Waking up at 4am yet still being human
January 27, 2006 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to be able to wake up at 4am every day... think of how much I could accomplish! But I also love those evening activities of going to concerts and watching movies and having dinner with my wife. Has anyone figured out a way around this? Is a daily "power nap" the answer?

The few times I've actually woken up at 4am (usually due to insomnia), I've been amazed at how much work I got done. After showering, taking out the dog, and having a bit o' breakfast, it's still not even 4:45, and so I sit down with a cup of tea and just breeze through a big pile of work. The house is quiet, there's nobody to talk to, and no e-mails to deal with. I get three hours of quality work done before 8am, when my wife wakes up and our day begins.

I'd love to do this on a daily basis, but then I'm going to bed each night at 8pm, about an hour after my wife comes home from work. And forget about having friends or a social life... parties don't even begin until 8 or 9pm. Should I try the mid-day nap, or just train myself to live on five hours of sleep? (Can you even do that?)
posted by math to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I do this. You just need to get used to being really tired some days. In other words, you'll usually go to bed at 8 pm. But if there's something you'd rather be doing, just stay up late. I was able to balance things just fine by having some nights where I'd only get 4 hours sleep, but also some weekends where I'd sleep in till 9.

And it does add a significant amount of time to your life. Having a couple hours in the morning before work seems to make the whole day more productive.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:04 PM on January 27, 2006

My roommate's approximate sleep schedule: 10 PM to 4 AM, 8 AM to 9 AM, and 4 PM to 7 PM. Maybe a modified version would work for you? She has no problem skipping a nap once in awhile, and it seems like all the naps can be delayed or rearranged without a problem.

This can certainly be hard to live with, though. First of all, are you self-employed, or can you do this around your work? But second, will it cause difficulties with your wife or anyone else? For example, I don't go to bed until about midnight or 1 AM or later, depending, and when she goes back to bed at 8 AM, I'm just getting up and getting ready to leave, and then when I get back from classes at 3:30 PM, I have to tip-toe around some more. So this arrangement does not really make either of us happy, although it does fulfill both of our sleep needs.

It seems like it would work out better for you -- you'd be up and working early, like you want; you can change your morning nap from 7 AM to 8 AM so you can be up with your wife while she gets ready to go; you get to sleep again right before she returns, so you have energy to do whatever you'd like. The problem is getting this to jibe with your job, whatever it is.
posted by booksandlibretti at 2:18 PM on January 27, 2006

I would suggest that you look into polyphasic sleep. It's structured so that you can get the most restorative (REM) sleep in the least amount of time. Here's a few links that would help educate you to the idea much better than I could: Lifehack.org, StevePavlina.com, GlenRhodes.com, and the sleep tag at del.icio.us. It's a trendy concept, so there's plenty of available material.
posted by charmston at 2:18 PM on January 27, 2006

Thanks for the advice, folks. I teach math, so my day is fairly structured, but I do have my own office in which I could (theoretically) shut the door and catch some zzz's. Booksandlibretti, your roommate's schedule sounds just too weird for me, and as for charmston's advice on polyphasic sleep, well, I'm just too much in love with that lazy, stretchy, comfy feeling of slowly waking up from a good snooze to try to force myself to live on three hours of sleep. Ouch.

The problem with the mid-day nap is that my circadian clock seems to "reset" itself upon waking up, and so my body expects to be awake for the next 16 hours and behaves accordingly.

I had a roommate in grad school who tried the "natural sleep" method: wake up when rested, then go to bed when tired. He quickly fell into a 20-hours-awake, 7-hours-asleep cycle which made for some strange interactions throughout the week. In particular, you couldn't count on him to be available for going out on Friday night. On the other hand, he got a tremendous amount of work done (if by "work" you mean "playing Nintendo" and "watching Star Trek").
posted by math at 2:59 PM on January 27, 2006

just try it, and stop doing it if it takes the fun out of evening activities
(as every question about sleeping here will tell you: everybody is individual)
posted by suni at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2006

I'm 34 and pretty much have a 12-5am sleep schedule. Sometimes I go to bed a little earlier and some times I wake a little earlier as well (but never before 4), although one doesn't preclude the other. I love it. I definitely know the wonders of being productive in the predawn hours.

On the weekends, I simply sleep in an extra hour or two (or three depending on how hard the weekend was). The only problems with evening activities I've had is if they happen to extend into the 3am+ hours, at which point I become useless and regret it the next (err same) day.

I don't know how I got into this sleeping schedule but I'm sure it's easy to train into - and a little adjustment you could easily do an 11-4am or something.
posted by melt away at 6:59 PM on January 27, 2006

math, I have faced the same dilemma. I would bed down at 11pm or midnight and wake at 4:30 pm and go to work. I would nap for an hour during my lunch. It SUCKED!

I was ALWAYS tired, grumpy, disgusted with myself.

Guess what, I have the same schedule now, but instead of napping, I WALK briskly for about 1/2 hour to 45 min during my lunch break (roughly 2 miles). It RULES! I usually eat a decent lunch meal (big sandwhich) 1/2 hour before my walk. So right when I'm feeling sleppy I walk it off and the rest of my day and evening is right on.

Sometime I even eat while I walk. But I guess the point is that a body in motion stays in motion. My wife actually said that I was a completely different man after starting that regime.

Give it a try and good luck!
posted by snsranch at 8:01 PM on January 27, 2006

Agreed -- polyphasic sleeping is just too weird for me. Before he became a polyphasic sleeper, the above-reference Steve Pavlina wrote a great post on this.

I'm pretty sure the bottom line that everyone agrees on is that you just have to be a bad-ass for the first week or two, and force yourself to get up every single day at a prescribed hour. Once your body realizes that 4 am means wake-up time (even on weekends!), it will become nearly impossible for you to sleep any later, and you'll natually start to get tired at an appropriate hour each night.
posted by kevinmeyers at 4:30 AM on January 28, 2006

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