After recently discussing the impact of sleep on our general health, we wanted to dedicate a little more time to the subject of those of us who are most impacted by sleep deprivation: the night owls. If you are an evening type who falls asleep after 3am and struggles to wake before 11am, what’s the solution?
Can Night Owls Adapt?
As explained by chronobiologists in their research into sleep and its links to morbidity and mortality, genetics play a huge part in determining your sleep chronotype. But there are other aspects and outside stimuli that influence your body’s inner clock as well, and that you actually do have control over; this might be a starting point for night owls committed to becoming morning larks.
Instead of letting sleep deprivation affect your day and your health, here’s four ways you can change your routine:
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1. Exposure to Light
To shift your behaviour, light can be a natural stimulus that affects your waking hours. From the moment you wake up, try to enjoy as much exposure to natural light as possible. This will not only heighten feelings of wakefulness, alertness and energy, but also increase the amount of vitamin D your body is getting.
It’s important to be exposed to light during the day, but at night, do the opposite. Light makes you feel more awake and alert; great during the day, but a problem at night. This means limiting your exposure to the artificial light of tvs, smartphones, laptops and e-readers.
It’s difficult to switch off from these devices, but the light they emit has a similar wavelength to that of daylight, so you can be at risk of tricking your circadian rhythm – your body’s inbuilt 24 hour clock – into believing it's daylight. As well as feeling more alert, the problem here is that your body might delay the release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
As well at the light from these devices, their contents are also stimulating. How many of you recognise the thought ‘I could watch just one more…’ after deciding to watch something before falling asleep? Your body needs to slowly wind down for sleep, so by limiting your use of electronics and exposure to artificial light, you can begin to induce your body into relaxing and falling asleep.
2. Embrace Exercising
Utilise exercise by building it into your daily routine, and schedule it at a time where it’ll help you sleep. For night owls, one suggestion is to programme your workout for the late afternoon. The result of this is that your post-exercise body will be a little more tired; your temperature also drops after exercise, so you will be in the perfect state to encourage sleep. These don’t need to be intense workouts; short ten minute aerobic workouts do the trick!
There are many benefits of exercise: it increases our energy and also decreases our levels of stress and anxiety – factors that can influence sleep. Exercise and sleep also work hand-in-hand: to read more about the relationship between the two, check out our article on the Effect of Sleep on Exercise.
3. Try CBD
CBD has a number of benefits; one thing it can do is supplement your sleep. A Brazilian study has shown that CBD might help induce sleep. The results of this study showed a significant increase in the amount of sleep the participants who were taking CBD got, leading to a better quality of sleep too, in comparison to those taking the placebo. This effect might be attributed to CBD’s influence on a number of factors around sleep, such as the resetting of sleep patterns, increased mental sedation and helping with other conditions that disrupt sleep, like anxiety and stress.
Check out our article CBD for a Sound Sleep if you want to know more about how CBD can help your sleep.
4. Establish a Regular Bedtime – For the Weekends Too!
Structure and routine can often sound boring, but to ensure you get full sleep, establishing a regular bedtime will be important. Rather than force yourself to lose hours of sleep by getting up early, gain hours of sleep by going to sleep a little earlier.
Keeping this routine on weekends is also important to make sure you don’t begin drifting back into old habits and later sleeping hours. Recognise that you might not be a morning lark anytime soon, but that becoming less of a night owl will benefit your health. Any shift that adds hours to your sleep and limits sleep deprivation is a great step to take.
Can Society Adapt?
With evening types being more likely to be sleep deprived and at risk of the many illnesses, the automatic thing to do might be to attempt to change your routine. This is great if you can follow some of the steps above and make this change, however a lot of the reasons you are one of these people who thrives at night is down to your genetics – and that’s something you can’t change.
One response that was important in the chronobiologists’ study was that they argued evening types shouldn’t have to change their natural behaviour; rather they suggested that contemporary society and work should be more flexible to accommodating their lifestyles and needs – it is after all their biology and not their choice.
Ultimately, the modern world is biased to morning people. There is the stigma of laziness associated to that those who turn up late or function only after mid-morning, propped up by multiple cups of coffee. This negative label undermines the ingrained behaviour of the individuals affected and rather than adapting to their prime hours, the fault might lie with the fact that modern society forces them into a cycle of sleep deprivation.
Adapt Where You Can
With many people being affected by late night, artificial light from screens or distracted by endless access to online entertainment, technology affects night owls significantly and can’t easily be turned off. On the other hand, the advancements of modern society and rise of the internet is also benefiting late risers. The internet has allowed an increase in the number of freelance or independent workers, and this means that they are able to work to their own hours and tailoring their schedules to suit their individual chronotype.
This is a small step that might help some professions who experience sleep deprivation due to their evening type genetics, but this is only available in selected industries. For those who don’t have this option, adapting your routine through the methods detailed above and figuring out what is feasible for yourself is the best way to change; just making yourself less of a night owl can help decrease your risk of health issues.
In contemporary society, reversing the lazy stigma associated with late risers, understanding that it’s down to their genetics and adapting to this then health risks related to a lack of sleep could be a slow but worthy task. And, considering night owls make up just under a third of our population, it seems like adapting our attitude and preconceptions would be a beneficial step to take.