The Hidden Cost of Being a Night Owl (And How to Sleep Better)

The Hidden Cost of Being a Night Owl (And How to Sleep Better)

sleep deprivation

Most people know what it’s like to be up 4 hours and 2 cups of coffee after 12 AM—burning the midnight oil because “sleep is for the weak”.

Some of us are night owls who believe we’re nocturnal by nature, that we reach our peak levels of productivity at those hours when no one else is awake.

Others just have trouble sleeping at night, so they choose to do something more valuable with their time than stare up at a ceiling—whether it’s working on a side hustle or catching up on TV shows.  

And then there are those of us who just procrastinated for too long and have to suffer the consequences.

For whatever reason, sacrificing sleep is usually seen as a badge of honor to be worn with pride. And therein lies the problem.

Sleep is seen as the ironic-but-inevitable price we pay to chase our dreams—the first thing we sacrifice for our ambitions. But the cost might be steeper than it seems.

We see extreme examples of sleep deprivation in pop culture, like Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club, and think “I’m not doing that bad”.

The Hidden Cost of Being a Night Owl (And How to Sleep Better)

But in reality, we fail to recognize the consequences in our own lives when we look at them with bags under our eyes.

In fact, some of the not-so-smart lifestyle decisions we make—from eating poorly to smoking a cigarette even after quitting to serial drinking coffee—can be traced back to the poor judgement and impulsiveness that stems from a lack of sleep.

This impaired judgement that results from a lack of sleep also means we might not realize that we’re actually suffering from:

  • A more accident-prone lifestyle—being tired slows our reaction time as much as being drunk.
  • Serious health risks, from heart disease to diabetes.
  • A weakened immune system, resulting in more frequent sick days.
  • Forgetfulness and slower learning, since it’s during the hours we sleep when new information is consolidated and stored in our long-term memory.

Missing out on proper shut-eye detracts from the overall quality of your life. That’s why mastering your sleeping habits can be the key to a more productive lifestyle, especially if you’re working significant hours on top of your 9 to 5.

It all starts with debunking some of the myths we rely on to rationalize the night owl behaviour we’ve come to normalize, even celebrate.

Wake Up Call: 3 Myths About Sleep Most Of Us Believe

Wake Up Call: 3 Myths About Sleep Most Of Us Believe

When it comes to the science of sleep, there are some dangerous assumptions that—while intuitive at first glance—simply aren’t true.

“I can make up those lost hours of sleep on the weekend.”

We often refer to this as “sleep debt” and it’s one of the most troubling myths because it results in week-long stints running on limited sleep and then “binge sleeping” on the weekends to make up the difference.

Studies actually show that getting more than 10 hours of sleep is as damaging to our cognitive functioning as getting less than 5 hours of sleep. You’re better off getting your proper dose of sleep on an ongoing basis and trying to get back on track as soon as you start going off course.

“Sleep is random. I have no control over it.”

Another troubling myth, this one leads us to rely on sleeping pills or natural medication to remedy our sleeping problems. However, this can result in “rebound insomnia” when we’re not using these sleeping aids.

Sleep is an aspect of human behavior and should be treated as such. The real remedy lies in developing a routine and trying your best not to interfere with it when you can help it.

“But I’m more productive at night!”

This one’s tricky, because some studies back up the notion that we’re more creative or “insightful thinkers” when we’re tired and our attention isn’t at 100%.

However, when it comes to being productive— or “creative on demand”—we tend to be stronger analytical thinkers at optimal hours of the day when we’re well-rested. And that’s the kind of thinking you need to make decisions and execute the detail-oriented tasks that creativity often entails.

Dan Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, suggests that the two most productive hours of your day are the two just after you wake up. So if you’re a night owl, consider shifting those after-midnight hours to the morning and joining the ranks of successful early risers such as Richard Branson and Tim Cook, among others.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Really Need?

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Really Need?

The actual amount of sleep you need will vary on a person-to-person basis, and generally decreases later in one’s life.

It’s recommended that most adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.  But it’s also about the quality of the sleep and when you wake up—you can get a good 8 hours and still feel groggy in the morning (more on that later).

If falling asleep is giving you trouble, the following changes in your lifestyle might improve things:

Don’t work where you sleep.

Beds are comfy. But working on your bed, watching Netflix or doing both, creates the wrong association with the place where you sleep.

