For the past few years, I had real trouble with my sleeping patterns. I had always considered myself to be a classic night owl – that is, a person who goes to bed late and wakes up late. Given the fact that first, my university schedule and then my job allowed such a lifestyle, I never tried to change it. What is more, I could still remember how much I hated getting up for school as a child and a teen. I was never rested enough and my brain usually started functioning properly around 10 am.
However, maintaining such a routine for the past few years, when I hit my late 20s, started to backfire on me. I didn’t have as much energy or didn’t regenerate as fast as I used to. Going to bed in the early hours meant I had to sleep well till noon – which is not possible every day when you have pets that need feeding and walking and/or a full-time job. I was often disturbed by outside noises or my family bustling around woke me up, too. All this resulted in a very unhappy and sleepy person that I had become. I got grumpy and pouty in the mornings, lazy and napping throughout the whole day – because I was constantly lacking sleep and necessary energy.
The more my 30th birthday was closing in, the more desperate I became for some kind of a change. I think I crossed the line over last December when we had holidays at work. My sleeping pattern changed again, I went to sleep around 5 or 6 am and woke up at 3 pm – I had time off so I could do that. I probably don’t have to tell you how dangerous that was during wintertime, going to bed when the sun was rising and waking up when it was getting dark outside. It really f*cked up something inside me, living almost without sunlight for around 2 weeks.
In consequence, when the new year started, I realised that if I don’t do something, it is going to get really bad. I had this feeling of impending doom of some sort – it could probably have been my health or common sense speaking.
Luckily, on the morning of January 1st, I woke up unusually early. It wasn’t super early, but 9 am was definitely earlier than my typical 12 or 1 pm. Due to the fact that I went to bed late after New Year’s Eve celebration, I felt tired. Normally I would go to bed to take a nap, but I stayed up. Thanks to that, I was so tired at 10 pm that I went straight to bed. On January 2nd I woke up a little past 6 am of my own volition, with no alarm clocks or crying pets responsible for that. Just my body clock.
Having had straight 8 hours of sleep, I felt more rested than usual. I didn’t become a volcano of energy all of a sudden, but I surely felt different. Not so angry, not so tired. In split second I decided that I have to abuse that new state of affairs. I got up so that I wouldn’t fall asleep again and tried to stay up throughout the whole day so I could hit the hay before midnight.
Unfortunately, I had a crisis between 5 and 6 pm. It was the standard time when I took a nap. My eyelids were failing me and begging to go to bed to sleep. However, I knew that if I gave in, I could forget about changing my sleeping pattern. I was sitting on an armchair and finally decided to succumb to my body requesting recharging – but on the armchair. I laid my head on the armrest (our living room armchairs have such wide armrests that you can place a plate or a mug on it no problem – I even keep my 13” laptop there and it doesn’t fall off) and dozed off. I was able to kill two birds with one stone – I took a nap, but my bent position was so uncomfortable that I woke up around 30 minutes later. I still felt sleepy but rested enough to survive till 10 pm. And so I did.
Later, each and every day was getting easier. I discovered some new things about me and my body. That little change sparked other small changes in several toxic habits of mine. Below I’m going to describe what I noticed about myself thanks to altering my biological clock, week by week for the first month.
WEEK 1 (Jan 1 – Jan 7)
- I enjoy the silence and studying in silence (in contrast to playing some BGM on my studying playlist or watching a show in the background like it was in the past). And early mornings actually work in my favour – most of my family isn’t up yet, so I get some peace and quiet until they are. This little observation also had an influence on my Japanese studies – I started to study in the morning, not in the evening like it used to be, so I can “tick it off” and shift my focus onto other things that need my attention, not necessarily connected to studying.
- What is more, I have better study sessions in the mornings. I can do more in less time because I’m full of energy and thus more productive. The fact that you have the whole day before you also contributes to that increased productivity – since you’re not in a rush and have plenty of time to study what you want to, you tend to take your sweet time and enjoy it more. Also, your brain isn’t overloaded with your job or school yet, so why not use its potential to make some serious progress until your energy burns out?
- I also noticed that the days are so long! I’m actually eager to go to bed and have a proper rest at the end of the day because I already had enough! That also counts for having enough time to do everything that you planned or simply had to do on that day.
- I abuse my morning energy doing the heaviest work then – that means writing, studying or brainstorming. Later, I work and in the evenings I relax with a TV series or a book (but a book in English or Polish, not Japanese – I read in Japanese in the mornings, as a part of my study session).
- I love sunrises much more than sunsets (and I used to believe that it was the opposite)! I can’t get enough of them (even though that by the time this will be posted, it will already be a whole month of admiring sunrise!).
- Better productivity in terms of my studies is one thing, but I also noticed that productivity at my job also increased! Because I get some time to myself in the mornings, I’m much more eager to go to work and do my job. I also do things faster (up to a certain moment – but that’s one of the observations I had later – at first I was super excited to be able to stick to my resolution at all, I guess).
- Because I get my quiet alone time in the mornings when everybody’s still asleep, I’m more content and happy throughout the day and get less angry, actually. I’m a person who naturally pursues solitude at some point in the day and if I don’t get my daily dose of ‘solitary confinement’, my short fuse kicks in and everything starts to irritate me quite fast, especially human contact.
WEEK 2 (Jan 8 – Jan 15)
- Getting up gets more difficult, I’m not feeling as rested as in the first week, but I have no problems getting off the bed (thanks for the dogs). The problem is that I wake up while being under the impression that it can’t be 6 am yet because I feel so sleepy. Nothing has changed, I go to bed around 10 pm, but wake up 6:30-ish am rather than at 6 o’clock like in the first week.
