Health

How this night owl is going to attempt to become a morning lark

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I spent a good amount of time last night researching ways to become a morning lark instead of the night owl I naturally am. And today, despite going to bed later than I planned to, I am up again at 6 am, trying to form a habit that I hope will stick in the long run. We shall see.

When it comes to being a night owl, which is what I have always considered myself to be, I don’t know if that’s actually true. Yes, I feel active and not even remotely tired in the hours before bedtime, but does that actually make me a night owl?

I’m not one of those people who easily stays up till 3 in the morning. Although I can be fairly alert if I do (and sometimes get a second wind late at night), I have always prided myself on being the kind of person who went to sleep by midnight. I don’t really know if that was the result of me actually being a night owl or somewhere in between night person and morning person, but I tend to think it’s mainly because I need sleep.

Ever since I was little, I knew that I needed lots and lots of sleep. My mother is this way too. Even on weeks or days that I don’t have any “sleep debt” (which is not a thing, by the way, since your body can’t really recover from a lack of sleep—especially not a prolonged lack of sleep), I could still easily sleep 9-10 hours a day most nights. So what is it?

When I was in high school, I consistently went to bed by midnight no matter what. I was in an intensive academic program but, whether I finished all of my homework or not, I made sure to get to bed by midnight. I guess it must have been some sort of instinctual understanding that I would have likely lost all of my friends if I didn’t get at least some semblance of sleep. At the time, though, I had to wake up at 5 am so my sleep for the duration of those four years was basically 5 hours a night… except on weekends, of course, when I stayed up till 3/4/5 am and slept for 12-14 hours (no joke).

I formed mostly better habits in adulthood. My midnight bedtime continued to be the norm through college, unless there was a party or something (though those were rare, because I was a nerd and enjoyed studying but mostly enjoyed sleep, I think). Whether I had to wake up at 8 am or 10 am the next day, midnight tended to be the sweet spot for falling asleep. And, let me tell you, I never regretted that decision.

The same remained throughout my 20s. Sure, I would often break the midnight rule on the weekends, but I knew that I had to typically get up between 7 and 8 am to get to work, so a midnight bedtime it is.

I guess that’s just what always felt natural to me, so I went with it. On the weekends, it also felt natural for me to sleep 10-12 hours a day, so I usually went with that too. I’ve always thought that it was best to let my body have its rest when it could have it, and let it decide when it was time to wake up.

It was a system that generally worked very well for me when I was living in New York City and single. We were all a bit sleep deprived anyways, weren’t we?

Well, now neither of those things are true. Not only am I recently married but I am also a Florida resident (officially as of last fall, but really since April 2016). Although I resisted getting an official Florida license for a while, relying on my New York State ID to get me around, I did adapt new sleep habits when Adam and I got together.

One of the most important habits is better sleep.

You see, when I met him, my husband had been misdiagnosed with narcolepsy. It wasn’t the kind where he all of a sudden passed out asleep but more that he pretty much always felt tired and could fall asleep in just a few seconds. He needed a LOT of sleep but since work is still generally a 9-5 grind, and his commute is currently an hour long, we had to adjust.

Like any new couple, we spent a lot of our early days and months talking late into the night. But it wasn’t long before he couldn’t handle that sleeplessness (nor could I) and we had to adjust. He also went back to a sleep clinic and was re-diagnosed as having hypersomnia—which basically means he has “excessive sleepiness” and trouble staying awake during the day. And, let me tell you, him sleeping 10-12 hours a day doesn’t help. No matter what, he wakes up tired and remains groggy during the day.

Now, why am I telling you all this?

Well, for one, my husband’s hypersomnia definitely affects me and my lifestyle. One of my absolute favorite ways to connect with him is and has always been our end-of-the-night snuggle routine when we both get into bed and just lay there and talk. Although that may not seem like anything revolutionary, since we talk all day long, it’s actually the only time of the day where I feel truly connected with him. It relaxes me and allows us to talk about our days and, sometimes, naturally leads into deeper discussions. I treasure this time with him… And this time has to come earlier for someone that needs a minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep just to function.

