This could be called the insomniac’s guide to being a night owl, but there’s more to staying up all night than biological conditions. While I am an insomniac, I still struggle — especially as I grow older — with the need to be awake at times when it’s necessary. If you could be a fly on my wall, you’d find less movement at night, but you’d still find it pretty busy, probably more than most homes. Here are some situations I’ve found myself in throughout my adult life, and here are the lessons I’ve learned from them. These suggestions aren’t comprehensive, but they do extend far beyond the particular job I’ve associated them with.
My first official night job was just after my freshman year of college. I was back home for those summer months, and I took a position as a line cook at a 24-hour restaurant. While the job lended to me being on my feet and moving a lot, it still threw off my body clock enough that I had to learn how to get sleep when I could. That was the same summer I was part-time day care director at a small church nearby, so I regularly pulled an 18-hour shift in a 24-hour period, usually with those six hours broken into two segments. I had to learn that exhaustion doesn’t always lead to the best sleep. While it didn’t take long to fall asleep, I often awoke feeling more like I had been hit by a Mack truck than as if I had rested.
It was then that I learned the power of blood pressure. If I only had two to three hours to sleep before the next shift, it had to be quality sleep. I wouldn’t allow myself to fall asleep until my blood pressure had lowered from the cook shift that had me moving around so much. If I read for 15 minutes or forced myself to be still without sleeping, I would then sleep much sounder than if I walked in and fell out, fully clothed.
A shower also helped my body relax and was truly necessary after the restaurant smells permeated my pores. When I awoke from a short sleep, I started by raising my blood pressure. I started with 10 jumping jacks or burpees or some other form of physical activity that started my heart rate, rather than trying to wake up on the go. This gave me more motivation to start the next shift. This same quick wake-up workout carried over to later jobs when I had to try to wake up during a shift. The more you move, the more easily you find it to stay awake.
It wasn’t for another four years that I lived in Southeast Asia where the brutal daytime heat drained my energy and my desire to enjoy life without such external circumstances, and I started waking in the night to enjoy a leisure walk and even exercise. If you live in an area where the night offers more comfortable temperatures, take advantage of this. Productivity matters more than scheduling for tradition’s sake, and sometimes, we have to allow ourselves to enjoy the night to find that we have more energy during the less crowded and less hot times. This happens when we transition from one time zone to another. We tend think we have to “adjust” to where we are, rather than allowing the body to dictate our routine. Often, if time allows, the body will slowly adapt without as much trauma as forced rescheduling, so try to overcome the habit of thinking a certain schedule is right or wrong.
Living meditatively awakens the mind more readily. I find that my days without meditation, when I don’t allow my mind to slow down and stop racing to the next task or assignment, those are nights when I am less alert. Somehow in the daytime meditation, my body rests enough to offer energy later in the night. Stress is exhausting, so focusing on positivity and productivity allows the body to retain natural energy. In that same light, comfort can be relaxing. Taking a short break to do something you enjoy, whether it be a phone call, a craft, or to drink something tasty, this can give you a mental reset and allow you to face your challenge with a different perspective, a fresh outlook.
Cat naps don’t work for everyone. I’ve heard some people are more lethargic after a short rest, because the adrenaline dies down without the body gaining full reset. I find a short nap to be helpful though, and while it may take great force to pull myself out of bed when the alarm goes off, I feel the effect much later.
Music brings me much joy, and I’m a karaoke-in-the-shower type person. Engaging the ears and the voice simultaneously can be a great awakening habit. So crank up the car radio, belt out your favorite tune, turn on a wordless and upbeat YouTube channel, get up and dance, and let music flow through your spirit. This is a great way to take a short break. Go for a walk; change your scenery for just a few moments. This gives the mind a chance to reset and the body to rejuvenate. I’m known for getting out of the car at a stop sign to jump up and down for a solid minute before proceeding with a long drive. Sometimes, the body just needs a different posture.
Colors affect your mood and your alertness, so if possible, wear bright clothes and try to brighten up your workspace or environment.
Essential oils may be helpful. Strong scents such as jasmine, citrus, or peppermint are energizing!
Now that I am a full-time student as mother and provider, I find that nutrition plays a huge role in the necessary night owl schedule. We naturally want to sleep when we’re full or have ingested a lot of heavy foods, and many find it more difficult to sleep when hungry. I’ve had to learn that binge eating to stay awake actually worsens the problem, so enjoying moderate portions of energy sustaining foods (such as salmon, apples, bananas, seeds, and beans) and then limiting my intake actually helps me stay awake better. I have a policy that no food is allowed between midnight and 5 a.m. I may have juice or a superfood shake, but I don’t eat anything that requires chewing. The standard may shift from person to person, so knowing your body and learning your own disciplinary methods is important. Notice I did not mention caffeine- or endorphine-raising foods, like chocolate. It’s certainly not wrong, but the later side effects can create problems. Also, the likelihood of growing dependent on such a substance has the same result as does an illegal drug; it slows the body’s natural ability to create energy and self-sustain. Moderation is key for some; whereas for me, avoidance of caffeine has forced me to find these other methods.
Whether you’re working, studying, or nursing a little one, we all find ourselves pulling all-nighters and staying up late. If we can’t avoid it, we must learn to thrive in it. Try some of these suggestions the next time you find yourself a night owl.
By Yaki Cahoon