to visit my family, and because of my total lack of self-control on this issue, I woke up around noon every day and probably missed opportunities to visit with various members of my family. I would prefer to wake up earlier and spend more time with people when they are awake. But even if I go to sleep at a fairly reasonable time, I end up sleeping until I literally can't sleep any more. I've tried many things... drinking a lot of water before bed, putting an alarm clock far away, prepping a great breakfast, talking down to myself, talking myself up, taking a workout class early in the morning, and so on. The only change is that I get better at ignoring things and stumbling back to bed. None of them work for more than about a week, if at all. (The early morning workout class worked for 4-5 weeks, but on the days I didn't have the class, I slept in!)

It's not that I'm unproductive. For instance, today I woke up at 11:00 am, went to the gym, worked out, came home, relaxed a bit, ate a snack, showered, left the house and worked on various tasks for 3-4 hours, came home, ate dinner, worked for another 3-4 hours. I'm steadily ticking items off my to-do list. I'm definitely far more productive at night and always have been, for whatever biological or psychological or situational reason.

Leaving aside the fact that I'm a grad student and have stuff to do all the time, I feel really weird and guilty and unproductive about not waking up early, and kind of depressed/guilty about the fact that I just cannot make myself be a morning person. I feel like I "should" be, that I should have better sleep hygiene, that I'm always going to feel irresponsible and lame as long as I'm not up at the crack of dawn milking cows or whatever.

How do I deal with this? Self talk, since obviously a lot of people don't get up early in the morning (people who work overnights, for one)? Should I see a doctor or is that unlikely to go anywhere? I don't have a problem with getting outside, exercising, being productive, etc., I just want to not feel guilty about having a weird sleep schedule anymore! (And, possibly, someday have better control over this. I can wake up promptly when it's reaaaally important, or when traveling, or starting something new. But otherwise, no.)
posted by easter queen to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I am the same, and I have come to accept that it's fine, as long as I treat the extra hours from about 10pm-3am as real time, not dick-around-before-bed time. It's not that I routinely work all or even most of those hours, but if I didn't start working before lunchtime, then I probably only got about 5 hours work done during the day and I need to fit in another 2-3 during that late night spot. I find I can be exceptionally productive between about 11pm and 1:30 or 2am, and a couple of hours work then gets more done than four or so hours in the earlier part of the day when there are interruptions and emails and all sorts of other stuff to deal with. I actually have come to think of this night-owlness as a superpower in that regard.
posted by lollusc at 10:21 PM on January 4, 2016 [11 favorites]

It's not that I'm unproductive.
In that case - don't worry about it. People often appreciate having somebody who can work during the hours that that they aren't. But it might be worth trying to establish and share your own " core opening hours" - and then sticking to them.

I was reminded of "L'Allegro and Il Penseroso" by John Milton - contrasting the type of person who loves early mornings with the one who loves night. That was written over 400 years ago and human personalities have not really moved on.
posted by rongorongo at 11:01 PM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

It is fine, so feel free to continue if it suits you.

If you do want to shift things a bit, have you just tried giving yourself three weeks of going to bed at a reasonable time (say 10pm) and then sleeping until your body wants to wake? If you can't sleep that early you lie in bed quietly until you can, and you do all the normal things to promote sleep including no screens late on, exercise, dark quiet room.

I wonder if this would pay down your sleep debt a bit and so give you the freedom and flexibility to shift your sleep schedule a bit earlier when you want to (like when visiting family).

For me, it also had the side effect of feeling better and more energetic and never falling asleep in lectures again.
posted by kadia_a at 11:23 PM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

On the Freakenomics podcast this week they were talking about this - there is research to suggest people have a strong genetic tendency to be early birds or night owls. This is not sloth or laziness, it is how your body is naturally programmed. Furthermore, people who are early birds do better in situations that call for high functioning in the morning hours to the point that early birds actually tend to earn more money than night owls. But, and this is part that is most important, as the society (I think this was Denmark) got more flexible about work hours, the difference was cut in half. What this says to me that is that if you really want to be peak performer, you need to be doing work during the times you work best. Sounds like your current situation brilliant - now you will be able to naturally work during your most productive times and you can be proud (not embarrassed) that you are clever enough to do create schedule that allows you to be most successful.

ps Just make sure you get enough sleep. The same broadcast talked about the very high cost in performance of 5-6 hours instead of 7-8. Personally, I'm a 9 hour a night gal - once I started to pay attention, it become obvious how a sleep deficient hits me, especially now that I am well into middle age. So, get enough sleep and listen to natural clock and you will be great.
posted by metahawk at 11:54 PM on January 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Grad school is probably the last time you'll be able to do this so enjoy the fuck out of it. (Having said that, my spouse and I are grown-ass self-employed adults and we live like this. We just tell people we work swing-shift. Which we do.)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:58 PM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing that this is in no way a moral failing, and you shouldn't feel guilty about it. And as you can see, you are not alone! I would only worry if your schedule is negatively affecting your life in a concrete way. E.g. you keep missing events you would really like to attend, or you are unable to squeeze in your desired level of social interaction due to conflicting schedules.

