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The Night Owl’s Guide to Better Sleep

The Night Owl’s Guide to Better Sleep

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.

For lifelong night owls, bad sleep habits can have real implications for health and happiness, making awareness important. Many healthy sleep and self-help articles tout the benefits of being an early riser. But, it is entirely possible to be a well-rested, healthy, and happy night owl by incorporating good sleep habits into your routine.

Here are a few ways night owls can have their late evenings and stay well-rested, too.

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?

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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 for catching up on rest, 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.

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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 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.

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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!

6. Try not to workout too late

Many night owls feel their energy peak in the evening, but working out too close to bed can leave you wired. Try to plan strenuous cardio and weight workouts at least a few hours before you want to sleep. This gives your body enough time to wind down and cool off.

Calming yoga and light stretching, on the other hand, can be beneficial near bed since they promote relaxation.

7. Remember why rest is important

Although work, hobbies, Netflix, games and other activities may seem like more fun than sleep at 2 a.m., night owls have to remind themselves that rest is an important part of being healthy and feeling good.

Fatigue and “social jet lag” can have a big impact on your mood, job, looks, and more. Studies have found that lacking sleep changes how people perceive you – tired faces look less attractive and less approachable.

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The National Sleep Foundation website, www.sleepfoundation.org, outlines several other undesirable side effects:

  • A tired mind is also less adept at complex tasks and decision making.
  • Tiredness makes people feel more irritable, anxious, angry and sad.
  • People that drive while sleep deprived also increase their risk of auto accidents.
  • Fatigue can comprise the immune system’s effectiveness and can affect hormone production.
  • Long-term sleep deprivation is also associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and more.

Whether you want to look better, get fit, be more productive or simply stay healthy, there are infinite ways that better sleep benefits your life. When you are debating between one more episode or chapter and calling it a night, remind yourself why rest is important to you.

Not everyone is cut out to become to become an early bird, and that’s okay. Night owls can still sleep 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.

Share: Are you a night owl? What helps you get better sleep, or how do stick to a healthy schedule?

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Last Updated on November 9, 2020

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

Bad habits expose us to suffering that is entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, breaking bad habits is difficult because they are 100% dependent on our mental and emotional state.

Anything we do that can prove harmful to us is a bad habit – drinking, drugs, smoking, procrastination, poor communication are all examples of bad habits. These habits have negative effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health.

Humans are hardwired to respond to stimuli and to expect a consequence of any action. This is how habits are acquired: the brain expects to be rewarded a certain way under certain circumstances. How you initially responded to certain stimuli is how your brain will always remind you to behave when the same stimuli are experienced.

If you visited the bar close to your office with colleagues every Friday, your brain will learn to send you a signal to stop there even when you are alone and eventually not just on Fridays. It will expect the reward of a drink after work every day, which can potentially lead to a drinking problem.

Kicking negative behavior patterns and steering clear of them requires a lot of willpower, and there are many reasons why breaking bad habits is so difficult.

1. Lack of Awareness or Acceptance

Breaking a bad habit is not possible if the person who has it is not aware that it is a bad one.

Many people will not realize that their communication skills are poor or that their procrastination is affecting them negatively, or even that the drink they had as a nightcap has now increased to three.

Awareness brings acceptance. Unless a person realizes on their own that a habit is bad, or someone manages to convince them of the same, there is very little chance of the habit being kicked.

2. No Motivation

Going through a divorce, not being able to cope with academic pressure, and falling into debt are instances that can bring a profound sense of failure with them. A person going through these times can fall into a cycle of negative thinking where the world is against them and nothing they can do will ever help, so they stop trying altogether.

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This give-up attitude is a bad habit that just keeps coming around. Being in debt could make you feel like you are failing at maintaining your home, family, and life in general.

If you are looking to get out of a rut and feel motivated, take a look at this article: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

3. Underlying Psychological Conditions

Psychological conditions such as depression and ADD can make it difficult to start breaking bad habits.

A depressed person may find it difficult to summon the energy to cook a healthy meal, resulting in food being ordered in or consumption of packaged foods. This could lead to a habit that adversely affects health and is difficult to overcome.