As such, I’ve adjusted mostly to his schedule. We go to bed around 9 or 10 pm most days of the week, and both of us feel it BADLY when we do not. He currently gets up at 6 am in order to play video games for a bit (a tip he learned recently from reddit, about getting up and doing something you truly enjoy for an hour, and it has dramatically helped his morning routine). He also takes medication for his hypersomnia so that he doesn’t, ya know, fall asleep at work and while driving. All of that being said, though, it’s still a condition which I am constantly aware of and worrying about.

I know he needs a lot of sleep, so I make the effort to go to bed as early as he does.

The problem, however, comes in with my whole night owl thing. My body is still used to years and years of conditioning as a night person. Pretty much every night, it takes me at least an hour to fall asleep. Lately, I’ve also gotten into the bad habit of pulling my phone out and reading until I start to feel tired (blue screens are bad for that, don’t ya know?).

So now I find myself between a rock and a hard place: Wanting to get to bed early with my husband in order to have that all-important connecting time but not being quite tired enough when he dozes off in minutes and I am up tossing and turning for the better part of an hour. Which is where this whole morning lark thing comes in…

Last night, during my usual “oh, I’ll just read a bit before trying to fall asleep” routine, I decided to research whether someone can actually become a morning person if they’re a lifelong night person.

To my surprise, the answer turns out to be a resounding “um, maybe”.

According to Slate, the research seems to point to it being a genetic predisposition whether you fare better in the morning or at night. However, it’s only about half of what makes you one or the other, so most doctors and researchers do think that it can be changed. The internet is filled with essays of night owls like me attempting to change with varying degrees of success. Some gave up after a week or two, some forced themselves to try it for a month and it worked, others adjusted and eventually began to see the benefits of being a morning person.

In almost every one of those articles, there was a lot of struggle. The truth is that most of us night owls want to BOTH stay up late at night AND reap the benefits of waking up early in the morning. Most of the night owls trying to make the switch recognized that they can’t really run on 4 hours of sleep, but man if only they could… They also tended to admit that being a morning lark has made them very productive and, even when their experiments failed, they seemed optimistic about trying them again in the future.

So here’s where I’m at: I am going to myself attempt one of these experiments. I’ve read all the research and a ton of the usual tips.

I don’t feel wholly confident going into this experiment, but I think it is worth a try. Why? Mainly because I want to line up better with my partner but also because I would like to reap the benefits of getting shit done first thing in the morning and feeling that productive high all day long (as many morning people say they feel).

Despite my 6 am wake-up call both yesterday and today, I didn’t really feel tired the previous nights until it was about 11 pm. So one of the tricks I read about was about buying melatonin supplements and taking them about 6 hours before you hope to fall asleep. I will be doing that later today. The other trick is about doing something you enjoy first thing in the morning (for me that’s going to be blogging since it’s a thing I never, ever make time for otherwise). I also read that you should take melatonin supplements, stop drinking caffeine by 3 pm and try exercising in the morning, but I’m not sure if I am yet ready to tackle the latter just yet.

Oh yes, and here’s the worst of it: Absolutely NO naps in the beginning while your circadian rhythm adjusts to the new schedule and you HAVE to get up at the same time every day… That means weekends, people.

As a huge proponent of sleeping in on the weekends, this was the toughest thing for me to read. What do you MEAN I have to still get up at 6 in the morning on a Saturday? Don’t you know that I actually have better things to do, like “catch up on sleep”?

But the truth is that this experiment isn’t meant to exhaust me during the week and let me make up for it on the weekend. Instead, I am actually aiming to become a so-called morning person and wake up at 6 am fully rested after about 8-9 hours of sleep (what I know my body typically needs). Yes, if you’ve done the math, this means falling asleep between 9 and 10 pm, which thankfully my husband and I are already more-or-less trying to do.

I’m sure it won’t be easy and I will likely regret trying this experiment in the next few days or weeks. I’m also not sure how long I will keep it up and I know for a fact that this weekend is going to be rough. I might become a much bitchier person due to having to go to bed so early on a Friday night (or, as the doctors say, it’s more important to wake up at the same time each morning than to go to bed early). We shall see…

To be honest, I’m a little excited. I mean, not like YAY excited, but excited to be doing this for myself. I think blogging first thing in the morning is going to be good for me and, if I can truly become a morning person after a lifetime of resisting, then perhaps I’ll finally stop moaning and complaining every time that damn alarm rings.

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Freelance Writer & Editor | I am a Moscow Chica: Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American.

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