Pretty sure I'm not the only one with WFH sleep issues
November 12, 2020 2:45 AM   Subscribe

WFH and being at home all the time is messing with my sleep. I keep getting intensely sleepy very early in the evening, falling asleep and then waking up around 1am and spending hours awake before dropping off again around 5am. Then I have to wake up for work, and spend the whole day tired. How can I rejig my sleep cycle to start feeling sleepy later at night, closer to bedtime?

I'm in general a night owl and I have found that I function better if I'm up till around midnight-1am and wake up around 8am the next day. But I'm struggling to stay awake beyond 8:30pm these days. I fall asleep on the sofa around 9pm, wake up around 1am and then struggle to get a few more hours in before sunrise. This messes me up for the entire day.

This is very much a WFH issue; I always used to get sleepy after work but because I was at the time on the way back home from work or running errands/socialising after work I never had the opportunity to crash.

My work situation is pretty messed up at the moment; I am feeling the pressure big time, and after work I end up collapsing on the sofa after dinner in sheer mental and physical exhaustion instead of doing the things I normally would do between dinner and bedtime, i.e. doing some washing up/tidying up, watching some TV, catching up with friends on the phone. I.e. actually doing things for myself and not working.

Getting so tired early in the evening is really impacting my quality of life and it isn't helped by post-work exercise (I just end up crashing after that) and gets worse after I eat dinner, whatever I end up eating.

I can avoid falling asleep by not sitting on the sofa but, in my tiny living room, the only two points of stillness (as it were) are my desk where I work, and the sofa. So if I were to stay planted at my desk all evening I would just be staring at a screen all day.

The one thing I've found that really helps me not crash in the early evening is to nap in the early afternoon, say after lunch, but because of work and meetings and deadlines, it's rare for me to be able to block out about 45 mins for a nap.

I'm writing this post after yet another broken night's sleep so I'm feeling pretty frustrated.

How can I just fall asleep later? If I could start feeling sleepy around midnight, that would make life so much easier for me! I would get my evenings back and not feel tired all day.
posted by unicorn chaser to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Is it possible for you to spend some time outside, ideally within an hour or so of your local sunset? That helps me enormously (and I believe it's backed up by some kind of circadian rhythm science but I don't have a source for that info).

Also, what are you doing/how are you feeling when you wake up at 1AM? Try not to worry about how you're not asleep (easier said than done, I know!). Some things that help me when I'm awake and I don't want to be are
1) listening to gentle podcasts, either sleep-specific podcasts like Sleep With Me or just low-stakes, non-anxiety-producing podcasts where the hosts, like, hash over an Oscar hopeful from 15 years ago or discuss a 40-year-old YA novel.
2) Guided mindfulness meditation, like yoga nidra.
3) If I'm not too anxious, just little mindfulness exercises, like focusing on my breathing, focusing on what I can hear, what I can smell, what I can feel.
4) If none of that is working, just giving up and reading until I get sleepy again.

Finally, can you try and power through that 8:30/9PM sleepiness for a few nights and go to bed at your preferred time? Like, don't sit down between 8:30 and 10, instead do a workout or clean your apartment or prep a few days of lunches or work on a craft project. Sit on the floor if you have to. Tiredness accumulates but sleepiness comes in waves and if you can get through this 9PM wave you might be able to stay up longer. Not a great long-term solution but it might help you reset.
posted by mskyle at 3:32 AM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Get a "grow light" bulb. I picked an LED one up from the hardware store for around $12. It gives off a nice pinky/purple light.. it's nice. I usually put it on (in the middle of my apt. with no lampshade) around 4-5 when the sun is still up, and then around 8 I say "hmm the light looks weird" and I turn it off. It sorts everything out about being stuck indoors. Definitely will help with sleep cycle, also may help with mood/depression.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:37 AM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

One thing that I've been doing is to consciously give in to the wave of tiredness around 9pm. I get into bed, intending to read and/or listen to podcasts or to the radio (with a sleep timer set). If I fall asleep at 9.15, so be it. At least I'm already in bed - I'll generally sleep through until 06:00 or so.

I also shut the lid of my work laptop at 5pm, and put it in a box. That may/may not work for you, but it helps to preserve at least some evening-time even if I'm going to bed quite early. Now the clocks have changed it's already dark here by 5pm anyway, I may as well call it night-time. I can start to semi-work (with a coffee...) at 8am, so I still fit in a more-or-less whole working day.
posted by rd45 at 4:50 AM on November 12, 2020

I have the same(ish) problem! Obviously YMMV a lot, but here's a few things I found out that work for me.

1) Feeling tired may be temporary; it's very possible to stop feeling sleepy without actually sleeping. If you distract yourself for like half an hour, things might be different. Take a walk, work out, make it through an episode of something on Netflix.