A person with ADD may start to clean their house but get distracted soon after, leaving the task incomplete, eventually leading to a state where it is acceptable to live in a house that is untidy and dirty.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real to some people. Obsessively checking their social media and news sources, they may believe that not knowing of something as soon as it is published can be catastrophic to their social standing.

4. Bad Habits Make Us Feel Good

One of the reasons it is difficult to break habits is that a lot of them make us feel good.[1]

We’ve all been there – the craving for a tub of ice cream after a breakup or a casual drag on a joint, never to be repeated until we miss how good it made us feel. We succumb to the craving for the pleasure felt while indulging in it, cementing it as a habit even while we are aware it isn’t good for us.

Overeating is a very common bad habit. Just another pack of chips, a couple of candies, a large soda… none of these are necessary for survival. We want them because they give us comfort. They’re familiar, they taste good, and we don’t even notice when we progress from just one extra slice of pizza to four.

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You can read this article to learn more: We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

5. Upward Comparisons

Comparisons are a bad habit that many of us have been exposed to since we were children. Parents might have compared us to siblings, teachers may have compared us to classmates, and bosses could compare us to past and present employees.

The people who have developed the bad habit of comparing themselves to others have been given incorrect yardsticks for measurement from the start.

These people will always find it difficult to break out of this bad habit because there will always be someone who has it better than they do: a better house, better car, better job, higher income and so on.

Research shows that in the age of social media, social comparisons are much easier and can ultimately harm self-esteem if scrolling becomes a bad habit[2].

6. No Alternative

This is a real and valid reason why breaking bad habits is difficult. These habits could fulfill a need that may not be met any other way.

Someone who has physical or psychological limitations, such as a disability or social anxiety, may find it hard to quit obsessive content consumption for better habits.

Alternately, a perfectly healthy person may be unable to quit smoking because alternates are just not working out.

Similarly, a person who bites their nails when anxious may be unable to relieve stress in any other socially accepted manner.

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7. Stress

As mentioned above, anything that stresses us out can lead to adopting and cementing an unhealthy habit.

When a person is stressed about something, it is easy for bad habits to form because the mental resources required to fight them are not available[3].

We often see a person who had previously managed to kick a bad habit fall back into the old ways because they felt their stress couldn’t be managed any other way.

If you need some help reducing stress, check out the following video for some healthy ways to get started:

8. Sense of Failure

People looking to kick bad habits may feel a strong sense of failure because it’s just that difficult.

Dropping a bad habit usually means changes in lifestyle that people may be unwilling to make, or these changes might not be easy to make in spite of the will to make them.

Overeaters need to empty their house of unhealthy food, resist the urge to order in, and not pick up their standard grocery items from the store. Those who drink too much need to avoid the bars or even people who drink often.

If such people slip even once with a glass of wine, or a smoke, or a bag of chips, they tend to be excessively harsh on themselves and feel like failures.

9. The Need to Be All-New

People who are looking to break bad habits feel they need to re-create themselves in order to break themselves of their bad habits, while the truth is the complete opposite.

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These people actually need to go back to who they were before they developed the bad habit and try to create good habits from there.

10. Force of Habit

Humans are creatures of habit, and having familiar, comforting outcomes for daily triggers helps us maintain a sense of balance in our lives.

Consider people who are used to lighting up a cigarette every time they talk on the phone or eating junk food when watching TV. They will always associate a phone call with a puff on the cigarette and screen time with eating.

These habits, though bad, are a source of comfort to them, as is meeting with those people they indulge in these bad habits with.

Final Thoughts

These are the main reasons why breaking bad habits is difficult, but the good news is that the task is not impossible. Breaking habits takes time, and you’ll need to put long-term goals in place to replace a bad habit with a good one.

There are many compassionate, positive and self-loving techniques to kick bad habits. The internet is rich in information regarding bad habits, their effects and how to overcome them, while professional help is always available for those who feel they need it.

More on Breaking Bad Habits

Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] After Skool: Why Do Bad Habits Feel SO GOOD?
[2] Psychology of Popular Media Culture: Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem.
[3] Stanford Medicine: Examining how stress affects good and bad habits

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