I Went To Bed 6 Hours Earlier For 2 Months & Here's How It Benefitted My Health
I'm not exactly one to keep a consistent, healthy sleep schedule. As a digital nomad, I'm constantly working odd hours to accommodate clients in different time zones. I also experience insomnia, so going to bed early often feels like setting myself up for failure.
Last fall, I got into the habit of staying up until 4 a.m., and it had its advantages: I'd fall asleep the moment my head hit the pillow, and I liked having those quiet hours to work with nobody bothering me. But my doctor told me it wasn't ideal, and I knew that myself: Throwing off your circadian rhythm also throws off your hormones (one possible reason I was not getting my period every month), and my late-night work sessions were not my most productive. Plus, since I had to start work or make appointments by 10 a.m. most days, I only got six hours of sleep per night at most. My doctor recommended I start going to bed at 10, which felt impossible.
However, this January, I had a shot at a fresh start. I was traveling from Germany to live in LA for two months, which meant that a) I'd be tired by 10 a.m., since it would feel like staying up until 7 a.m. with the time difference, b) I needed to get up at 7 a.m. to accommodate clients in New York, and c) I no longer needed to work until 10 p.m. or later to accommodate said clients. So, I promised myself I'd do everything I could to get into bed by 10.
I didn't stick to my schedule perfectly; some nights I went to bed at 10:15 or 10:30 or 10:45. But overall, I did a pretty good job, and my life did change for the better in a few different ways.
1. I Naturally Woke Up Early
One nice thing about going to bed early was that it helped me wake up early as well, usually without an alarm. This was a major plus for me, since there are few worse feelings than being yanked out of bed by an alarm before you're ready.
Instead, I uncannily kept waking up just as the sun rose, between six and seven. The eight- to nine-hour sleep window was helpful since I wake up a lot during the night. I also liked this because it gave me the chance to get things done in the morning, rather than scrambling to catch up with everything already happening around me.
2. I Got More Sunlight
One big advantage to being on an earlier sleep schedule is that you're actually awake for the whole time the sun is up. When I'd sleep until 10 or 11, I'd feel like I was missing out on the daylight, which probably also hurt my mood. I loved to catch the sunrise and be able to enjoy lots of time outside (or inside, looking out the window).
3. My Eating Schedule Normalized
When I stayed up late, I would usually skip breakfast and have a big dinner and late-night snack. I knew eating breakfast was important, but I wasn't that hungry for it, and I also knew late-night snacking wasn't the best, but I was hungry then. Once I started going to bed earlier, though, I would wake up starving and not want to eat after dinner, which probably helped me stay on track with my sleep schedule, since eating late at night can keep you up.
4. I Became More Productive
Even though I loved the privacy and quiet of my late-night work sessions, the truth was I wasn't getting that much done, since I was pushing through exhaustion to do it. Earlier in the day, I can move through things much more quickly. So, after shifting my work schedule to earlier hours, I was amazed by how much I could get done in a day.
5. My Periods Got More Regular
Over the two months I spent going to bed at 10, I had two periods that were just five weeks apart, which is very rare for me — I usually wait multiple months between periods. It's not clear whether that was due to my new sleep schedule, but it's possible: Melatonin is involved in regulating the menstrual cycle, and the more we sleep the way our ancestors evolved to (from around 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.), the more normal our melatonin regulation will be.
6. My Days Became More Action-Packed
Another advantage to being up for the entirety of the daylight is that you're awake when things are going on. I found that I could squeeze in more appointments, yoga classes, runs, and activities with friends when I had an early start, which meant my days had more variety to them.
7. The Habit Stuck... Almost
Over the course of my two months, the time I went to sleep gradually crawled up to 11. There were just too many things I had to do at night! But that's OK. The point wasn't necessarily to make 10 p.m. a permanent thing; it was to get on a more reasonable schedule. And 11 is still reasonable — I just had to overcorrect a bit to get there. In fact, it's working a bit better for me than 10. I'm more tired when I go to sleep, so I'm less inclined to keep waking up throughout the night.
I'm trying not to let it slide back much further, though. I appreciate that now, I can spend a decent amount of time sleeping before I have to get up, I can get up when I naturally do rather than with an alarm, and my mind and body are put to work during the times they work best. If you have a hunch that your night-owl schedule isn't the best for your health or productivity, I'd recommend trying out an earlier bedtime — particularly if you can take advantage of a time zone change.