How do you make your body conform to a standard schedule?
January 28, 2008 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Becoming a regular person after all these years. My boyfriend is for the first time since high school required to be at work 5 days a week from 9-5. How do we prepare?

My boyfriend is a database developer and for the past 14 years since high school has never had a regular work schedule. He has always worked from home and at odd hours. He works best in the middle of the night most times. He usually stays up 24-30 hours working then sleeps about 12 hours.

This company made an offer not to be refused. He is absolutely convinced that he cannot maintain a regular schedule. He doesn't know how to "go to bed", he can't fathom sleeping when he isn't exhausted or getting up before he is ready to. I really think that is foolish to require a standard workweek for all employees, but that is beside the point.

We have a week to prepare. I am trying to be really understanding, but I am an "easy" sleeper. I can make myself sleep when I want and get up fairly easily when I need too, so I am really of no help, beause "just do it" doesn't work for him.
posted by stormygrey to Work & Money (28 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking from someone who has gone through similar situations several times, it ain't gonna be pretty.

It usually takes me about 2 weeks to get used to the routine. The best way is to make a schedule, and gradually adjust to it over the next week. So if he's gonna be working at 9am and needs to wake up at 8, start off tomorrow waking up at 10 or 11, or whatever he can bear. Bring it back 30 minutes per day until he's up at 8am. That will make it more bearable, but still pretty miserable (if he's like me).

For a lot of people, going to sleep on schedule is just as difficult as going to bed. If he's a big internet user, he might find that he's engaging in a lot of really interactive, engaging reading and switching between several sources every couple of minutes. That makes my mind race and prevents me from getting sleepy until I'm just about ready to crash.

So, to prevent that, he should set a TV and computer bedtime, 2-3 hours before he needs to go to sleep. After that, he can talk, read books, listen to music; any activity that is soothing and doesn't require quick mental adjustments to different types of stimulus. Then, when it's really time for bed, his brain will have already slowed down a bit, and he'll be able to go to bed when he's merely tired, not exhausted.

Anyway, that stuff works for me when I have to adjust to a 'regular' schedule. It still sucks for a couple weeks. Don't think there's much to be done about that. You have to adjust. Good luck!
posted by bluejayk at 7:02 PM on January 28, 2008 [6 favorites]

Is he just whining, or is he really freaked out?

Anyway, structure is the first thing. Have a strict bedtime window for work nights. Go real easy on alcohol on work nights too. Melatonin, and/or benedryl at night. No caffeine after 2 or 3 pm. Seriously. Bright light in the morning, low lights at night.

Do not be a sleep enabler- he has to learn how to be an early bird. If you kick him out of bed in the morning, he'll never learn. Unless you're OK with that role. I mean, it's fine to be helpful for a while, but not as a forever thing.

If he's really freaked out and really can't do it after some time, you might need to get him to visit a professional to see if he's been self-medicating some disorder with exhaustion.
posted by gjc at 7:04 PM on January 28, 2008

it'll take a while, but this really will help: strict sleep hygiene, exercise, melatonin, and early morning light.

sleep hygiene means getting up at the same time every day, no matter what. even on sunday morning when you've been out all night. yes, if you're seriously deprived you can take a nap later in the morning, but training your body to always be awake at 7am makes it SO much easier. as for bedtime, the philosophies differ (either go to bed at the same time, religiously, or only go to bed when you're tired), but turning off the stimuli--tv, internet, music, and most of your lights--9 to 10 hours before the alarm goes off is a good habit to develop.

regular exercise before 6pm helps a lot.

melatonin an hour before bedtime will not knock you out, but it'll help you feel sleepy.

early morning light will make it easier to wake up (and help you feel sleepy toward the end of the day). i have a bedside lamp on a timer that turns on about half an hour before my alarm goes off. it makes a WORLD of difference.

none of htese things will get you going in a week. you might have to tough it out, or if you have a sympathetic doctor, get a prescription for something stronger to get you through the re-setting period. i don't think it's an inappropriate use of sleeping pills, if you have to undo 14 years of bad sleep habits.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:04 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

A week? Whoo, good luck. It took me months to physically adjust. If he wants to get paid, he can do it. He may or may not find the compromise to be worth it.