I am the same way -- left to my own devices, I shift to a sleep schedule something like 3 or 4am to 11 or noon. I am beyond thrilled that I have been able to arrange my life so I can stick close to that. (Nothing regularly scheduled before noon this year, yay 2016!)

Definitely there are people who think my schedule indicates slacking off, but I get my stuff done, and I do it well. (I do have more free time than most people, but that's because I have only me to take care of, not because of which 8-9 hours I sleep.)

I do early mornings for vacation (either scuba diving or visiting toddlers + other family, both of which involve waking up at the crack of dawn), but I do my best to make time changes work for me on that front. I don't know that I'd call it healthy, but generally I get very little sleep the night before a flight (not necessarily intentionally, but it basically always happens), and then I pass out for an early bedtime that evening, and voila I'm on morning time three time zones away. Or whatever.
posted by ktkt at 12:27 AM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can empathize! But yeah, don't worry about it. You're different, that's all, and you have some ideas about why that might be - it's not like it's a choice. Some people will throw shade. Just ignore that, since you're functional.

Some people do seem to age out of it, or eventually adjust after they have kids or a relentlessly larky work schedule; others (like me) wrestle with it for a lifetime, going sleep deprived or managing things with one or another med or supplement or behavioural strategy, or they go with LCK's tactic. (Witness the range of [generously offered & very useful] responses to this.) You have company, anyway :) For those who, for whatever reason, don't wind up easily adjusting to kids etc., I think it's just a question of accepting that this is a stigmatized individual difference that will probably always have to be managed in order to fit in, live, and work with the 9-5 crew.

I think it's worth trying to shift things a bit earlier, because some people have a tendency to drift further and further forward (or backward, whichever - get up later). Or this can harden, and make it increasingly difficult to get up for those one-off, sometimes essential meetings and appointments - and yeah, then you get shade. Also, it can be lonely, as you know.

I don't know why maintaining sleep hygiene is as annoying as it is (other than the fact that it's imposing an unnatural-feeling regime on your bodily rhythms), but it is that way for a lot of people, know you're not alone with that, too.

A doctor - yeah, a doctor who's not a sleep specialist is likely to give you a hypnotic or benzodiazepine. If they're like some docs I've had, they will probably not bother advising you on planning a gradual shift; they'll just invite you to hammer down on the med and sleep at 11 pm right away and look at you quizzically if you say "are you kidding". But they might have a point re the gradual route; ime, it involves a lot of stress and hope and conscious effort, and the result is fragile. One night out and you're back at square one. Not sure what happens with the specialist route. (Some people are obviously fine with meds; I'm more circumspect about it myself.)

Light and dark therapy (well described by litera scripta manet here and other places) is afaik the most up-to-date approach to managing sleep issues.

All of it involves a lot of work, though.

In addition to having a "wind-down" time with limited lights*, what does seem to help me (when I'm good about it - see, I used "good", but that's how I feel about it too :/) is noticing a dip in energy at a certain time, i.e. in sync with a rhythm my body's trying to tell me about, and responding to it.

At ~1 am, I yawn. Until recently, I didn't pay much attention to that yawn, or even notice that it happened at the same time. But it does, every night. Usually, I ignore it in favour of continuing to X. But when I get it together and follow that yawn to bed - immediately - I have more success in sleeping than if I wait another 30 minutes. (Which happens if I've not yet taken out my contacts etc., because washing my face etc. wakes me up again :/ ).

I think that yawn happens when my body actually wants me to go to bed, despite that fact that I usually want to sleep at 3-4 am (after my Xing is done).

If you want to go to bed earlier, figure out if you have a regular yawning or "eyelids are heavyish" time. Try to get ready for bed about an hour before that, so you can act on it quickly. If you miss that window, you'll probably feel another dip in ~90 minutes (average sleep cycle length). This calculator is useful for doing sleep math. This one figures it out the other way around (backwards, from the time you want to get up). This is a very cool sleep monitoring app that was suggested to me here.

But it is really ok for you to be ok with your current schedule. (Sorry this is so long.)

*limited, not no lights, for me. Too stressful, makes me too aware I'm trying to relax :/
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:39 AM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Leaving aside the fact that I'm a grad student and have stuff to do all the time, I feel really weird and guilty and unproductive about not waking up early, and kind of depressed/guilty about the fact that I just cannot make myself be a morning person.

