Night owl to lark
August 13, 2021 2:11 AM   Subscribe

My entire adulthood, I've never been a great sleeper, and the coronavirus lockdown has made it worse. I do best when I go to sleep and wake up really late, but that isn't practical for me work-wise, especially with return to office looming. There is lots of advice online about healthy sleep routines. I am curious - have any of you managed to switch from night owl to lark and how did you do it?

Currently, this is what my sleep routine looks like. Be warned: it's bad.

- Toil at work till 6pm or later (I try to finish up on time)
- Sort out food, eat, clean up
- Relax in front of TV on the sofa. It's the first time all day that I get to relax. Sometimes I fall asleep in front of the TV and wake up at 2 or 3am, which fucks up my sleep for the rest of the night.
- If I have managed not to fall asleep in front of the TV, I usually get a second wind of energy around midnight, so I do some pottering around the house/late-night phone calls with friends/pootling about on the internet. I love doing this. It feels like the first time all day that I have no other demands on my time and can just aimlessly dick around.
- Around 1am, start getting ready for bed (brush teeth/nighttime skincare)
- Go to bed around 1:30am
- Read Kindle book until I feel sleepy (probably not till about 2:30-3am). I get preoccupied by worries and concerns if I'm lying there in the dark and don't have a book to distract me. I read really chilled out books at night to stop me from getting too worked up.

Other points:

I'm supposed to wake up at 8am but I'll either sleep very poorly and wake up around 6am and feel exhausted all day, or I'll oversleep which causes me a lot of stress. If I am worried about waking up on time I am guaranteed a poor night's sleep so my best sleep quality is on weekends when I don't have to set an alarm in which case I naturally wake up around 9:30 or so. I try to take a nap during the day which helps with excessive daytime sleepiness, but once I return to work that won't be an option.

There are lots of AskMe questions asking for help with night-time routines. My question is a bit different, I want to hear about your personal experience. I want to know what worked for people like me who are naturally late to go to bed and late to rise. How did you turn into an early bird? How long did it take to change your routine? How did you get over the resentment of having to sacrifice your beloved late night aimless pootling (or maybe that's just me)?
posted by unicorn chaser to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I should be going to sleep instead of answering this question.

I work seasonally, and thus switch back and forth between mostly-unscheduled and fairly-strictly-scheduled with a hypothetical start time of 07:30 (which can slide to almost 08:00 some days, but not, like, every day). So basically I have to do this every year. To be blunt, it sucks and I doubt that you can make it completely NOT suck, but things that help me:

1) Yummy breakfast.
2) A morning activity that feels really good (e.g. yoga/stretching before work).
3) Calculate what time you need to be in bed to get enough sleep before your hypothetical wakeup time, and be in bed then. If I wait until I'm sleepy to go to bed, that's too late.
4) Sleep podcasts, sleep hypnosis podcasts, sleep meditation podcasts, you get the idea. I think most of these fall into the general category of "meditainment", which makes me feel shallow AF, but whatever. Lately I've been enjoying Sleep Cove.
5) Remind myself that those who must wake up / be at work at a certain time resent those who don't. There's always plenty of resentment to go around!

Right now my work season is drawing to a close and I'm still imperfectly rested and don't do all those things every day, but the nights/days that I manage to do 1-3 are noticeably better than those when I don't.

Best of luck to you and remember that it's a journey!
posted by inexorably_forward at 3:03 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure how much help this is, but I did this when I had kids. The main factor was, I think, that I spent months being so tired and sleep deprived that I adapted to being able to fall asleep no matter what, no matter how early in the evening it was. And then that became my new schedule.

Like I said, I'm not sure how much help this is, because if it's transferable at all it means you have to make yourself incredibly sleep deprived for a long time. Probably not worth it.
posted by sir jective at 4:05 AM on August 13, 2021

I was like this for years so I sympathize. No judgment here.

