Hands up my fellow night owls! Dragging themselves out of bed each morning to greet the day bleary eyed and fatigued, trying to keep up with the morning larks of this world.
I’m going to start with the bad news; being a night owl in today’s society is bad for your health. We are more susceptible to dementia, diabetes and certain cancers. Hooray. We tend to be more sleep deprived than our larky counterparts because we’re generally forced to operate on a lark’s schedule.
People that sleep late are often thought of as lazy or less ambitious than the early risers of our society, but as with most things, we can look back to our ancestors for an explanation for this. When we were hunter-gatherers most people in the tribe were required to be up during daylight hours to hunt and gather food, find water sources and build shelter, which is why most of us are larks. But we required some members of the tribe to watch over the group at night, to look out for potential dangers and attacks from other tribes or wild animals. For this reason, some of us evolved to be night owls; our internal body clocks evolved to operate best late at night and therefore we needed to be sleeping after dawn to catch up on our sleep. Fast-forward to our modern world and this is clearly going to be problematic with the 9am starts that most businesses enforce. Even if you have flexi-time, the likelihood is, that for most of us, we’ll be required to start fairly early in the morning. Couple that with the long commutes we face and the general difficulty we have getting to sleep now due to our technology-driven lifestyles and it’s a recipe for a chronic sleep problem. Finally add parenting into the mix, where your little ones are likely to have you up at the crack of dawn and getting a good night’s sleep could feel completely out of reach.
In an ideal world, there would be no alarm clocks or screaming children hauling us out of bed at 6am. We would wake up naturally when our bodies are ready, feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead. But clearly we don’t live in an ideal world, so here are a few tips for the night owls among us to get a good night’s rest.
As a night owl myself, I’ve been trying to get this down for several years now and I can’t say I always get it right. There are many mornings when I still want to clobber the chirpy morning people who happen to cross my path before 10am round the head, but things have certainly become easier since I’ve introduced certain habits into my life. Although our body clocks are genetically pre-disposed, we can get our body used to a different time frame and do a bit more to make sure we’re getting a good night’s sleep.
Here are my six top tips:
This is the one thing that really transformed the way I felt in the mornings and throughout the day. I exercise first thing. This helps to get the adrenaline pumping and can fool your body into feeling awake and alert. The exercise needs to be fairly high intensity so running, HIIT or cycling would all work.
The endorphins released by exercise will make you feel happier and the adrenaline will make you feel alert and energized. Book an exercise class where you have a penalty for a no-show which means you’re much more likely to drag yourself out of bed.
As a night owl, your energy levels throughout the day will most likely be different to that of a lark. Use this handy tool to track your energy levels for a week, identify the patterns and then plan your schedule accordingly. As an owl I tend to work really well between the hours of 5-8pm, so although I don’t do this every night, I make sure a couple of evenings a week, I have the flexibility to do this. Plan your most complex or mentally taxing work, during the periods when you generally have the best energy levels.
Your wind down routine is going to be especially important if you’re a night owl. Switching of technology at least an hour before your intended bed time, making sure you are relaxed (have a hot bath, read a light novel, meditate etc.) and get everything ready for bed so that when you feel a hint of sleepiness, you can climb straight into bed and hopefully fall into a blissful sleep. Having exercised in the morning will also help you feel more tired at night.
Not everyone is aware that we have a chronotype and that the disposition to hate mornings and prefer late nights is not one we choose. The best way to get people on side is to educate them. If you don’t already have it, campaign for flexitime at work by providing your employers with the facts. You will work more productively if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and the best way of doing that is to work to your body’s natural rhythm. Hopefully they’ll see the sense in it!
I tend to have better quality sleep when I don’t have to wake up really early. I experience less anxiety than if I know I have to wake up before 7am, which sometimes results in restless, anxiety-ridden sleep. Ideally we would go to bed and wake up the same time every day but if you are being sleep deprived due to early mornings, if you do get a chance for an extra hour in bed, than take it. It’s more important that you get enough sleep throughout the week, even if that does come with a bit of irregularity.
Acupuncture, hypnotherapy and CBT-I (cognitive behavioural therapy for Insomnia) can all help with poor sleep if none of the above works and you are still struggling to get enough good quality sleep.
Luminate also deliver a seminar on sleep, where we bring together the latest, cutting edge research on sleep and offer practical tips on how to get a better night’s rest.