I don't think you can leave grad school aside. One of the hardest things about grad school for myself and many other people is that you are never done, and things are never good enough. There is always more to do, or more that you could be doing. In comparison to that, a real job, with defined hours, still seems easy, because there is a point when you are done for the day and are on your own time, which never really happens in grad school.

Beyond that, there's nothing wrong with having hours that work for you, except that what you describe sounds less like being a night owl and more like signs of depression, with the uncontrolled sleeping and inability to get up regardless of the consequences. There's nothing better about being a morning person (though it is very handy for some careers and a problem for others), but there are a lot of problems if you can't adjust your schedule slightly when required by family or other obligations.

My experience of grad school was that most of my time was mine to control, but that there were also plenty of obligations during the 8-5 work day. Most classes were scheduled, meetings happened, and even most talks and events were set for that window. Only being available from noon on would have been a problem, though I actually knew a couple of faculty and students who were fully committed to maintaining that schedule and simply wouldn't do things earlier, damn the consequences. I'm not a freelancer or otherwise in control of a free schedule anymore, but most people I know who are still have to deal with conference calls and other intermittent commitments during working hours, even if they aren't otherwise bound to them.

In other words, keeping your own hours is great and you should continue to do so, but you probably need to get at the underlying issues that are preventing you from having flexibility in adjusting your schedule to meet other commitments.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:36 AM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

except that what you describe sounds less like being a night owl and more like signs of depression, with the uncontrolled sleeping and inability to get up regardless of the consequences. There's nothing better about being a morning person (though it is very handy for some careers and a problem for others), but there are a lot of problems if you can't adjust your schedule slightly when required by family or other obligations.

I came to say this-- no problem with being a night owl, but if even with an alarm you can't make yourself wake up, then you may have some other kind of issue going on. I'm a natural early bird myself, but I can stay up late if the situation demands. Is it literally true that you cannot make yourself wake up early with even alarms?
posted by frumiousb at 2:10 AM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that your exact awake times are less important than their regularity.
If you identify and adjust your awake time to the time where you're most productive, then that is perfect, regardless of whether it's the middle of the night.
But if you find you need to push each bedtime boundary you set yourself because *complex mental reasons*, then this is a real problem you should adress to feel happier.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:15 AM on January 5, 2016

being an insomniac and a late riser all my life has 1) resulted in shade being thrown at me by my parents and family

Welcome to being an adult, the stage in your life when you, sometimes with the help of others, start to realize that your parents aren't especially wise or all-knowing, they are human just like everyone else. Since you're now an adult and at an age when MANY people are already parents, there is no reason to think that your parents know what's best for you anymore.

Your folks were just regurgitating social norms that are now outdated in a lot of ways and ignoring those norms just doesn't have the impact that it used to.

It might have taken you years to realize that you're better off living your life on a slightly different schedule than others. A friend of mine has a red phone on his desk that goes straight to a developer in India. The staff in India works 9-5 Central US time (something like 12 hours off of local time).

Most of my co-workers are in Ohio while I'm an hour behind in the Midwest and another is three hours behind them in Washington state. She likes to get up at 4am so the fact that most of her co-workers on the east coast works great for her. You have the opposite problem but if you work with people on the west coast while you're on the east, you solve problems with both your schedule and theirs.

Lastly, a lot of how you approach a home-based position depends on what that job is. Is part of your job to just be available in case you're needed? Do you have a lot of meetings? Are there people who can't do their job until you've done yours? Do you have to collaborate with other people or do you just get handed a task and do it until it's done?

If part of your job involves being available (like a sales person, part of the job might be "be ready for the customer when they contact you") then you'll need to nail down some kind of routine. You probably don't need to go back to working 9-5, maybe 11-7 will work (and maybe be an advantage to your employer depending on the situation).

If not, then you're paid for output and not attendance. Your boss expects about 2080 hours worth of output annually (for a full-time job), there are probably deadlines that have to be met for a lot of it but it generally shouldn't matter when you get the work done so long as you get it done and don't hold up the process for anyone else. Routine helps a lot here to but it's a TON more flexible. For instance, I have some errands that need to be run. If I wait until after work, the roads and the stores will be busier and it will take me more time. So, as soon as I'm done writing this response to your question, I'm going to run those errands and then work a little later than usual getting those tasks done.

Being a home-based employee and being able to manage my own schedule is my favorite thing about a job I love. My employer will get me back into an office and on a normal schedule when they break down my down and drag me back kicking and screaming. It's not for everyone, but I love it.
posted by VTX at 9:11 AM on January 5, 2016

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