Most teenagers are having really unusual sleep schedules right now, myself included. I have hardly planned any activities in the morning, so I don’t always see the point of getting up early. I’ve never been a night owl, but I slept until 3:00 a.m. and woke up after 11:00 a.m. I’m always told I need to sleep more, but it’s hard to change my habits when my body is so used to something different. On June 14, I decided it was time to give it a try. I wanted to see how my life would change if I developed consistent, healthy sleep habits.
- Go to bed before midnight
- Wake up at 8:00 a.m.
- Turn off electronic devices and screens an hour before going to sleep
- Eliminate all light sources before going to sleep
- Keeping a consistent evening routine:
- I brush my teeth
- To change
- Feed my fish
- newspaper in bed
- Read in bed until sleep
I have to be honest, the first week was harder than expected. I discovered that I started to feel tired around 9:00 p.m., which is normal for me. I stayed awake for a few more hours talking to friends or watching a movie, but at 11:00 p.m. I couldn’t sleep. It was very irritating. I thought my evening routine would lead me to the pleasant drowsiness that precedes a peaceful slumber, but I was wrong. Even though I felt completely relaxed, I just couldn’t fall asleep for at least an hour. I felt stuck in one of those “when you can’t fall asleep” memes (like this one).
One aspect that was pretty easy was waking up. No matter what time I fell asleep, I had no problem with my 8:00 a.m. wake-up call. I found that I didn’t necessarily feel well rested, but I was still able to wake up at any hour. My problem with those early mornings was finding the motivation to get out of bed, as I usually had no plans. I had to spend the extra hours with hobbies, which were usually reading, music, working on video projects and, on one unfortunate day off, sharpening all the pencils in the house.
Real time: I had a late night for a birthday party. I went to bed at 4 a.m. and got up at 11 a.m. After six days of going to bed early, I was exhausted by midnight. It was my first indicator that my body might have gotten used to the new schedule. I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. That night, I knew that if I was in bed, I would have fallen asleep. The next morning I was exhausted. Not only did I wake up naturally at 9:00 a.m., but I couldn’t even get back to sleep, no matter how tired I was. It seemed like my body wanted to start early, and I had no say in it. I stayed in bed for two more hours, but only managed to find that unsatisfying half-sleep that left me even less rested. I was worried about upsetting the fragile internal clock I had begun to adjust, but I was curious to see how this evening would affect the week ahead.
Week 2 started out the same as the previous week, but I knew I had to make some changes. I wasn’t waking up as rested as I would have liked, so I decided to go to bed earlier. I started falling asleep around 11:00 p.m., and what a difference it made! When I felt tired, instead of trying to stay awake, I…went to bed. It’s simple. Even more satisfying was the fact that I was falling asleep faster than ever.
Towards the end of the weekend, I found myself naturally waking up between 7:55 and 8:00. It was magical. Normally, if I wake up before my alarm clock, it is rather in the middle of the night because of a disturbance. This time around, I was always pleasantly surprised when I glanced at my clock. It was nice to savor those few minutes and let my eyes adjust to the sunlight streaming through my window.
I also found, for the most part, that I was in a more positive mood in the evening. This could be attributed to several factors, but I like to think sleeping more helped. I tend to be grumpy and waspish when I’m tired, so it was refreshing to feel less annoyed with every slight inconvenience. Magic, I tell you.
One of the difficult things about week 2 was that I started to feel disconnected from my friends. Often my deepest conversations happen via text at 2 a.m. (we all do that, don’t we?), but, as noted above, I had to turn off the screens an hour before going. sleep. The first week, I was content with texts and phone calls during the day. I was too curious about this experience to mourn these nocturnal conversations. By the second week, however, I was feeling the loss. Most of my friends tend to stay up late, so if I wanted to catch them all at once, I would have had to wait. But I couldn’t.
I also started to miss talking to my family members who live in different time zones. I love calling my sister, but it was harder to catch her. We usually talk late at night, so with my new bedtime, we had to rethink our situation. We ended up communicating mainly by text. It was fine, but didn’t provide the full experience I’m used to having with it.
Week 3 was a little…special. We were hit by a heat wave. Without air conditioning, sleeping was difficult. On particularly sultry evenings, I moved to a couch in the basement, which was noticeably cooler than my bedroom. It was a quick fix, but it presented new challenges. My evening routine has been turned upside down. Due to a lack of sufficient lighting, I was unable to keep a journal and read in the basement. But at that time, I used to go to bed early. I felt comfortable getting ready in my room and then walking down the stairs to tuck myself in.
