I’ve been a night owl since I was young, with a normal sleep cycle from 3am-11am, but in the past couple of years that time frame has been getting pushed back. I started going to bed at 4am every night, then 5am, then 6am, and I was even beginning to push 7am. From sleeping so late I would wake up after 2pm and find it hard to get into a productive mood. Something had to be done.
The main problem I experienced is being completely awake at a time I wanted to go to sleep, even if I was tired earlier in the day. For example, if I were to get five hours of sleep tonight, I’d be tired all day tomorrow, but when time comes to sleep at a reasonable hour, I’d inexplicably not be tired. Forcing myself to sleep would only cause me to wake up a couple hours after that, feeling completely refreshed as if I took a long power nap. I’d have to read a book, go back to sleep, and still end up waking after 2pm. Any attempt I made to reset my clock failed to work for more than a week. The time I’d get naturally tired for sleep was being pushed into the early morning when the sun started to rise.
I did some research and stumbled on delayed sleep-phase disorder, where you have trouble sleeping at the same time every day because your body seems to think there are more than 24 hours in a day. I read that one way your body knows to reset its 24-hour sleep clock is for your retina to sense sunlight after waking. I suspected that that had to be it since I receive almost no sunshine for half the year while living in Europe. My body has no idea when the day starts and ends, so it settles on a day clock that is something like 24 hours and 5 minutes, a small perturbation that quickly adds up and explains why my sleep time keeps getting pushed back. One solution was light therapy, where you sit in front of a bright light.
Here is the light therapy lamp I bought:
After reading the manual it came with and some tips online, I developed a simple routine of sitting one foot away from the light for one hour soon after waking up by putting the box next to my laptop and letting it shine directly on my face as I work (the light lacks UV). Sometimes I look at it directly for a few seconds at a time. It’s important for the light to be as close to you as possible, since lighting power decreases exponentially with distance.
It took three days for me to notice a difference. Around 3am I’d start feeling tired whereas before I’d feel refreshed. Within a week, I was on a regular sleep schedule of 4am-12pm, which for my current lifestyle is near perfect (I may aim for 3am-11am in the future). My sleep was slightly improved and waking up was less difficult. My body was getting tricked that the light shining at it was sun, and so decided to be tired about 14 hours after being exposed to it. A negative consequence of this is that I’m more tired at night and less in the mood to party or stay out late. It seems that my sleep disorder enabled me to pursue night game for so many years.
The main idea from light therapy is that you need to blast your retina was real or fake sunlight soon after waking so that your body knows when to start the day. If you’re living in a dark environment or have a lifestyle where you don’t get strong sunshine, light therapy should help you with your sleep. While I would love to bathe myself in real sunlight after waking up, living in Eastern Europe prevents that for most of the year, and it’s no coincidence that my sleep has declined since moving here.
Some more sleep hygiene tips:
- Don’t expose yourself to any bright light at night—it confuses your body
- Download f.lux for your computer, which removes disruptive blue light from your computer screen at night
- Sleep in complete darkness, but start to expose yourself to light 30 minutes before waking
- Use a white noise generator to mask any loud noises coming from outside your bedroom so your sleep is not interrupted
- If you must take a nap, keep it very short around 15 minutes to not push back your sleep time (I found that even 10 minute naps are quite helpful)
Recently I posted about vitamin D deficiency leading to all sorts of problems, and now with light therapy I can definitely see a link between lack of sun and poor health. It’s no surprise that people who work the graveyard shift are at increased risk for heart attack and stroke. It’s from this lack of sun that I hypothesize people who live in places like Russia and Ukraine are so grumpy and depressed. If we showered these countries with vitamin D tablets and light boxes, the Russian soul may go from fatalistic to annoyingly cheery.
Your body is resistant to bad lifestyle habits when you’re younger, but will eventually lose its ability to fight whatever deficiency that persists. My main deficiency in life is sun, a free resource of which a serious lack has decreased my quality of life. While vitamin D and light therapy and mere substitutes for the sun, it’s better than nothing at all, and so when summer comes here in Europe you can find me outside worshiping the sun’s rays.
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