He needs to make it so that he is tired when it's time to go to sleep. For most people it's like this:

Get up in the morning. Shower, dress, coffee, snack. Go to work. Work steadily for eight hours. Come home. Exercise optional. Make and eat dinner. Possibly make lunch for next day. Do chores as needed (laundry, etc.). Do something relaxing like watching a movie or reading a book until eight hours before rising. (Alcohol optional.)

I will say that ever since I started using a light box to keep the winter-blues-demons at bay, my noctural butt is going to sleep earlier.

If he can get out of bed and exercise in the light first thing in the morning, even better, it'll boost his tolerance for being awake during the day and asleep at night by a lot.
posted by desuetude at 7:05 PM on January 28, 2008

There may be some flexibility in the company schedule. My software developer hubby's employer had some employees coming in at 11 and taking long lunches, but instead of forcing the 9-5 schedule on everyone they decided to make it that you were expected to be at work between about 10 and 3, but whether you arrived and left early or arrived and left late were up to the individual.

Employees want to be able to easily meet with their staff and/or clients to keep everyone informed as projects go on, and a regular, predictable schedule is the easiest way to achieve that. Perhaps if your boyfriend can arrange a slightly looser setup, he'll find it at least slightly easier to adjust.

A week isn't much time to adjust. I'd suggest he be open with his employers and ask for some leeway in the first few weeks to get into the routine, because he will probably feel exhausted at weird times.

As for the adjustment, he definitely won't be able to "just do it", but he can slowly wind back his body clock by doing relaxing, unstimulating things at sleep time and keeping busy during the day. Lots of physical exercise to tire him out by nighttime, then boring and quiet activities, reading, soft music, whatever, in the evening, even if he's feeling wide awake. Work towards a "day=busy; night=relax" routine. It'll get his body on the right track, at least. When he's tired enough to want to sleep, delay bedtime until evening. Set an alarm in the morning (maybe start with late morning then make it a little earlier every day) so even when he'd normally be sleeping, he has to wake up. He'll be a walking zombie for the first few weeks, maybe longer, so he definitely should explain why to his new employers.
posted by tracicle at 7:07 PM on January 28, 2008

Response by poster: He is freaking out, not whining. This company is a big name and doesn't have much flexibility. He can be there from 6-9 in the morning, that is their version of flexible. When he has been there three months he can telecommute some which will really help.

My vote is to actually take the job and keep looking for something more akin to the lifestyle he wants.
posted by stormygrey at 7:11 PM on January 28, 2008

It'll take some time, but the best advice I can give from my own experiences in trying to adapt to a "regular person schedule" (back before I went back to school, which is far more delightful for my sleep needs!) would be to not panic, hang in there for a while and trust your body to eventually adjust to what it needs. Those first 2-8 weeks can be hell, most definitely, but sooner or later the need for sleep will catch up with him and he won't have to worry about "sleeping when he isn't exhausted" because - well - he WILL be exhausted. Similarly, those early mornings might not be fun at first - actually they might NEVER be fun and he might never be the type of person who springs out of bed before the alarm even goes up - but after a month or two I'm betting your bf's body will have settled into the routine such that getting up at a regular time will be manageable. The trick really IS to have patience and not panic if things don't go well at first - having to break any long-term habit is painful and hard, but when it comes to sleep, at least, it seems like we're a whole lot more adaptable than we often give ourselves credit for.

Finally, in addition to all the helpful advice others have already offered I'd advise him to use two or three alarm clocks for a while (I always have done, and there have been many days when I've been grateful for it!), ideally placing at least one of them far enough away that he actually has to get out of bed to make the damn thing stop shrilling at him. Actually, if you guys live together then this advice is just as much for you as for him - I've BEEN the person who was expected to wake someone else up for work when they couldn't do so on their own, and lord, it is NOT pretty (nno matter how much they promise not to be the night before, they're always so very grouchy and resentful of you when you're trying to wake them up that morning) - don't get sucked into being his alarm clock, it just isn't a good for anybody.

