I started destroying my sleep routine when I was 18 years old.
I’d taken a job in a nightclub, met the people who’d still be my best friends now, almost 11 years later, and staying up until the sun was blazing was way more fun than being tucked up in bed at 10pm.
Shifts ended at at least 4am so my previous ‘normal’ bedtimes of 11pm became as late (or early, however you want to look at it) as 7am if I stayed for after work drinks. I’d get a bacon roll on the way home for some weird hybrid breakfast-dinner and pass out.
Even on my nights off, if I wasn’t cleaning up after rogue hen-dos or office parties in the nightclub, I was out dancing somewhere until the wee hours. If I was at home, my flatmate (who also worked in the club) and I would stay up watching Game Of Thrones until ‘day walkers’ were striding past our house on their way to work.
I was fully nocturnal, sleeping until at least 4pm, sometimes until 6pm before a 7pm start – and I don’t regret a minute of it. I was in my late teens and early twenties chaos era but the older I got, the more apparent it was that my sleep schedule needed to change with me.
After putting my university studies at risk by being physically unable to sleep before the hour of 3am, I decided enough was enough, something had to give.
I’m 29 now and I wake up at 7am every morning – I’ve even got to a point where I don’t feel like screaming the house down when my alarm goes off. Instead of staying in bed like a cosy cinnamon bun I climb straight out and head on a walk – even go to the gym – instead of slamming my alarm at two minutes to the latest time I can possibly get up. Yes, I know, I’m the worst – but I’m also proof that you can stop being a night owl.
How did I do it? A miracle? No, instead I became an insufferable morning person after making hundreds of mistakes.
My first port of call was caffeine – drinking vats of instant coffee until my body was over caffeinated but my brain was still groggy.
I was horrified when my snazzy new ‘sunrise’ lamp didn’t immediately turn me into a morning person overnight and that the ‘wake-up’ balms I was smothering my pulse points in as soon as I woke up didn’t have me cartwheeling out of bed.
The ice cold showers I’d been recommended weren’t invigorating as my friend had suggested (I can only assume that they’re a sociopath) and instead were enough to make me want to climb straight back into my warm bed.
What a massive shock – that these quick fixes that I expected to solve all my issues immediately didn’t actually have the desired effect I wanted them to…
Rather than put in hard work, I’d hoped that instant gratification would somehow fall into my lap and I’d be an all singing all dancing morning person throwing back the curtains every morning.
The fact of the matter was, if I could train myself into unhealthy sleep habits, I could train myself back out of them – and it was going to take effort.
I committed to the most obvious and annoying answer of all – routine. I accepted that it would just take time and that while I might never be as morning-centric as Mark Wahlberg and his 2.30am wake up times, I could certainly make things feel easier by getting into a healthier pattern.
Eve Lewis Prieto, director of meditation at Headspace, acknowledges that transforming from a night owl to an early bird is never going to be easy: ‘Waking up early is at first going to feel like a chore. So your internal dialogue needs to change from I am not a morning person to I am becoming a morning person. This small thing will make a world of difference when that alarm clock goes off. You are preparing the mind for what will be a shock to the system.’
For the record, I’m someone who’s still taking over 10 years to quit social smoking and my own willpower for committing to a healthier sleep pattern has never ceased to surprise me. I usually have the willpower of a teaspoon. No seriously, have you got a cig I can nab?
I allowed myself to make errors but broke up with my worst habits. No more doomscrolling the second I woke up, instead I’d drag myself out of bed and turn the kettle on – climbing into the shower for a quick rinse while I waited for it to boil.
I still used the sunrise clock and it did make it easier to wake up from a deep sleep instead of being jolted from it by my screaming iPhone alarm (something I’ll never go back to, even now).
I started loving that I had time to myself in the morning before work and didn’t have to race out the door every single day due to my penchant for snoozing.
I stopped bad pre-bedtime habits too – again, no more scrolling on Instagram until I could barely keep my eyes open. I’d get into bed at 11pm and just lie there and whether I liked it or not, my alarm would be going off at 7.30am the next day.
Eve tells me that this is no shock: ‘How the next day begins depends on how you prepare your body and mind the night before, and this is why reviewing and rebuilding your nightly routine is important.
‘Consistency matters because going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time is key to shifting your sleep pattern.’
Slowly but surely I started falling asleep earlier and earlier until I was actually ready for bed at a ‘normal’ time for my work schedule.
The eight full hours of sleep made the get up time more bearable and after months and months, I started waking up not feeling like it was the worst thing to ever happen that I was up before midday.
I hate that it worked and I hate that it took hard work as it’s a process I can now apply to everything I want to quit or improve – who knows, maybe I’ll apply it to social smoking next.
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