It’s 4pm and I’ve just had a short rest with the newspaper and a cup of coffee. I’ve been up since around 7am and, for a change, at 4pm I feel like it’s actually afternoon and not the start of my day. It’s wonderful!
I’ve struggled a lot with my night owl tendencies. And then for a lot of the time I haven’t struggled – I’ve just let my inner clock do what it wanted, because fighting it seemed impossible.
I did try all the stuff that people tend to recommend, and none of it really worked for me. I could force myself to get up early once in a while if there was something in particular that I had to be in time for, but that was it. With no deadline to force me into a different pattern, I kept sliding back to my natural rhythm as a night owl. But recently it was getting worse again – my waking-up time gradually shifted through 2pm onwards to 3pm and even 4pm, which is currently around sunset time. Getting up at sunset felt really unpleasant, and it’s also extremely inconvenient in terms of getting to shops before they close/making phone calls/having social interaction – the world around me functions with the basic assumption that people get up in the morning, not in the afternoon.
Several years ago, a friend who works funny hours told me what she does when she has to switch abruptly from one sleep pattern to another, because of changing between day shifts and night shifts, and I tried her method – forcing yourself to stay awake for 24 hours at a stretch. It worked, and for a while I was a morning person, but then it gradually started to slide again. And the next time I tried the same trick, it didn’t work the same way – though I don’t remember the details now, I just remember that the end result was not anywhere near what I’d hoped for.
But I’ve now done a successful reboot – at least so far it seems to be going well! My husband’s advice was to do it in stages rather than all in one go, which was great because it relieved me from a lot of stress and a lot of panicky arithmetic. Basically the idea was: stay awake for as long as you can, then go to sleep and let yourself wake up naturally; then rinse and repeat until you get somewhere reasonable. (And don’t worry if it’s slightly earlier than reasonable to start with, because, being a night owl, your waking-up time is likely to gradually get later anyway.)
So, stage 1: having got up at 4pm I forced myself to stay awake till 2pm the next day. Then I went to bed and slept like a baby… till 10pm, when I woke up and was wide awake. That felt very weird! But I told myself that I was bound to feel confused part-way through, and things would get better after stage 2… which involved staying up till 9pm the next day, then going to sleep and, to my surprise, waking up at 6am and feeling wide awake! yay!
That day I allowed myself a short nap in the afternoon, so that I could stay awake long enough to have supper with my husband for a change – we hadn’t seen much of each other for a few days, with all this crazy sleep schedule going on. But by midnight I was totally zonked and went to sleep – only to wake up at 6am again the next day, which meant I was very drowsy throughout the day… My husband said that probably meant my inner clock had been reset to a 6am start, so if I wanted a full night’s sleep I’d better go to bed earlier. Which I did – was feeling very sleepy anyway, so by 11 I was in bed and sleep came quickly (which has not been normal for me at all – the novel I’m reading is probably wondering at the sudden drop in pace :)) and I got my eight hours! hooray! Apparently my internal clock isn’t totally set to 6am, as I woke at quarter to 7 this morning – the funny thing was that it felt late!
It was really tough, doing the reboot – forcing yourself to stay up when you’re not really making much sense any more – but it’s so worth it! Yesterday I went out to the shops and enjoyed the glorious sunshine, and was amazed to get back and see it was only 1pm! It felt really nice sitting down to eat my lunch at a time when normal people have theirs. I feel much more energised and upbeat, and I’m totally not missing that sinking feeling when getting up that, oh, the whole day’s gone!
I don’t expect to remain such an early bird forever, I expect it will slide a bit gradually, but am hoping to be able to keep it from sliding too far. I’d really rather not have to keep doing these crazy reboots every now and again.
P.S. Like I said, I’ve tried all the stuff that people usually suggest, and none of it worked for me. This post isn’t a request for advice – just sharing what actually has worked in my case. We’re all different, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to sleep problems.