Anyway, good luck to him and tell him to hang in there! Sticking to a regular-person schedule may never be fun, but it is most definitely doable.
posted by zeph at 7:22 PM on January 28, 2008

D'oh, I also wanted to add this suggestion, which may or may not be of use: since he can decide his start hour (which should, I presume, also determine when he can leave at night?), I'd suggest picking the earliest one he thinks he can handle or maybe even something a little earlier than that. When I was a corporate type myself, my chosen hours were 7:30 - 4:30 every day despite my abhorrence for early mornings, and my reasoning was this: getting up any time before noon was ridiculously painful for me, so starting work at 9 or 10 (the latest we could show up) was really no easier for me than starting at 7:30. However, since most people showed up around 8:30-9, this meant that a) I had a beautiful, beautiful hour or so to actually get stuff DONE before other people started distracting me, and b) I could, on a good day, be outta there by 4:30 or 5 and thus still have a VERY healthy chunk of afternoon/evening in which to live my life.

Worked pretty darned well, I must say =)
posted by zeph at 7:30 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Definitely coffee in the morning helped me. I never drank it until I started working fulltime.
posted by sweetkid at 7:51 PM on January 28, 2008

Tell him to suck it up. He has three months of proving himself before he can start telecommuting, which if he works it properly, he can probably go back to his 24-30/12 schedule. He has to be to work between 6 and 9. That is more flexibility than I am used to, but I am just a peon. Either way, set a goal for 7AM, if he needs it he has another 2 hours to push.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 7:52 PM on January 28, 2008

It is important to remember whatever is said in the groggy still half asleep is NOT meant. There are days when my boyfriend tries to help me wake up and I grumpily tell him to bugger off, call him names, swear at him, give him the look-of-death. I don't mean any of this, I am simply not a morning person.

That being said, it is okay not to be a morning person. Yes, mornings will be hard, unpleasant and generally crappy, but it is not impossible to get to work on time. There are plenty of other people who struggle to make mornings work. He isn't alone. Not everyone is little miss/mister sunshine in the morning.

One thing that has worked for me in the past is to put a loud alarm clock in the bathroom. If you do not have to get up before him, make sure he doesn't get back in. Kick him (literally) out if need be.

if feasible, set an alarm for we he needs to leave by and when it goes off, he goes out the door.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 8:08 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've held a regular schedule for most of the past 15 years, and I'm still not a morning person. Every morning, it sucks that I have to get out of bed (and I'm lucky -- I don't have to be out of bed till 8:30 or 9), but it would suck more if I didn't have a job. So there's that, as my mental baseline. It's also hard for me because my boyfriend doesn't have a regular schedule either (today he was up at 5:00 a.m. for an acting gig; other nights he doesn't come home from his bartending gig till 3:00 a.m.), but I have to stay as routine as I can. Things that help me:

I only drink tea, but back in the days I drank coffee, I also wouldn't have any past midafternoon. I found that this is crucial to not staying keyed up into the night.

Do NOT watch TV or surf the net for the 30-60 mins. before bedtime. TV and internet are caffeine for the eyeballs. Turn it off. If he must do something before bed, he should read.

Try to eat dinner at a regular hour, with enough time to digest before going to bed. If he's aiming to go to bed at midnight, try to have dinner by 8-ish at the latest.

Have components of the morning that are pleasant, in some way -- reading the box scores in the paper over coffee, or having a new podcast to listen to or an enjoyable book that's just for the commute.

I am a touchy sleeper (and we have some early morning noise issues in our neighborhood), so I rely pretty regularly on a couple of benadryl before going to bed (or a sweet, beautiful, but hideously expensive Lunesta when I really need it) to keep me on a reasonably regular sleep schedule. (Over the years, though, I find that I'm less destroyed mentally and physically by a bad night's sleep than I used to be -- I can function on 4 hours of sleep reasonably well now when I have to, whereas back in my 20s I would have been wandering around like a zombie.)

