If you love the night, you are not alone. Studies show that up to 20% of people are night owls, and for many of us, these tendencies even have genetic roots.
Evening people are those who prefer to go to bed well after midnight, and prefer to wake closer to noon when given the opportunity. These habits are most prevalent amongst adolescents due to temporary hormonal changes, but genetic research has also found distinct early and late genotypes related to circadian rhythm timing. If you are a genetic night owl, waking up early truly may not come easy.
Here are a few ways on how to sleep better.
1. Make sure you are getting enough hours in dreamland
The main reason night owl-ism is often touted as unhealthy is that many owls find themselves staying up late while also trying to wake up early, leading to chronic sleep deprivation. It is tempting to think you can just catch up on weekends, but this is really not how our bodies work.
The average person needs at least seven hours of sleep to avoid fatigue. Teens may need up to 10 hours, and very active adults may also need more rest. Think about days when you are well-rested and have no morning obligations. How many hours do you usually sleep? What amount of rest makes you feel your best mentally and physically?
If you are not getting enough rest, sleeping earlier is always an option. However, if you don’t plan on changing your sleep habits, then try to schedule classes later or pursue a career with flexible or later hours if possible. Short naps are another option on how to sleep better, provided you nap wisely.
2. Keep a regular schedule
Night owl personalities are often attracted to novelty and spontaneity. This novelty-seeking tendency may make owls more prone to keeping irregular hours while avoiding “ordinary” schedules and bed times like the plague.
However, studies have shown that regular sleep and wake times are beneficial for our bodies and help prevent sleep issues such as insomnia. Irregular hours and insufficient sleep may even play a role in body weight, adding yet another reason.
Think about your day-to-day schedule. When do you have to wake up to get to work or school on time? Work backwards by at least eight hours, and that is the time you need to start getting ready for bed at night. Remember, it takes awhile to get ready for bed and wind down once in bed, so give yourself ample time.
Even on the weekends or your days off, try not to delay this pattern by more than an hour.
3. Learn how to shut down
Night owls are more likely to struggle with insomnia than early birds. Learning how to destress, tune out and set boundaries can be helpful for keeping sleep on track.
Whether you struggle with a racing mind or just have difficulty getting the sleep zone, there are several relaxation techniques studies have found helpful for reducing stress and insomnia. A few suggested by the Mayo Clinic included visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic relaxation, meditation, deep breathing and music relaxation.
Other ideas on how to sleep better include setting distinct email/work/texting boundaries so you aren’t bothered or stressed out before bed, establishing a consistent pre-bed routine, using positive reframing and gratitude to overcome negative thoughts, and dimming lights in the evening. Taking a warm bath one to two hours before bed may also help, as the temperature drop from warm to cool promotes drowsiness
Try practicing a couple to see what works for you. Most techniques can be practiced at home, and there are also dozens of apps and online videos to guide you as well.
4. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
Electronics like TV, games, laptops and phones can mean less time for sleep, especially for those prone to distraction. Keep the TV in the living room, and don’t work or play games in bed. Burn the midnight oil in a place other than your bedroom, and use your mattress only for sleep.
Other factors to consider include keeping your room as dark as possible at night to aid melatonin release, keeping temperatures cool, and making sure bedding and mattresses are in good shape. If you notice anything in particular that distracts from sleep or steals your attention, try to remove it from your sleep environment.
5. Mind your diet
Night owls are more likely to be overweight. This is likely a combination of sleep deprivation side effects and all of those extra midnight nibbles. If you are awake for an extra few hours, you can consume considerably more calories which add up over time.
Be conscious of late-night snacking to avoid this. Keeping late meals light is also wise, as heavy meals and fatty foods can cause indigestion and disrupt rest. Healthier, sleep-supporting foods to munch on at night include fresh veggies like carrots, celery and greens, fruits like bananas and berries, lean protein like turkey or chicken, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and healthy carbs like whole grain breads or crackers.
Three other stealers of shut-eye include caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Limit caffeine at least six hours before you plan on sleeping, and institute last call on alcohol and smokes a couple of hours before bed as well. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day as well!
Simple things like getting enough rest, sticking to consistent bedtimes, prioritizing sleep and optimizing your bedroom environment set the stage for better sleep regardless of when you prefer to go to bed. Awareness of healthy sleep hygiene habits like these can help you develop an evening routine that works for your night owl nature and your sleep needs.