A few tips (from my personal experience):

I found to "fix" my sleep schedule, that I needed to focus on the "waking up" part rather than the "falling asleep" part. Once I started to force myself to get up at the time I needed to, it became a bit easier to force myself to go to sleep earlier. Fair warning, there's definitely a really miserable in between period.

One thing I would recommend is actually trying to get up like an hour earlier than you actually need. So it sounds like that might be 7 am? Although since it sounds like you sometimes naturally wake up at 6 am, you may try to aim for 6 am.

The main reason I suggest this is because you mention how that time after you get off work/eat dinner is the first time you have to yourself all day. So move that time to the morning. I used to do this as well, because a) it took me a long time to feel human enough to function and b) it just made getting up in the morning more pleasant.

I also tended to get a second wind around midnight. The answer to that was make sure you are asleep before then. In my night owl days, I liked to allow 2 hours to "wind down" if I was trying to get myself to go to bed earlier.

So basically, to summarize:

- Wake up at 6 am (or start at 7 am if 6 am feels too brutal), and give yourself an hour or two of morning "me time"
- Start "winding down" for bed around 8 pm (for 10 pm bed time) or 9 pm (for 11 pm bed time).
- Make sure you're ready to sleep before you get 2nd wind.
- Be prepared for a week of painful adjustment period. Try not to let yourself nap at all during this time.

I'm sorry. It sucks when your natural circadian rhythm is out of sync with the rest of the world.

For what it's worth, the above advice helped me shift to a "lark" schedule, but nothing I did actually turned me into a morning person. I spent years trying. Then for whatever mysterious reason, a couple years ago (age 30 or 31), it was like a switch flipped, and I became a morning person. It started actually with me feeling like complete shit if I stayed up past midnight, even if I still slept for 8 hours. Then after a month or so of that, I just found myself automatically waking up at 6 am and like not hating it? Now, I often wake up at 5 am, for no reason.

And it's stuck for 2 years now. And I did nothing special to make this happen. So I wish I had better advice for how to turn into a genuine "I love mornings, wake up at 5 am ready to face the world/go to the gym" kind of person, but I think to a certain point, we can only do the best we can with the biology we have. For some people, switching their circadian rhythm patters is just easier than for other people I think.

Oh, and for what it's worth, when I was a night owl (from middle school to age 30), my preferred sleep pattern was go to sleep at 5 am or 6 am, wake up around noon or 1 pm.
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:08 AM on August 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

I have a highly variable work schedule , and I spent a lot of years working basically 2-4 pm until midnight-2 am. Currently in general I'm on a sort of 10 am - 6 pm work schedule unless otherwise necessary, which can happen anywhere from 1 to 5 times a week. Meaning I'm less of a night owl than I used to be.

And like you I love reading in bed before I go to sleep.

So . . .

Around 1am, start getting ready for bed (brush teeth/nighttime skincare)
- Go to bed around 1:30am
- Read Kindle book until I feel sleepy (probably not till about 2:30-3am).

This? Do this at 10 or 11 pm, before you get your second wind.

That's been key for me in (somewhat) transitioning to a morning-ish person, and a thing I intentionally do when I know I have to get up extra early. Lay down in bed even if I don't feel tired with a book and all lights out except my bedside reading lamp. By just physically doing my "go to bed" routine it's like I'm telling myself, "It's all ok, you can relax, it's time to get ready to go to sleep now."

I do some pottering around the house/late-night phone calls with friends/pootling about on the internet. I love doing this. It feels like the first time all day that I have no other demands on my time and can just aimlessly dick around.

Oh, I feel you. I usually do this sort of thing immediately after I get home, as part of my unwinding from work, and then I worry about dinner (which means that I'm not eating until 8 or 9, which is fine by me), and then do whatever TV/movie watching I'm gonna do that night. And it's not uncommon that vegging out on the couch with a full tummy makes me start to drift off, and so then I have that "time to go to bed" feeling around 10-midnight.