2) For me, there's a very specific target bedtime (~10:15pm) that means I'll sleep through the night. Before then, I'll wake up at 1am. It's almost like managing jet lag.

3) I don't know if you're concerned about your eating habits or not, but a 1am snack can put you right back to sleep... even a banana or something.

4) Definitely 2nd the breathing exercise idea.

5) Audio books, especially ones you like and are familiar with. I have some Sherlock Holmes stories that put me right to sleep.

6) I'm not a sleep scientist, but I understand sleep happens in 90-minute increments. There's nothing inherently wrong with sleeping 3 hours, waking up, then sleeping another 4.5 hours. If you can find a way to make the 'bonus' late-night time count, it might not even be that bad to be awake when everybody else is asleep...
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 5:13 AM on November 12, 2020

When I am super-exhausted after work I find I often need a 30 minute or so nap to refresh me enough to get through the evening. Maybe lie down right after work, set an alarm and nap for a bit. Then make sure you have some sort of activity or chore planned for when you wake up, so you have a reason to actually get up and do something.

You mentioned that an after lunch nap is helpful but you don't have the time. If you do have a regular lunch hour that you reliably take, could you sleep then, and eat your actual lunch earlier or later while working? I have done this for years. Even when working in-office, I eat at my desk while I work and sleep in my car at lunchtime. If eating while working is awkward, maybe that would be a good use of a Huel shake if you're in meetings, or finger foods you can easily munch on while typing or whatever.

I can avoid falling asleep by not sitting on the sofa but, in my tiny living room, the only two points of stillness (as it were) are my desk where I work, and the sofa. So if I were to stay planted at my desk all evening I would just be staring at a screen all day.

Can you add another point of stillness to your living space, such as a folding table where you can do crafts or work on a project or read or do other relaxing things?
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:55 AM on November 12, 2020

I know that OMG feeling when you wake waaaaay to early. This is how I handle it:

You WFH, so when you wake up at 01:00, can you do some work for work? If not, just get something done(laundry, dishes, ironing etc) and then try to go back to bed for a couple of hours.

There was a time when people slept in shifts, waking up in the early hours, doing something, and going back to bed.
posted by james33 at 6:14 AM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

My PCP referred me to a behavioral sleep doctor, who I met with last week.

For a week prior to the appointment, I was to keep a sleep log that tracked data like: the time I went to bed, the time I actually fell asleep, how many times I woke up, how long I was awake for each time, what time I woke up, what time I actually got out of bed, if I took any naps (and details if so), whether I felt sleepy during the day, did I actually fall asleep during the day (esp. if it wasn't planned, like a nap). My adhd/sleep-deprived self could not manage to keep this sleep log routine going for an entire week so I only had about 3 days of data, and a lot of it was just guesses.

During our appointment, she reviewed the log and asked me lots of questions about my sleep habits. It felt similar to a first appointment with a therapist.

We have a follow-up appointment in a month. In the meantime, I am supposed to keep another sleep log, that has similar questions to the first.

Her recommendations for now are based on the sleep log I brought in, and our discussion during the appointment:

1) NO SCREENS for at least an hour before "bedtime" - even my Kindle with the blue light adjustment. (I have not been able to follow through on this rec, because lying in bed right before going to sleep is the only time I have to read, and if I don't read a little escapist fiction everyday I will descend [further] into madness.)

2) Stay up at least another hour - or better, two hours - past when I usually go to "bed" and then attempt to go right to sleep at that time, without reading first. Then try to get up at whatever my normal awake time is. I did do this the two nights following the appointment (no reading - sob!), and it honestly did seem to reset my sleep clock a little. The problem was I was unbelievably groggy for those two days, when I was supposed to be working. In retrospect, I shouldn't have tried this rec in the middle of the week. But I did end up sleeping much better the 3rd and 4th day.

3) Hide all clocks and put phones just out of reach, so I won't be able to obsess over the time if I wake up in the middle of the night.

4) Set an alarm, but put the alarm clock/phone somewhere where I'd have to get out of bed to turn it off.

5) No naps during the day, or at least nothing longer than a 20-minute rest.

6) At least a little exercise daily, even if it's just a 5-minute walk.

7) Live in a country that finally elects a non-fascist president, and your sleep anxiety will magically disappear. (I say this jokingly, and it was obviously not an actual recommendation, but I have not had an anxiety attack - daytime or middle-of-the-night - since last Friday, and have been sleeping like an oblivious baby. Please don't harsh my mellow...)

In sum, the "reset my sleep clock" approach (#2 above) seemed to work to get me back on a more regular schedule. But, other things that happened this past week may also have played a role (election results and changing the clocks back from Daylight Savings Time).