Good luck. It will be hard for awhile -- but it will get more bearable!
posted by scody at 8:41 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am in the same boat and just started an 8-5 job after keeping very flexible hours for the last few years. I am not a morning person at all. One thing that has helped me in the mornings is to get as much ready the night before as possible so I'm not groggily futzing around the house and making myself late. I shower, lay out clothes for the next day, get my lunch together and get the coffee pot set up and ready to go. Then, when I wake up, I can be on autopilot until I get out the door.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:59 PM on January 28, 2008

Welcome to the world the majority of us live in.

My recommendation:

Stop taking any caffeine or other stimulants.
Eat a filling dinner.
Set the alarm for 6AM and place the alarm clock on the other side of the room.
Get into bed at 9PM, no TV or computer, turning off the lights at 10PM.
When the alarm goes off in the morning, get dressed immediately and go walk a mile outside.

Do NOT attempt to ease into this. His body knows how to sleep and wake with the sun, it's his mind causing the problem.

Don't take this the wrong way, but you simply must accept this change and not try to find a way around it.

If he cannot find the willpower to wake up and go to work on time, there is no way your boyfriend will be able to succeed in this new job.

Again, not meant in a mean spirited way, but to those of us that go to work early in the morning daily, your problem seems juvenile and immature. That how others at his office will view it if it becomes an issue.
posted by Argyle at 9:26 PM on January 28, 2008

I've tried. Can't do it.

Find another job.
posted by rokusan at 10:27 PM on January 28, 2008

nth the melatonin suggestion. It almost works too well -- if I take a full tablet (3mg) I can find myself really groggy in the morning, so I take one-half a tablet instead.

I also combine this with valerian extract (which works as a mild sedative). I'm not as convinced that it actually works - the effect is so mild it might just be placebo effect.
posted by neckro23 at 11:03 PM on January 28, 2008

After over 5 years (working somewhere where I could get away with coming in between 10 & 11 because of my productivity level) I still had not adjusted, and gave up on the idea. I have a couple decent job offers currently, that would match my freelance income with much better security, and even with the threat of a recession looming, I can't see myself taking them. I have a 26 hour clock, and my high-productivity moments almost all occur after midnight.

Maybe your boyfriend will find it easier, but he should be prepared for the eventuality that he just can't do it and that trying to do it turns him into a normal level of productivity person who isn't actually worth the can't-be-refused offer.
posted by lastobelus at 11:30 PM on January 28, 2008

Nthing melatonin, and the dosage warning. I read somewhere that the therapeutic dose is about 0.5mg, which is smaller than any of the sublinguals I've seen on the market.

I have found exactly two ways to be darned sure I get up when the alarm clock goes off in the morning. One is to have something super exciting and/or important I have to do. Usually, this is going to the airport for an early flight. The consequences of missing the flight override the usual "morning brain" logic of "oh, it'll be okay if I sleep in another 20 minutes. I don't even need to set the alarm..."

Assuming your BF doesn't have a plane to catch every morning, and the job itself isn't sufficiently exciting or important to counteract a tendency to oversleep, the other option is alarm clock training. He needs to train himself to wake up when the alarm goes off, without hesitation or hitting snooze. Habits are built by conscious repetition until they become unconscious and automatic. Since the foggy "morning brain" can't be trusted to perform the correct action in response to the alarm clock stimulus, he's gotta do this when he's wide awake. Set the alarm for 3 minutes in the future. Get (un)dressed for bed. Turn out the lights. Get under the covers. Close eyes. Clear mind. Wait. BUZZZZ! Turn off alarm. Stretch. Get up. Go to the sink and splash water on face, just to be sure. Wait 10 minutes. Repeat!

This sounds silly, but it works. Repetition is key. He should do it several times a day for the whole week, and with luck, by the time Monday morning rolls around, the habit will be strong enough that he'll get out of bed without having to think about it. Continued practice is essential, at least for a few weeks, to make darned sure the habit is permanent. I concur with the posters above that he'll probably not feel at the top of his game (i.e. jetlagged) for at least several days, but anchoring the wake up time should naturally bring the sleepy time into line over the course of a few days.

