As a former ‘night owl’ I’d spend the last few hours of my day watching Netflix, telling myself it’s okay to watch just one more episode. “You’ve earned it,” I’d smugly think to myself, “you’ll still be able to get enough sleep before work tomorrow and you don’t need that much sleep to function anyway”.
The following morning, I’d hit snooze a few times before getting out of bed at the absolute last minute to get ready in time for work. I’d show up at the office, groggy, with bags under my eyes, and very grumpy, not wanting to engage with my ‘overly chipper’ colleagues.
This all changed around a year ago when my responsibilities increased considerably at work, further exacerbated by the decision to start my own business. To manage the increased workload I quickly realised I needed to become as productive as possible, starting with fixing my sleep pattern and ensuring I was never sleep deprived.
It’s perfectly acceptable to be a ‘night owl’ if you’re able to get the adequate number of hours of sleep each night, but the world is made for ‘early birds’. Unless you’re fortunate enough to work flexible hours or remotely, chances are you need to be in the office at 9am or earlier.
This means, in most cases, those with the propensity to sleep later are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation. This not only affects productivity, it can have detrimental impacts on your health too.
In fact, studies show that those who identify as ‘evening types’ are even expected to die earlier from the results of sleep deprivation. The solution is clear then, if an early start is non-negotiable, it’s time to ditch your preference for late nights and become a morning person. And here’s how…
Realise the Importance and power of a good night’s sleep
The first step to fixing a problem is to identify the problem. The science on the importance of sleep is clear and has been around for decades, yet in many societies there’s still a sense of pride in one’s ability to function without sleep.
This is mirrored in phrases like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and the idolisation of business magnates and world leaders for getting by on only a few hours a night. Margaret Thatcher, Donald Trump, and the CEO of Twitters, Jack Dorsey, are all touted for barely sleeping.
However, it’s well documented that getting less than 5-6 hours on average a night significantly increases your risk of a multitude of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
It also lowers your cognitive function, impairs memory, ages you, and lowers your sex drive. Men also experience reduced testosterone levels and testicle size when sleep deprived. So, if you want to be healthier, happier, and smarter, then it’s time to ditch the ‘sleep machismo’ culture and learn to love sleep.
Track your Sleep Progress
Once you start sleeping better, you’ll feel better. Make sure to note this progress by tracking your sleep habits and its effect on your mood, energy level, cognitive function and productivity.
Humans are horrible at recognising long term changes, explains Dr. Dimirtriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine clinic, but paying close attention to the benefits is key in re-enforcing good sleep habits.
It’s also key to note how you feel in the afternoon and evening, not just the morning. Some of us may never feel energised first thing in the morning, but how you feel in the afternoon is the true test of sleep quality.
Adequate sleep should result in improved memory, mood stability, creativity, impulse control and eating and drinking habit.
Personally, now that I’m aware of how productive I can be with a good night’s sleep, I find it extremely frustrating if I don’t sleep well. I notice the speed in which I get through mentally demanding tasks significantly reduces when I’m sleep deprived, not to mention its effect on my mood, just ask my partner!
Adopt and maintain a sleep schedule
It’s one thing to understand the importance of sleep, but actually getting better sleep is another thing. You may have the right idea by trying to sleep earlier, but sometimes it can be a challenge falling asleep. If you find yourself lying wide awake for hours, mind racing and full of energy, it could be down to your disrupted sleep patterns or social jetlag.
Many of us, myself included, will shift our sleep patterns on the weekend to sleep later and wake up later than during the working week. The challenge with this is that your body will adapt to a later bedtime, so when you try to sleep earlier you’re simply not ready, even if you feel tired.
Sleeping at the same time every night will let your body know exactly when it’s time to sleep, which in turn makes it much easier to drift off. This is especially important for ‘night owls’ who when left to their own devices will naturally want to sleep much later.
If you are the type of person who frequently shifts their sleeping patterns, even if it’s only a 1-2 hour shift, make the adjustment to sleeping at the same time every night for 2 weeks and I’m sure you’ll see the benefit.
Turn off Lights and electronic devices in the evening
While some people are genetically predisposed to a later sleeping schedule, many of us simply shift our sleeping patterns later into the evening by being exposed to too much light too close to bedtime. The rise of the smartphones has led to 90% of us checking our phones or devices within an hour before sleep time. This suppresses melatonin (the sleep hormone responsible for initiating sleep)and causes a delay in sleep, inevitably leading to sleep deprivation.
If you’re keen to become a morning person, it’s crucial to turn off any light-emitting devices and dim the lights 1-2 hours before sleep.
Have something to look forward to in the morning
If work is the first thing you do every day, you may not have the desire to leap out of bed every morning, and who can blame you! To become a morning person it helps to enjoy the mornings.
Whether you enjoy exercising, reading, watching TV or playing video games, try doing your hobbies before work. Too many of us think evenings are the only time to relax and have fun, which is why ending them early can be so challenging. If you switch these activities to before work, you may find it just a little bit easier to fall asleep and wake up earlier.
There's nothing wrong with genetically being an evening type or enjoying the occasional lie In. In fact, it’s important that as a society, we recognise people’s propensities for sleep/wake cycles naturally differ, as this could lead to a healthier, happier, more productive population. That being said, if you need to rise early for work obligations or otherwise, then it could be best to adopt a ‘morning type’ sleep/wake cycle using some or all of the tips above. And if I can manage it, then I’m confident you can too - good luck!