IOW, I suspect that "dinner then TV" as the first things you do are making you crash early, and if you manage to stay awake long enough after that, that's why you're getting that second wind around midnight. Try swapping the order around - eat dinner later (may require a late afternoon/right after work snack), or eat dinner first and then potter around before hitting the couch.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:15 AM on August 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

For swathes of time during the pandemic, I've been able to sustain a daily walk in the countryside (which starts ten minutes' walk from my door, so I'm doing this on easy mode). To make that fit with work commitments and daylight hours, for much of the year that has to be either early in the morning (out the door no later than half past seven) or during an extra-long lunch break (which means I have to start work at 8 to accommodate it).

This is not a fit for my usual preferred sleeping patterns, which 40 years of getting up early for school / university / work never really managed to shift; but it turns out that having something I *want* to do, that I *have* to get up early to be able to do, is enough to do the trick. I'm sleepy by 10pm, asleep before midnight, up at 6:30. It happens fast each time; it's a struggle for the first few days and then my clock adjusts.

Note though that I said "swathes of time" not "this is my new consistent daily routine". I manage to keep it up for a few weeks, up to a couple of months, and then something disrupts it and I stop for a while, sometimes also months. I'm still tending to be awake by 8 in the off periods though, so it does feel as if something has shifted; at the very beginning of the pandemic, before I started doing this, I was rolling out of bed at 9:50 to be dressed and at my desk in the spare room by 10.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:09 AM on August 13, 2021

Do you exercise? I’m a chronic insomniac with diagnosed Delayed Sleep Phase, and exercising 100% makes all the difference whether I get good sleep during reasonable hours at all. You may need to experiment a bit with types of exercise, strenuousness, and timing. But it’s the only thing that has kept me sane and relatively well-rested.
posted by decathecting at 5:21 AM on August 13, 2021

Night owl to lark? Gosh no, and I was miserable the couple of times I tried diligently to force myself into a lark schedule. Night owl to "person who falls asleep around 11:30pm-12:00am and wakes up around 7:30am-8:00am feeling rested, most of the time"? Definitely.

- Since you're working from home I assume you're a desk worker. I don't see any physical exercise in your schedule, so you may be mentally tired out but not physically tired enough. Get some vigorous exercise at least a few times a week. I like to exercise in the evening after work as I find it clears my head—sometimes this means I eat dinner and/or exercise later than I "should", but so be it.

- I don't try to make morning time before work productive or especially enjoyable. I put a higher priority on getting enough sleep so I wake up just in time to get dressed, have a cup of coffee, eat a quick breakfast, and settle in before my first meeting. That's it. I tried moving my exercise, alone time, puttering around on the internet time, etc to mornings before starting work and it just does not agree with me.

- Get some sunlight exposure during the day and minimize bright light exposure at night. If you have a Mac, the f.lux utility will switch over to a nighttime display color temperature automatically after sunset.

- In the evening, I can do some internet/puttering around OR watch TV after dinner but not both.

- No matter what, midnight (at the latest) is TIME FOR BED. Even if I feel quite awake and am enjoying the peace and quiet, I do my nighttime personal hygiene and get into bed fully intending to go to sleep. I also learned a meditation that helps to calm mental chatter and encourage relaxing into sleep.
posted by 4rtemis at 5:51 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Your routine sounds a lot like mine. I've mostly just accepted this as normal for now. I know that should my routine return to something more like it was pre-pandemic it will fix itself, but my body is doing what it needs to do right now and I trust it.

The only way I've ever found to "fix" this is to echo the advice above: the key is waking up earlier, no matter what. Force yourself out of bed if you need to and keep doing that. Reward the waking up with fancy coffee or a nice breakfast or whatever works for you. Eventually it will become a routine. Try not to overthink it or worry too much, because that means more anxiety about sleep, which will in turn fuck up your sleep even more (ask me how I know!).

In my experience, the more I try to mess around with my sleep routine in the name of what I feel like I "should" be doing, the worse I feel. I'm happy to sacrifice some "productivity" in order to not be stressed out about bedtime.

