You hit snooze twice, skip breakfast and grumpily rush to the office.
You’re a night owl.
Your sister is your opposite. She awakes without an alarm (or at least without relying on the snooze button) in time to mix up her favorite smoothie and go running for 40 minutes and play boisterously with her kids—all before work. But by 4:00 pm she’s slowing down and in the evening, she’d rather watch TV and hit the hay early, just when you’re up for a phone call.
She’s a lark.
It’s Tough Being an Owl
The world does not favor owls. Your kids’ swim practice may start before school at 5:45 am. Larkish bosses have a way of scheduling early meetings. You may worry that colleagues who show up at 8:00 instead of 9:00 am seem more energetic, eager or organized.
Night owls do have one big advantage over larks: they tend to get less jet lag and adjust better to zone changes, especially when traveling westward, according to “The Body Clock Guide to Better Health,” by Michael Smolensky and Lenne Lamberg.
Otherwise, it’s harder to be owlish, unless you’re a jazz-singer or night nurse. Adults need up to nine hours of sleep a night and night-owls are more likely to end up with too little (less than 6.5 hours a night). For motivation to change your owlish ways, take the Maas-Robbins Alertness Questionnaire and see if you are chronically short on sleep, a problem linked to all kinds of risks, including depression and extra weight. Beauty-sleep is no myth. In one study, observers looking at photos rated people who had been up for 31 hours as less healthy and attractive.
Go From Owl to Lark
Let’s just be clear about one thing: Morning slowness doesn’t mean you are lazy or apathetic about your day. Night-owl tendencies are at least partly genetic, but they’re more likely to result from hard-to-reverse sleep habits.
“People lead busy lives and may have to choose between sleep and a little bit of free time,” explains David Kuhlmann, M.D., Medical Director of Sleep Medicine at Bothwell Regional Health Center. And when people do try to shift to an earlier bedtime after such a long time staying up late: “It’s hard for some people to lay down when they aren’t feeling tired so they stay awake doing something until they can’t hold their eyes open any longer,” Kuhlmann continues.
The good news is, “if you are alert—or sleepy—at inappropriate times in your life, you can change,” says James Maas, Ph.D., YouBeauty Sleep Expert.
Some night owls naturally shift toward earlier bedtimes as they get older. You can also take steps to re-set your body-clock at any age.Since you’re now on the nocturnal side, let’s start with the evening-time. It’s a myth that exercising in the morning is ideal: “The best time to work out is between 5:00 and 7:00 pm,” says Maas, because exercise at that time enhances the depth of sleep. And any aerobic activity, even fast walking, will improve your sleep.
However, if you plan to be in bed at 10:00, finish up by 7:00. Exercise raises your body temperature and can interfere with sleep within 3 hours of bedtime. Don’t eat large meals late. Lying down slows digestion and may send stomach acids back up into your throat, causing heartburn that can keep you awake. Alcohol may make you sleepy but once the effect wears off, it disrupts sleep.
Do as much as you can to prepare for the next day—select clothes or prepare bag lunches so you’re not rushing around in a panic in the morning, and you can go to sleep with a relaxed mind. Create a soothing bedtime routine—meditate, take a bath, moisturize! For some people, a private orgasm is one (fun) way to help induce sleep.
Save your bed for sleeping (or sex), not watching TV or playing with your iPad—electronics can stimulate your brain before bed. If you can’t avoid electronics at night, Maas recommends trying special light-blocking glasses an hour before bedtime.
Be sure your mattress is the correct firmness for you; you may need something very different than a partner who is heavier or lighter. The latex mattresses at flobeds.com are customized on each side. They are naturally allergy-free and can be adapted if you gain or lose weight (or a new sleep-mate needs a different mattress).In the morning, it’s essential to arise at the same time every day—even on weekends and days off. If you go to sleep late one night, don’t sleep in the next morning. Instead, nap during the afternoon or go to bed 15 minutes earlier the next night, advise Smolensky and Lamberg.
Night-owls tend to have trouble leaving the house on time. If you decide to trick yourself by setting your alarm clock ahead of the correct time, you might ask someone else to do it without telling you whether its 10 minutes off, or 15, so you don’t make a mental adjustment.
The body sets its own clock by sunlight and night-owls especially need morning sun. If you can, sleep near an eastern exposure, with the blinds up (unless light from outside will disturb you at night). Or get sun as soon as possible after you’re awake, even if it means flossing on the doorstep. Ideally, you’d have time for a morning walk.
Of course, the ideal companion, one who will absolutely insist on a morning walk, is a dog.If your sleeping issues still won’t budge, you might have a more serious sleep disorder.
One thing to try is a “light box” (starting at $120) providing full-spectrum light (an ordinary lamp doesn’t work), of anywhere from 2,500 to 10,000 lux, a measure of intensity. If you also tend to feel low during dark days or months, a light box can improve your mood too.
Sleep-specialists often recommend starting at 15 minutes and working up to a half-hour before a 10,000 lux light or two hours of 2,500 lux. That may sound like a lot of time, but you don’t have to sit staring at the box. These are your moments to listen to Mozart, knit, write or read poetry, eat a good breakfast or call your grandmother to wish her a good day.
Dedicate part of each morning to your bliss—whether or not you need a light-box—and you can love mornings. In his 50s, after decades of staying up until 3 am, arriving late to work and feeling groggy until lunch, Roger, a copy editor, resolved to change his ways. “I decided I was not some special person with an entitlement to come in much later than anyone else in my office.” After several months of using a light-box, he discovered that if he was in bed by 11:00 pm and arose at 6:00 am, he could listen to music for an hour. Now he walks to work, and is happily the first to arrive.