- I started being less productive in the mornings. I don’t feel like studying at all at times, so lazying around also happens but I still try to read a chapter in Japanese daily (which works for most ‘lazy’ days).
- I’m still bewitched by sunrise.
- I can keep up with work till 9 pm (that happens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) but I’m consistent and go to bed at 10 pm even if I finished worked barely an hour before. For now, working long hours have no substantial influence on my tiredness and falling asleep fast. It means that even though I am still in the middle of work at around 9 pm, I don’t feel tired or sleepy. It kind of hits me later, when I finish work, so it doesn’t hamper me falling asleep.
- My bedtime reading routine is a lifesaver and I have read 4 books (books as in genuine books, not mangas) so far thanks to it. I also bought more books because of it…
WEEK 3 (Jan 16 – Jan 23)
- I got used to waking up early and I feel guilty when I laze around in bed.
- I sometimes feel tired when I wake up. However, I found out that it’s probably connected with eating right before bed. Basically, if I eat past 6 pm when I go to bed before 10 pm, I feel tired (as my body spends the night digesting rather than replenishing the energy).
- I get even lazier in the mornings, I don’t know where the time flies sometimes.
- Also, the weather’s getting worse (it was quite sunny in the first 2 weeks so I was getting a lot of sun exposure when I sat at the kitchen table). Exposing yourself to sunlight is yet another thing I noticed that has a considerable influence on me. It boosts my energy levels tremendously and immediately puts me in a good mood. If the weather’s more cloudy, it works less (but still does, a little). For this reason, I try to sit at the kitchen table (which is right next to a big window facing the east, so I get to ‘look the sun in the face’) rather than laze around on the sofa – it’s located further into the living room, away from the windows. Also, sitting at a table triggers productivity – I’m less tempted to browse social media and prefer to write something (a blog post or the draft of my novel) or study Japanese instead.
- Energy outbursts still occur and I can still do a lot of stuff in such outbursts. I also noticed that being productive is dependent on you actually making yourself do it – sleeping enough and getting up early just facilitate doing stuff faster so that you can have the rest of the day off.
- I’m having minor trouble falling asleep, I suspect that it can be connected to lack of exercise. I mostly get my exercise by walking my dogs and working in the garden. Obviously, in winter it isn’t possible to do the gardening outside. However, most winters I was able to overcome this disadvantage by shovelling the snow instead. Yet, this winter is so mild that we have got little snow which didn’t require much shovelling. As a result, I had to remove excessive snow maybe two or three times only (and the snow season usually starts in November)! In winter, I also don’t walk my dogs as far as I do during other seasons (for instance, in summer I walk around 4-5 km a day with my dogs! Which is a big number because as I’m living in the mountains, going for a ‘walk’ actually means hiking), so I do less exercise.
- My dogs eat earlier and I shifted their mealtimes by an hour, this way I can walk them after their dinner before the sun sets (which adds up to me doing some exercise).
- I also eat breakfast regularly now. I start off with my usual morning coffee, of course, but approximately an hour later I cook myself breakfast. I noticed that because I eat in the morning, I’m not as tempted to snack in the evening as I used to. The only exception to this rule are days with long hours at work – as I get short breaks in-between meeting clients, I have little time to eat anything and then end up catching up on food after work. This is why I know I have to start preparing my lunch and dinner for such days in advance, so I just have to heat it up and wolf down on it. But here’s when early mornings come in useful! Apart from studies, I also have time to do some shopping and prep the meals for later, which wasn’t possible when I used to get up around noon.
WEEK 4 (Jan 24 – Jan 31)
- I have finished establishing my bedtime routine. It starts at roughly 7-8 pm and ends between 9-10 pm. I start off with airing my bedroom out. Then I turn all of my electronic devices off (meaning that browsing social media or even using an online dictionary is off-limits past that step) and then I read something – a book or a manga, its language does not really matter (though I feel it works even better if I read something in Polish). After 8 pm I walk my dogs for the last time. Then I come back to prep myself for sleeping, that means taking a bath, doing my evening skin and teeth care, and changing into my nightgown. Then I read again until my eyelids start to droop. It usually happens past 9 pm. I listen to my body and go to bed, just closing the windows before I hit the hay. It usually takes me less than 10 mins to fall asleep this way.
- I shouldn’t eat food past 6 pm and definitely not something rich in saturated fats (like my favourite potato crisps), I sleep the worst on such nights.
- I feel most rested when I go to bed between 9 and 10 pm and get 9 hours of sleep. That seems to be my optimal amount. Consequently, I need to start my prep for bed routine around 8 pm if I want to finish it during that preferable time period.
- Weather also influences my energy levels and sleep. I sleep worse on windy or frosty nights as well as during full moon (but I had known that one before I even started this experiment, to be honest; it became much more noticeable during its course, that’s all). It’s easier to start the day when it’s sunny or at most partially cloudy so that I’m able to catch a bit of the sun on my face.
- Getting up early already became a habit: my internal body clock wakes me up between 6:30 and 7:30 even if I went to bed around midnight. I also feel guilty when it’s past 10 pm and I’m still not in bed or during the final reading phase.
I hope that, if you’re struggling with your own sleeping pattern or daily routine, those reflections would spark changes for you and in you as well. I wish you very good luck if you want to repeat what I had done in the last 30 days. Don’t give up if you fail to stick to the routine a day or two – just get back to it every time and work on changing it! The results are so worth it!