Ever since university I’ve been a night owl. Many years of late night studying or coding and last minute projects to finish. I got into the groove. I’m a zombie when I have to wake up early. Sure, I can do it every now and then for say a flight or an event, but too many days in a row and I slip back into my natural rhythm and my body tries to overcompensate for the inconvenience I’ve put it through.
The Night Shift
The thing is, I love the night time. That’s when everything is quiet. Everyone else is asleep. I get real time to myself and I cherish that.
Not that I have kids, babies, pets or a job to go to or responsibilities of that kind. Not like I’m a pressure cooker ready to blow at the end of each day or anything. But even without all that, even just with me, my bf and working on our businesses all day, the peace of the night is welcome bliss.
I find I get my best ideas between the hours of 1 and 3am, I never feel hungry so I don’t eat and put on extra kilos from being up later and if I’m working on something, I’m in the zone, completely. No distractions or others needing your attention.
There have been many nights when I’ve started at say 10 or 11pm and gone all the way till 6am when the sun was coming up. Even at that time, I’m not tired. My mind is still alert and I feel like I could keep going. Sure, it’s probably the artificial light from the laptop screen, but I feel great.
It’s like fitting in a whole other day of work in there and because it’s night time, it feels like you’re getting ahead of everyone else who is sleeping or at least catching up on stuff while the world sleeps. You don’t feel the urgency, the rush, the constant catching up or falling behind that you do during daylight hours.
Of course that leads me to sleeping away most of the day, which I’m not keen on. It throws out other people’s schedules whom I have to interact with, I miss out on breakfast and lunch time specials if we go out (you know I love a good deal), I miss the sunshine (which is an even bigger deal for me) and it’s embarrassing if someone calls or comes over and I’m still in bed. It makes me feel lazy to an extent. Ah, society, why do you judge me so.
No matter what though, I’ve always tried to get in a good 8-9 hours of sleep a night. I know how important sleep is, to my health, to my immunity, to my muscle recovery when I work out, to cell repair and rejuvenation, to my weight and to anti-aging in general. It’s a priority to me because of all the health and beauty benefits, but also because if I don’t get enough good sleep, I’m useless the next day.
Not having a good night’s sleep and I’m talking good quality REM sleep, is like spending the next day with a laptop at 50% capacity, that only decreases in energy as the day goes on. I make sure to recharge my brain batteries every night. My mind needs the rest and I always want to be at peak creative capacity.
The Switch up
These last couple of weeks though, I’ve been trying something different. I’ve changed my sleep patterns around and waking up, yep, in the morning would you believe. #rebel. If you’re wondering how I switched up my pattern, it’s easy. I don’t use sleeping pills, other pharmaceuticals or serotonin supplements either. I’m a natural girl all the way.
People always say, just go to bed earlier and then you’ll wake up earlier. It’s easy, but it’s not that easy. I can’t just magically put myself to sleep early, after years of late nights. I’m no Derren Brown. I just end up tossing and turning and waste a night of sleep and have an unproductive next day. So, you need to train for it.
If you’re like me and are used to a good 8 or 9 hours, have one night when you get maybe 5 or 6 hours of sleep. You only deprive yourself one night of full sleep.
Do some exercise or something strenuous as part of the day. The next night you will be tired earlier. Go to bed early and set the alarm for the time you want to wake up. Now sleep the same time (early) and wake up the same time a few days in a row, and your body will adapt.
It might take some getting used to. You might feel a little groggy at first, but it becomes easier with time. It’s like when you travel to another time zone and you might get a bit of jetlag, but then you adapt to the new time. That’s essentially what you’re doing.
Oh, and don’t drink caffeine after 3pm and make sure you finish eating dinner at least 3 hours before bed. I don’t drink coffee at all, but I do indulge in green tea (which is caffeinated) during the day.
Lately I’ve been having a decaf green tea and Chamomile before I sleep. Chamomile is a great aid for sleep btw. Also, make sure to not have any sugary food or drinks before bed. That will keep you stimulated.
Speaking of bed, make sure that there are no electronic devices anywhere near your head. Keep your clock or phone on the other side of the room. If it emits a blue light, then you might want to consider a sleep mask which is what I’ve started using. Even the smallest amount of blue light can unknowingly affect your brain and sleep.
Don’t make the room too warm. Even in winter, make sure you’re slightly cool, you fall asleep better in that state. Also don’t use your bedroom for working in or watching tv. Keep it a sanctuary for sleep.
Then there’s the device debate. I know that blue light emitted from devices keeps your brain active, but I’m a sucker for late night and early morning pinteresting. Yeah, you get it.
When you’re starting out your new regime, try to avoid devices at night at least an hour before bed. In the morning it’s fair game I say. Before my eyes have even fully opened, but I know I have to wake up, I’m reaching for my iPad. It actually helps open my eyes and prime my brain for the day. At least that’s what I tell myself. #denial.
Switching your Brain Off
If your chattering mind is the reason why you can’t sleep, then you need to deal with that first. Take time during the day to meditate. Try to clear your mind of busyness. Write down what you’re thinking about, any problems, any worries or concerns.
It doesn’t have to be a journal entry, no one else has to read it, just getting everything down on paper is like helping getting it out of your mind. Then you can throw it away if you like or burn it if you prefer. A physical act that symbolises release.
If there’s something on your mind that you haven’t done and keep putting off, maybe because it’s uncomfortable, confrontational or you just are afraid of the outcome, then you need to address the issue. Maybe you had a falling out with a friend or family member and you’re both too proud to say sorry.
Maybe you feel guilty about something you did. Maybe you have been putting off a doctor’s appointment because of what you fear it might be. Maybe you have to give a talk or a speech and it’s stressing you out. Whatever it is, you need to stop resisting and face it head on. You need to find your brave.
Failing that, or just believe that as a terminal insomniac, you need the big guns, then check out this quick 20 minute video by professional experimenter and all-round genius, Tim Ferriss, on his nightly routine which has remedied his lifelong suffering with insomnia.
How We’re Sleeping Wrong
Modern science suggests that we’re sleeping all wrong anyway. If left to our own devices, so to speak, and in a bunker-like setting of no external influences, our circadian rhythms naturally deviate to two sleep sessions a day with a 1-3 hour wake window in between.
We can thank the invention of the light bulb and the industrial revolution’s influence on society efficiency schedules, rules and demands that have shaped the way we live and sleep today.
Insomniacs who wake in the middle of the night to later go back to sleep again, rejoice. Nothing’s wrong with you, you’re doing it right. Something we just regard as normal and traditional, has trumped natural and primeval, go figure.
The Dreamy State
Giving yourself the best chances of good quality sleep will do wonders for your work, your mood and your health. Make sure to make it a priority in your life.
They say the early bird gets the worm but I much prefer, the second mouse gets the cheese. Cheese, way better than worms. If you work for yourself, you’re no longer locked into society’s rules as much as you think. Work to your strengths.
If you believe you’re a night owl and work better at night, then go for it. If you’re a morning person and like to rise with the sun, then knock yourself out. If you want to try the biphasic or the more challenging polyphasic sleep schedule such as the uberman where you only have 20min naps throughout the day, good luck to you. To each his own.
Whatever you choose, I highly recommend to fit in some ‘me’ time daily and as long as you are getting some natural daylight, you’re not neglecting other health aspects, not oversleeping and getting good quality sleep when you do, then it’s all good.
As for me, I’m quite liking this early morning change of pace. I’m getting a lot done, but for how long, I don’t know. I tend to always gravitate back to my old ways, so I guess we’ll just see how it goes.