Minimize the amount of time you spend awake in bed and condition your brain to equate your bed with sleep and it’ll start making the connection that “bed=sleep” much faster.

Avoid “blue light” before bedtime.

This is a big one for people who like to get some work done or see what’s up on Facebook while they fall asleep. Whether it’s a laptop or smartphone, these screens blast us with “blue light”.

Blue light interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone that tells our bodies it’s time to sleep.

While you could give up staring at screens entirely during these hours, you can also look at getting prescription or non-prescription glasses that filter blue light and let you combat the effects of staring at these screens.

Alternatively, F.lux is a free app you can install to reduce eye strain and the effects of blue light on your sleep cycle. It even warns you when your nighttime screen-time might start eating into your sleeping hours.

It's okay to take naps.

Naps aren’t just for toddlers and the elderly. If you’ve missed out on a good night’s rest, a power nap can give you just the jolt you need.

For optimal results, find time for a 10 to 30 minute nap between 1 and 4 PM. Any longer or later and you risk of waking up groggier than before and further disrupting your natural sleeping pattern.

In Japan, daytime naps have become part of the work culture. With an average of less than 7 hours of sleep a night, Japanese workers report that these naps increase their performance and productivity overall.

Build your routine around sleep (Instead of the other way around).

It can be difficult to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, but you can ensure you get the sleep you need by developing your routine around it.

If you like working into the night, use the above recommendations to make it easier to fall asleep when you’re done. Or, better yet, try making time for work in the morning instead. Studies show that the most productive hours of the day are just after we wake up.

And speaking of waking up, there’s one bad habit many of us are guilty of that might have consequences that ripple throughout the rest of the day.  

Waking Up: What You Lose When You Hit Snooze

Waking Up: What You Lose When You Hit Snooze

Perhaps the most widespread and under-addressed bad habit when it comes to sleeping well is hitting the snooze button to put off the first item on every day’s to do list: Waking up.

We often talk about the right number of hours to sleep as if it were a quota to hit. So hitting snooze for 15 minutes puts 15 more minutes of sleep in the bank, right? If only that were true...

It’s really about the quality of the sleep we get and minimizing disruptions in our sleep cycle. That’s right—falling back to sleep after hitting snooze can reset your sleep cycle and make you miss out on the rejuvenating effects of a good night’s rest.

“You snooze, you lose” is a lot more literal than we thought, so here are some strategies to help you get up in the morning.

Set your alarm for the actual time you wake up.

Maybe it’s best to stop kidding ourselves and set our alarms according to when we actually get up instead of gradually waking up over the course of an hour.

The fact that it’s later in the morning might give you the extra motivation you need to wake up right away rather than later.

Have a shot of “blue light” in the morning.

While the blue light emanating from our screens might keep us up at night, it can also be harnessed to boost our alertness in the mornings.

Spend your first couple of minutes awake with the one thing you might be addicted to more than sleep: Your phone or laptop.

Check your emails, social media, do some work, whatever—just give your mind the jolt it needs to be alert and ready to start your day. Or at least to get yourself out of bed and to a cup of coffee.

Don’t rely on an alarm clock.

One of the most counterintuitive strategies for improving your mornings is to ditch your alarm altogether and start relying on your internal clock, waking up when you’re good and ready.

If you’re really worried about sleeping in, set a back-up alarm clock for the first few mornings.

But if you’ve got a flexible morning schedule, this could help you wake up at the right time in your sleep cycle—perhaps even become a routine early-riser—and eliminate the temptation of hitting snooze by abandoning the alarm clock altogether.  

Are you someone who needs to use an alarm clock?

Wake is a beautifully designed alarm clock that gives you a unique alarm experience with options like slap to snooze, flip your phone to turn off alarm, shake for heavy sleepers.

Try Wake Free

As mentioned before, sleep is an aspect of human behavior and we shouldn’t expect our lives to change overnight. But after a few, you’ll build a routine and notice the results.

Sleep and Success Share the Same Bed

The science of sleep is still shrouded in mysteries, but one thing is clear: Getting a good night’s rest has positive effects that carry over to the next day, and continually neglecting sleep will impede your progress whether you realize it or not.

So instead of exchanging sleeping hours for working ones to get more out of each day, the best productivity hack might just be to give yourself the good night’s rest you need to see more success the next day.

About the Author

Braveen Kumar is a Content Creator at Shopify where he develops resources to help aspiring entrepreneurs succeed.

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