This worked for me, and I was getting up at 5:30am for several months until I came down with a cold, decided I'd let myself sleep as much as I wanted until I got better, and promptly lost my under-practiced alarm clock habit. I really miss seeing the dawn, missing the traffic, and getting a first-floor parking space at work. Time for some practice...

The alarm clock advice is largely derived from from a great series of articles about becoming at early riser at Steve Pavlina's blog.
posted by brain at 11:34 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What Argyle says is right on. There are two ways to go. You can ease into it, groaning the whole way, pushing your bedtime, feeling pain every morning.

Or, you can say "okay, this is my new life," do the math, and just make the decision that you will --
* be at work at 8:45 am
* commute :45 = leave house at 8
* shower, dress, check favorite blog, drink coffee, eat cereal :45 = wake at 7:15
* sleep 8 h = must be dead asleep by 11:15
* climb in bed and get comfortable, chat with you, read, drift off to sleep :45 = get in bed at 10:30
* find wallet & keys for morning, plug in cell phone, check door locks, let dog out, shower, floss, brush teeth, set out clothes :30-:45 = start getting ready at 9:45 or 10 at the latest [horrible, right?]
* digest 2 h = finish dinner by 8 pm
* eat :30 = start dinner no later than 7:30 pm
* make a plan and cook/order food :45 = start prepping dinner around 6:45

These times sound like they suck, and yeah, they do. But for your body and your happiness, they are actually really important, so try to establish these and stick to them. If you're like me, every night you'll want to stay up later, but to really get up when you have to and not be in pain about it, this way is much better. Oh, and as scody says, this is harder if his SO, ie you, doesn't keep the same schedule, so having you join the bandwagon will help.
posted by salvia at 11:54 PM on January 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have nothing to offer him but heartfelt sympathy. I really hope this works out for him, and I hope that the job that was "not to be refused" teaches him something useful.
posted by flabdablet at 1:47 AM on January 29, 2008

Remember that sleep is affected by REM-cycles, which revolve in 1.5 hour blocks. So it'll always be easier to wake up 6, 7.5, 9 hrs after you went to bed. Timing it that way, should at least prevent some, a little, grogginess in the morning.
posted by vincentv at 2:05 AM on January 29, 2008

Best answer: This company made an offer not to be refused. He is absolutely convinced that he cannot maintain a regular schedule.

Several things:

Money isn't everything.

This can only work if he's convinced it'll work and he isn't.

Money isn't everything.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:27 AM on January 29, 2008

I also find it easier on my sanity if I can go from bed to door and door to office in as little time, and with as little need for thought, as possible. I'm not going to like getting up early, ever, I may as well do it on autopilot.

This allows me to stick a little closer to a preferred bedtime...between midnight and one. Even after all of these years, the thought of going to bed at 10 sounds bizarre.
posted by desuetude at 5:58 AM on January 29, 2008

Give him encouragement, and help him keep to a rigid schedule by joining him. Many people don't get nearly enough sleep. More regular sleep may have a big payoff in feeling better. He can do this. Really.
posted by theora55 at 6:36 AM on January 29, 2008

If he's worried that he can't do it, consider this: nearly every parent gets put on a newborn child's regimen and eventually settles into a daily schedule. His job is a newborn.

The odds are in his favor in that he has a week to start conditioning himself, like working out to get physically tired, taking a warm bath and going to bed around 1AM, and moving that time earlier.
posted by plinth at 6:38 AM on January 29, 2008

Knock him out with some natural prolactin! Jump his bone at 10PM every night this week and weekend, don't let him sleep till midnight, by Friday he'll be waking up by 8 in the morning. I'm totally not kidding. He can owe you AMgasms later once he's on schedule, but until then, no sex after midnight.
posted by nicwolff at 9:08 AM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've always read that the bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. So no TV or reading or anything. Just in case he likes to surf the net from a laptop in bed or something.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:15 PM on January 30, 2008

I'm a little late to the party (found this while searching for something else), but I just wanted to add that the only thing that allows me to function on a regular M-F 9-5 schedule is Ambien.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:32 AM on March 16, 2008

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