For what it's worth, your pootling around time is slowly being recognised as a phenomenon known as revenge bedtime procrastination. It's a thing and definitely more common now we're all traumatised and sleeping badly.
posted by fight or flight at 6:23 AM on August 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

"I did this when I had kids"

Yeah, unfortunately this is the only thing that worked for me, too, and even that's not working *great*.

The only thing that's really worked, in terms of jobs, is to find jobs who are accommodating to non-traditional schedules. My first real job out of college worked with customers in multiple time zones, so even though I was in the eastern US, I worked west coast hours (3 hours behind - so like 11am-8pm). Nowhere else has ever been quite so good, but I have done like 9:30-6 before. I currently do 9-5:30, and it's hard, but not as hard as when I used to have to go in at 8am at my last job. It really depends on the details of your job, but if they'll allow you to start later, it's nice.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:28 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

For a year or so in The Before Times, I began getting up at 4 naturally. It was lovely; I'd make coffee and listen to the BBC on the radio while puttering. Then work in a leisurely fashion for an hour or so on my own stuff. Maybe go out in the yard and water things. Then make breakfast and get ready for the day job. Everything nicely slow-paced and peaceful, no heart-pounding rushing around.

My routine now and before this halcyon period looks a lot like yours. I plop in front of the TV and drowse off immediately, rewinding repeatedly like a zombie, thus ruining my sleep for the night because I'm pretending I'm watching something that I'm actually sleeping through. I wake up but don't get up at some stupid time like 5:49 or 6:30, fill in crosswords 'til the last minute, race around, plod through the day, repeat the terrible nightly routine.

How I got into the good routine: I decided to quit hassling with dinner. I'd come home and have a light snack like a handful of nuts and then start winding down right away, falling asleep around dark, usually. I ate my main meal at work; massive salad. I got a lot of exercise at work, too--took a walk every two hours. So going to sleep early was a way to avoid being hungry at night.

But fight or flight's article reveals there's more to the story. Because going to bed early to avoid late-night eating makes it seem like I was able to make the switch with willpower, and I pretty much have none of that. The revenge bedtime procrastination article explains it better. That article resonates strongly. That's exactly wtf has been going on with me since... grade school? I resent work mightily, especially now that they're actively trying to kill us all insisting we sit in their petri dish office all day when we could easily do this slog at home. But I had plenty of resentment back in the day, too, when I was joyfully getting up at 4. I just don't like somebody else controlling my time. Like, I hate it. A lot.

I believe my delightful time being a lark happened because I stumbled serendipituosly into a beginning-of-the-day vengeful period which was better than the end-of-day one because I was wide awake and could actually enjoy it. It happened entirely by accident: one morning I woke up at 4:00 as you do sometimes, and on a whim instead of reading myself back to sleep so I could be well-rested the better to serve my employer, I got up and started puttering in the kitchen. That's when I discovered that the BBC was on the radio at that time, and it was good. Thereafter I continued the practice. I'd be excited about going to sleep early so I could be fresh for MY morning. I was still late for work a lot--no part of getting up so early was about getting to work on time. It was about getting a full two hours of the BBC before the lame local programming came on at 6:00. Also puttering. I like to putter.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

It's awful, isn't it? Society is against us!!!

I have not made this conversion, but the one thing that helps more than anything else is moderate to vigorous exercise. My schedule's been slipping again these past few months and getting to go back to the gym has definitely been working at least as a corrective. I do it later in the evening. This may or may not work for you.
posted by praemunire at 7:15 AM on August 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have made this switch--it used to be that my most productive hours were 10 PM to 2 AM--so that's the good news. The bad news is that it's only the demands of med school and residency that forced me into it. Can you create an early-morning obligation for yourself?
posted by 8603 at 7:36 AM on August 13, 2021

I wish I had a more practical answer, but I used to have a schedule like yours, and the only thing that actually changed it was cohabitating with a partner who has a normal/society-compatible approach to sleep with a regular bedtime at 10 pm. So now my weekdays look more like this:

