If you’re a night owl who staggers into the office late every morning, there’s nothing more irritating than the early bird who waltzes into the office bragging about hitting the gym at 6 am. As you shake your head, you may wonder if you, too, could ever get up at the crack of dawn. Surely not, you tell yourself. But what if…..?
It’s true that people are born with a certain “chronotype”, or circadian rhythm, that determines the timing of their natural awake/sleep cycle. However, this cycle isn’t set in stone. Even the most dedicated night owls can adopt early bird habits with enough time and effort.
Why Do You Want to Shift?
Before you try to make the switch, think about your motivation. If you don’t have a strong reason to change, you probably won’t.
Think about how you spend your time at night. Are you staying up watching TV because you come home exhausted from work and want to reward yourself? Do you put off going to bed because you want more play time before you go back to the grindstone in the morning?
If this is the case you may have two good reasons to shift. First, if you get more sleep, you may find that your day is less exhausting to begin with. Secondly, if you get up earlier, you may be able to get so much done in the morning that you’ll have more free time and energy early in the evening. You’ll get to relax while the sun is still up, while stores and restaurants are still open and while your friends are still awake.
If work is your top priority, this might be your motivation. Arriving late to work every morning, or dragging yourself through the day, doesn’t benefit your career. Shifting your schedule could give you more energy for improving your performance. Not having to slog through every work day could also reduce your stress level.
How to Shift
Decide what your new wake up time and bed time will be but don’t try to change your schedule overnight. Instead, set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier each morning. Keep this up until you reach your ideal wake up time. Every evening go to bed 15 minutes earlier as well. Keep this up until you reach your ideal bedtime. If your goal includes adding hours of sleep to your schedule, your ideal bed time may take longer to reach than your ideal wake up time.
Even after you reach your goals, don’t expect to feel well-rested right away. If you’ve been sleep-deprived for a while, it’s going to take time for you to catch up. It could take a couple of weeks for you to feel the full effect of your new schedule.
Research has found that getting extra exposure to light early in the day helps people shift to an earlier schedule. If it’s daylight, try to spend some of your morning outside. If it’s dark, you can use a 10,000 lux, low UV, lightbox instead. Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythms | NIOSH | CDC
Tips for “Winding Down” at Night
Being a night owl was much less of a problem before the invention of electricity. Since darkness no longer gives a natural pause to our activities, most night owls have to learn the art of winding down. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks within 6 hours of bedtime.
- Avoid blue light from the TV or phone within 2 hours of bedtime (Filtered glasses can help with this.)
- Have a nighttime routine. Something as simple as brushing your teeth, taking a bath and putting on pajamas can become a habit that signals it’s time to go to sleep.
- Have some quiet time before bed. Turn off the TV and the computer. Listen to relaxing music, read a book or meditate.
- If you take melatonin to help you fall asleep, take it 3 to 4 hours before bedtime, so that it has time to work.
- Darkness stimulates the secretion of your natural melatonin. Turn down the lights an hour or so before bedtime.
- Get regular exercise, but avoid it within an hour of bedtime.
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