OP, if you are interested in speaking to a sleep professional, look around for doctors/clinics who work with sleep apnea patients. That's how I found this doctor. I also have sleep apnea, and my CPAP data was the first thing they checked, and all was normal there, hence the referral to a sleep therapist.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:17 AM on November 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, I'm with you. During WFH, I am often waking up in the night - something that never used to happen to me.

The big thing for me is to get outside for a fair bit - even if it's dark. Ideally during the day so I get some sunshine, but even if drag myself out at 7pm, come home, shower and get in bed, at least I'm going to sleep around 9.30 rather than 8. I save my favourite podcasts for while I'm walking. In a few weeks it'll start getting dark here before 4, and I find it so important just to see some daylight.

Also the suggestions to prioritise a nap at lunch are good. Personally, I'm not good at falling asleep fast enough for a nap to be useful, but if you are, then definitely prioritise however you can.

Good luck, you are not alone!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 6:17 AM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I might be off base here, but what if you just lean into it? If your body says it needs to sleep at 8:30 pm, you could just plan for that and let it happen without guilt. Do your bedtime routine and climb into bed at 8:30. And then if you end up being awake for a few hours in the middle of the night, maybe that's not so bad, if you can do some of the things you're used to doing between 8:30 and midnight. As long as you get back to sleep after a few hours it'll work out.

Reading a little about the idea of biphasic sleep helped me to stop worrying so much about being awake in the night. Like, there's enough to worry about right now without beating yourself up about the possibility that you're somehow doing sleep wrong.
posted by beandip at 7:23 AM on November 12, 2020

I really dislike melatonin as a sleep aid (that's not what it does) but it does appear to work as a one-time circadian reboot for things like jet lag and fucked-up sleep cycles. I can't find it anymore, there used to be a blog post out there with very specific steps for jet lag remediation but it was more or less this:

Day 0:
- Eat an early dinner of at least 400 calories and then fast until breakfast
- Normally the suggestion would be to stay up all night, but you're already plenty tired. Sleep as best you can, set an alarm for just before sunrise.
Day 1:
- Go outside AT SUNRISE for at least 10-15 minutes. You don't need to stare at the sun or anything, but don't just look out a window, go outside and ideally let the sunlight hit your face and some of your body (forearms will do)
-- If it helps you, it's okay to get in your car and "commute" somewhere in that window of time. If you want to treat yourself for the week you're resetting and go get a smoothie or takeout omelette or a good breakfast sandwich and park somewhere relatively pleasant and eat your breakfast and listen to a podcast while the sun comes up, do that. I suppose you could also make yourself a breakfast sandwich or smoothie and go do that too.
- Eat a substantial protein-heavy breakfast during the typical breakfast window, 8amish
-- Moderate morning caffeine if you must, but you have to have it in the breakfast window because you're fasting between meals, and no more for the rest of the day
- Eat lunch at lunchtime, noonish
- After lunch, go outside for 10+ minutes for sunlight exposure
- Drink water between meals, and my personal addition is to use an unsweetened electrolyte additive (I use LyteShow) with the water, or take magnesium and potassium supplements
- Go outside as the sun is setting, which may be well before dinnertime if it is winter where you are
-- If you want to leave the house and run real or pretend errands as a shut-off switch for work, do that. It may be that for you, that physical and psychological bookend is critical to this process.
- Eat dinner at your generally-desired dinnertime
- (optional, but studies say it helps if combined with food and sunlight schedules) Two hours before bedtime, take 0.3 MICROGRAMS of Melatonin. Zero point three, micrograms not milligrams. Most OTC melatonin is sold in doses a hundred plus times larger than this in the very American model of "more is always better". Point three micrograms. You may have to order online to get the correct dosage.
- High compliance with sleep hygiene until bedtime
- Bed at your desired bedtime, alarm set for just before sunrise to get up and see the sun in the morning

Ideally you keep the food and sunlight schedule roughly always but at least try to stick to it for a week. You should really only use the melatonin (if you do - and you could not use it to start and then add it on day 3 or 4 if you're still struggling) once.

You might also start a high-quality D3 supplement.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:44 AM on November 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I also get suuuuuper sleepy toward the late afternoon/early evening. I've found that making sure I get up and take breaks throughout the day, ideally stepping outside for a few minutes but even just walking around my apartment and maybe fixing myself a beverage or little snack, really really helps. Just sitting in one place staring at my screen (and yes, feeling alllll the stressy pressure that comes with my job) is so exhausting and my body can only take so much of it before wanting sleepytime. Taking occasional tiny breaks seems to restart that "how long can I sit in one place" clock and help a lot.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:21 PM on November 12, 2020

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