Late to Bed, Early to Rise? Think Again!

If you're among the millions who get up before dawn or worse, then chances are you don't get to bed early enough to make up the difference in sleep time.
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Early risers might get the worm, but they would do well to get to bed early, too, or they might start missing that worm.

If you're among the millions who get up before dawn or worse, and arrive at work before dawn because your shift starts between 3:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., then chances are you don't get to bed early enough to make up the difference in sleep time. More than one in ten people occasionally wake up before sunrise to go to work. About two percent of people do it all the time. What time are these people going to bed? According to a new survey published in the journal Chronobiology International, early risers rarely go to sleep early enough. Those who report to work extremely early are sleeping less than five hours per night.

And for the vast majority of people, that's clearly not enough sleep time. No wonder some workers surveyed admitted to being dissatisfied with work, fatigue and feelings of not being well rested.

All this sleeplessness has larger repercussions: loss of productivity, moodiness, unhappiness, sloppy work and yes--even difficulty sleeping.

Though these early birds would do well to crawl into bed before 9 p.m., that seems unrealistic for many, given family obligations and distractions like television, computers, friends and perhaps a spouse that wants some attention as well.

So what's an early riser to do? I've written numerous times about tips for dealing with the sleep stresses of shift work, and many of these can be used to keep an early riser happy and well-rested:

  • Avoid caffeine within eight hours, if possible, of your bedtime. That can be as early as noon for the early riser.
  • Watch out for caffeine lurking in other products, like headache medicine, chocolate and energy drinks.
  • Think about going a little lighter on the caffeine if you're older than 40. It appears that the older you are, the more caffeine will interrupt your sleep.
  • Get treatment for any sleep disorders. If you're a snorer (ask your partner!) then you may have sleep apnea. Untreated sufferers of sleep apnea never feel fully rested, which can result in chronic sleep deprivation that can be life-threatening. They will also threaten your livelihood during the day.
  • Explore ways of reducing the effects of their challenging schedules. For example, taking restorative naps--meaning a nap either 20-35 minutes in length or 90 minutes long--about eight hours after you wake can be very effective. Anything in the 35-90 minute range could actually make you sleepier!
  • Plan your day around your sleep. Try to eat dinner early, and avoid heavy meals that can keep you up with indigestion. Get some exercise in and experiment with the time of day that helps you sleep better at night.

And lastly, be more mindful about building boundaries into your life. Don't start watching a movie or reading a thriller at 9:00 at night if you know it will keep you up late. Avoid pushing the limits of your bedtime when there's no limit to be pushed in the morning. Think about it: you have more control about what time you can go to bed than what time you have to get up.

I know, getting all that we need to get done within a 24-hour day is tough. But so is trying to get anything done while sorely sleep deprived. And a sleep debt can actually add up faster than other kinds of debt--and its repercussions will be far reaching.

Lesson: make your work schedule work for you. Translation: Make your sleep schedule work for you!

Sweet Dreams,
Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

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