6:15-6:45 am - wake up
7 am - make and eat breakfast and one cup of black tea (no caffeine after this, too sensitive to it)
7:30 am - shower, get dressed
8 am - start my work-from-home job, which has a brief meeting every morning at 8 am
5-6 pm - stop working
5:30-8 pm - take a walk, make dinner, eat, clean up dinner, decompress, sometimes a quick errand
8-9:30 pm - mess around with whatever - projects, volunteer work, talking with friends, puttering
9:15-9:45 pm - better get ready for bed
10-10:15 pm - in bed, usually asleep by 10:30-10:45

I guess the trick was to have the decompress time between like 5:30-8, so that the 8-9:30 time satisfies the "time for myself" thing that used to kick in around midnight. I'm also better rested in general, so I probably don't need as much time for the decompressing after work as I used to. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by dreamyshade at 9:01 AM on August 13, 2021

I had to do this because of kids, and it took a while but I managed to get used to waking up earlier (~7am) and sleeping before 12am. I don't think I did anything specific besides just forcing myself to go to bed when it was time, and getting up when I needed to. Having a lot of chores to do (because kids) helped me feel pretty exhausted by bedtime.

But even though I adjusted, I could tell I wasn't really functioning at my best; my morning times at work were mostly spent procrastinating and being unable to really focus. Recently, I managed to work out a change in schedule, such that now I wake up at around 9-10am, and work late into the night, around 2+am. And once I adjusted back (~2 weeks), it felt amazing! My nights were so productive! So I guess the bad news is, you probably can't change your natural chronotype, even if you can adapt to not following it.
posted by destrius at 9:38 AM on August 13, 2021

What's worked for me is not becoming an early bird, but finding a job that starts later in the day, so that I can mostly stick to the 2am-10am sleep schedule that my body prefers. I rarely schedule anything before noon. I do want to acknowledge that most jobs don't have this kind of flexibility, so this isn't feasible for a lot of people, but if it is possible for you, it's such a relief to stop fighting your body. (Kids would also throw a wrench in this plan, but I am not having any.)

If actually moving to a more typical schedule is desired or necessary for you, you could investigate delayed sleep phase syndrome and its treatments, e.g. light therapy. I haven't done such treatments, just an idea.
posted by ktkt at 9:43 AM on August 13, 2021

Seconding the early morning obligation - I had a class from 8-10 every day. I brought a series of books for my kindle, and set my alarm for 7am. The first few weeks were tough, but by the end of the second month I had it going pretty well. It's never perfect, but three years later I'm still happily surprised to be getting into bed at 11:30 because I feel tired. Naps play a big part in my life.
posted by The River Ivel at 10:10 AM on August 13, 2021

When I had to wake up at 4am for a job, I didn't consume any caffeine after noon ever ever ever, no screens within 4 hours before bed (find other ways to relax), and THE number one most important thing for me was to make sure I had no food within 3 hours of bed time.

When you wake up, drink a ton of water very first thing, and make sure you're using your best posture. A straight spine helps keep you awake.
posted by aniola at 11:05 AM on August 13, 2021

I can't say that I've turned into an early bird, but then again my schedule doesn't always require it. But what I have found helps me go to sleep and wake up earlier than I would otherwise is melatonin. I take 1 mg of melatonin and then get in to bed and read as the tablet dissolves in my mouth. This is often very effective for me, I usually fall asleep in 15-30 min (unless the book is too interesting! pick something only moderately interesting :) ). 1 mg is a pretty small dose, but it definitely works for me (placebo effect is fine by me).
posted by kms at 12:04 AM on August 14, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you, all, for such helpful responses. I will try and report back in a month or so to let you know how I get on. I like fight_or_flight's response about trying to trust that my body is doing what it needs to do to get what it needs. I feel like I needed to read that.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:15 AM on August 16, 2021

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