Becoming a morning person, take 2

I may live at the southern tip of Africa, but I’ve been on Hawaii time for a long time. For years my circadian rhythms have seen me going to sleep in the very early hours of the morning and waking up similarly late. Two months ago I recorded it and the average time I went to sleep was 4.30am.

My son’s teacher once asked me about my “just showered” look when I picked him up, having assumed I go to the gym during my lunch break. No, I really had just leapt out of bed and raced into the shower before fetching him at 12.30am.

I’ve been working on changing my hours for a few reasons. They severely impact my dream practise, and I have only ever lucid dreamt when I’ve gone to bed before 11pm. Since I do this once a month, usually in a bad state having crashed from too many forced early mornings, I’m not giving myself much chance to explore.

I love early morning energy (the few times I’ve experienced it!) – it’s peaceful, and energised. I am much more easily able to do tai chi and meditate in the early hours than in the late, regardless of energy levels. Late at night I quite often find myself too flat to do any real work, or anything productive or even fun, but unwilling or unable to sleep, I just mindlessly browse online.

Finally, it’s not very sociable. I am working long hours at the moment, and there are not that many people to play with at 1am when I decide I’ve had enough, having been working and unavailable since midday. If I do something social in the evening, my working day is cut short and I can feel resentful, or simply that I still have more to do, and then try make it up afterwards, working till 6am.

So, how have I been going about rediscovering the mornings? A few years ago I wrote about a technique that worked relatively well. In short, go to sleep when you’re tired, and set your alarm to wake up at the same time every day. And when it goes off, get up straight away!

It worked to a degree, but I found it wasn’t sustainable. The main reason seems to be that my circadian rhythms have become completely reset. Going to sleep early and waking up early, even after sufficient sleep, leaves me feeling severely jet-lagged. They’ve got this way for a number of reasons, but now mainly by looking at a computer screen late at night. Computer screens emit blue light, which keeps us alert. Blue light suppresses melatonin production, the hormone released in darkness, and which is a cause of drowsiness. Effectively, our body think it’s daytime and our circadian rhythms adjust.

There are two key elements to getting our circadian rhythms in tune with the day. Avoiding blue light at night, and getting sufficient blue light in the morning.

I was doing neither, staring at the screen at 4am and sleeping in a dark shuttered room at 11am.

To help with the former, I recently started using an application called f.lux. It runs on Linux, Windows and Mac and suppresses blue light at night. I wasn’t sure it was working the first night, and paused it, only to be blinded by a shockingly harsh blast of bright light when my monitor restored its “normal” settings. It seems to be working well, and I feel myself getting surprisingly drowsy while working late.

I wasn’t aware of the importance of blue light in the morning until yesterday, so last night I experimented by going to sleep with my shutters wide open – and woke up (without an alarm) at 5.45am this morning. That may have had more to do with something that needed doing by 6.30am, but I’m going to give the spring light some credit. With my shutters open curious passer-bys may be able to see what I get up to in bed, but if I can rejoin the daytime it’ll be worth it!

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