The battle over bedtime

I’m a night owl, as you may have deduced from the time stamps on my blog posts. 😉 I actually like mornings, I do!, but for years I’ve been in the habit of doing my creative work (and often my less creative work too) late, late at night.

Nothing wrong with that. Being free to stay up and sleep in is one of the main reasons I became self-employed all those years ago. (It is true! Maybe the main reason.)  But this style works less well for me than it used to. I feel tired and behind the curve a lot of the time—kind of in a state of perpetual jet lag. I do seem to have more potentially productive energy in the morning, on the occasions when I’m awake—I’d like to take advantage of that. And the late-night schedule presents problems when I have to get up early to lead a workshop.

I experimented with shaking up the late-night habit on my mini-vacation last month. I got a spa treatment in the afternoon, which left me super-relaxed. I fixed a simple dinner at the place I was staying, watched a low-key movie on DVD, and went to bed at 11pm. 11pm is early for me! Ah, the benefits of being out of my usual environment, without the usual stimuli, and with lots of pampering.

I was able to build on the post-vacation-early-to-bed momentum for a few days. But as with previous campaigns, I quickly slipped back into my old ways. Nevertheless, I continue to examine this habit with an eye to changing it! One idea seems key:

Turn off the computer by 8:30 or 9:00pm. This also includes stopping other work, such as bill-paying. So that I have the time I need to wind down before bed.

Habits—not so simple

This intention has a lot of sub-issues attached to it, making it not so easy to stick with. For example:

I need to get used to stopping before I feel finished. (This principle alone could be a whole series of blog posts.) Also, I need to practice accepting that a lost day doesn’t have to be paid for with a late night—or another way of putting it, accepting that for an earlier night to happen, there may be Less Accomplished and that’s OK. It doesn’t feel OK! Need to work with that.

And there’s a big piece in all of this about not wanting to miss anything. I’m like the little kid—I was that little kid—who wails, “Do I have to go to bed? Can’t I pleeeeeeze stay up longer? When I grow up, I’m going to stay up as late as I want!

I need compassion for the part of me that doesn’t want to Miss All the Fun.

Another piece: Often what throws me off the Earlier Bedtime Project is an imminent deadline. Staying up half the night seems to be a major way I cope with the anxiety of turning nothing into something. Whether it’s the lack of distractions, or sheer exhaustion that eventually wears away my resistance, it’s hard to give up a successful, if dysfunctional, coping mechanism.

So, when I inevitably slip back, for whatever reason, I’d like to not be surprised or overly discouraged by it. To notice the pull of the old habit and let that be OK…and then get back on the horse.

Inviting, not just avoiding

Some positive incentives might help too. For instance, really noticing what my energy is like in the morning. Do I create/think better then? If so, acknowledging and running with it might be self-reinforcing. Also self-reinforcing: Luxuriating in the post-computer time. I worry about being bored. What if I looked forward to watching a TV show I love, fixing a nice snack. Thinking of it as really treating myself to lovely, restful evenings. Enjoying my evening Sabbath. So that I’m going toward something I value, not just giving something up.

One other thing: Not freaking out if I take a long time to fall asleep on a given night. Tossing and turning for a while doesn’t mean the plan is flawed or that I should give up. I need to remind myself that one night, a couple of nights of restlessness are not a big deal.

These are all great-sounding ideas, but a lot to keep in mind—more than I can keep in mind when feeling the tug of the usual way. My focus:

Computer off at 8:30 or 9:00. Treat myself to some lovely rest. Kindly thoughts for the worker bee whose work never feels done, and for the kid who doesn’t want anyone to tell her she has to go to bed, ever.


  1. Ash says:

    Excellent post! I am also a nightowl as I feel I am most productive when there are no distractions (phone, people, etc). I’ve tried going to bed early and waking up early and when I do it, its been great. However, it only lasts one or two days before I find a reason to stay up late again (whether its to communicate with people I work with overseas, knock out a blog post, or read other blogs with useful information related to my passion of marketing). I like your idea about people staying up as sort of a childish rebellion. I was not allowed to stay up late when I was a child so perhaps your theory has some legs to it.


  2. I’m a night owl too. But I noticed last year that I’m not as productive that late as I used to be. Still trying to figure out how to pull back the bedtime and wake up a little earlier. One thing that has worked is some light, relaxing yoga at night to tell my body and mind, OK it’s time to wind down and relax. And if I don’t start reading that novel for “light reading before bed” I might get into bed before 1:00 a.m….

  3. I’m not a night owl but I do have trouble stopping before I’m finished and what you said about
    “So that I’m going toward something I value, not just giving something up.” is a really helpful thing for me.
    If I stop but have nothing to go to then it’s fritter fritter time and doesn’t feel good at all…I’m giving up productive time to fritter! My get things done part won’t put up with that and has me straight back to work.
    But if I have the recorded episodes of Frasier to go to (which are on tv here at 8.30 in the morning so I record them for later), then there’s a much better chance of feeling good about stopping.
    I like the way you think.

  4. Janet Bailey says:

    @Ash – That slipping back after one or two days is really common. I read something about this phenomenon in the NYTimes—searching for the article…

    @Shawna – Oh yes, the “few minutes of light reading,” dangerous! Yoga is much more reliable.

    @Pauline – I like your brain too! Happy Frasier-watching.

  5. Michelle says:

    This too is what I am striving for:

    “Turn off the computer by 8:30 or 9:00pm. This also includes stopping other work, such as bill-paying. So that I have the time I need to wind down before bed.”

    Somehow when the computer is on, time seems to get quite carried away!!

  6. Janet Bailey says:

    @Michelle – The computer hypnosis effect—if only it served as a transition into sound sleep! Too bad it’s just the opposite, eh? Good luck with your striving.

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