Another issue that I hadn’t considered was my three cats. I never let them into my room on typical evenings. Call me heartless, but that’s it. Regardless of my personal preferences, I had to let the cats climb on me because their food bowls and litter boxes are in the basement. But that was not all. It got worse.
We don’t know why (or who, it’s a mystery), but some of our cats have developed the annoying nighttime habit of pooping on the floor next to the sofa. No one wants to wake up to cat poo. Nobody. Usually, if we sleep nearby, they wait until morning. It seems, however, that they got so used to my presence that they felt perfectly comfortable pooping right next to me. It was lovely.
Despite the cats, I was still able to maintain my intentions. I was tired most mornings, but I held on. I knew I only had a week to go and the weather wouldn’t put me off. Also, I was starting to feel more energetic in the afternoons, which I was able to appreciate by going on bike rides in the sun.
Last week. The last straight line. By this point, I was used to my schedule and it felt more normal. I knew I could finish the month, but… my dedication started to wane. Here is what happened.
I still felt the same tiredness at night, but I really missed those nighttime conversations. In the last days of the week, I gave up on turning off my phone. I texted friends, called my family, watched funny cat videos, everything. All I can say in my defense is that cat videos are much more entertaining at night. Despite this violation of my commitment to myself, I always made sure to turn everything off at bedtime. I was disappointed in myself, especially when I realized that it took me longer to fall asleep afterwards. Go figure. Maybe all the studies on cell phone use in bed are actually on to something.
I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson and will be more vigilant about screentime. I don’t know if I can ever commit to going an hour without a screen before I sleep. I think it would be more reasonable for me to avoid using my phone in bed in the future. So I can still talk to others at night while ensuring that my bed remains a space conducive to sleep.
Overall I would say it was a positive experience. I enjoyed the feeling of waking up well rested, minutes before I woke up and ready to start the day. It gave me meaning and direction, something I was missing in this strange world of Covid. As the month progressed, I also had more energy in the afternoons, when I normally felt tired. As I mentioned above, it was very rewarding to be able to exercise later in the day without feeling exhausted.
Another exciting result of this experiment was that towards the end, I started feeling constantly hungry in the morning. Due to my eating disorder, I was unable to experience regular hunger cues. I hoped that engaging in a reliable daily rhythm would help my body restore this function. I made sure to have breakfast before 9:00 a.m. (I’ve slipped a few times, but I can’t be perfect), and found that by week 4, more often than not, I actually had a little hungry! An exhilarating development, let me tell you.
Throughout this process, as I explained earlier, I felt less connected to my friends and family. I wasn’t able to talk to them late at night like I used to, so I found the first two weeks a bit isolating. As I progressed, it became more common for me to have these conversations earlier in the evening. I just wasn’t always able to reach people who were busy all day. That’s the magic of texting, though. They responded when they could.
Another negative result was that at the end of the month, I started attaching moral value to my routine. When I decided to use my phone before bed, I felt like a failure for my lack of discipline. I know flexibility is key for this type of long-term commitment, but I got stuck in the “I must” mindset. I found it difficult to ignore certain intentions on special occasions. Maybe this experience was actually a good exercise in gradually letting go of the high standards I set for myself. Something to think about.
Will I continue?
Yes and no.
Yes, I will continue to honor my fatigue when it strikes. Yes, I will do my best to improve the quality of my sleep. Yes, I will limit my screen time before bed. Yes, I will try to talk to my relatives at reasonable hours. Yes, I will do what I can, as often as possible. But that’s all. I don’t want to stick to a strict routine anymore. I will maintain the same approximate schedule, but allow myself to listen to my body. If I need a few extra hours of sleep on a rest day, so be it. If I’m exhausted by 9:00 p.m., maybe I should go early.
I believe that anyone can find comfortable and consistent sleep patterns, and reap the same benefits as I did. I would recommend experimenting like I did, but maybe with more realistic intentions. Personally, I would never have tried it without setting very specific guidelines. It was a great way to start, but I don’t think it’s the most sustainable way to go in the future. Whichever way you choose to try it, do your best, honor yourself along the way, and watch your life change.