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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Morales

How NOT to Ruin Your Sleep While Being Productive at Night

person in bed reading a red book, wearing red pajamas

You’ve probably heard the many benefits of being an early bird. For example, you can be more productive first thing in the morning and get to-dos out of the way. By going to bed early, you’re also more likely to get into deep sleep. Plus, having more daylight time can help regulate your sleep cycle, giving you more overall energy during the day.

But what if, despite your best efforts, you’re not cut out for the bright and early lifestyle?

Then this article is for you!

Whether you do shift work, have a job that requires long or unconventional hours, or are biologically wired to be a “night owl”, here are practical strategies for being productive at night while protecting your circadian rhythm.

How to be productive at night

Want to be productive before bed without ruining your sleep cycle? Consider making a few changes to your environment that will allow you to get stuff done without compromising quality sleep.

1. Amber Glasses: The #1 recommendation I would give to night owls would be to get a pair of amber blue-blocking glasses. Why? Blue light is essential to our circadian rhythm; we should be getting plenty of natural blue-light from the sun during the day, but little to none at night.

Our exposure to artificial light should ideally mimic the sun’s schedule. The problem is that today we have so many sources of blue light—from digital screens to fluorescent light bulbs—that avoiding blue light after 8 p.m. is difficult.

While using amber glasses still isn’t the same as avoiding blue-light altogether, they are hugely helpful in protecting circadian rhythm and will allow you to do the things you need to at night.

2. Evening lighting: Along the same lines as the previous point, you can add in other protective measures around your home in the evening that will also help your circadian rhythm. Some options to consider are:

  • switching one or two of your lightbulbs to non-blue-light bulbs

  • purchasing a Himalayan salt lamp (which also emits no blue-light, and bonus, you’ll feel like you’re chillin’ in a spa)

  • light candles in the room you’re working in, if you want to go old-school

  • using the night mode or software like f.lux on your smartphones, tablets, and laptops, which will filter out blue light and make your screen have an amber shade.

*Note: none of the lighting adjustments in the world will change the stimulation our brains get from television or social media content, so aim to limit your exposure to these, if possible!

3. Hydration: If you are a night owl that stays up late to work, it may be tempting to rely on caffeine. However, what most people don’t realize is that hydration can prevent or combat fatigue, and caffeine can dehydrate you.

If it’s necessary for you to stay up late, try drinking more water. It may energize you more than you think!

Bonus: add a sprinkle of a good-quality sea salt for minerals (see more below!).

4. Snack—or fast—consciously: Most people don’t realize that your eating schedule can also affect your circadian rhythm.

When you eat very late at night or close to bedtime, it can make falling asleep more difficult, as your body is still pretty busy with its most active stage of digestion. Also, if you eat foods that are primarily carbohydrates or sugar, they may energize you to the point where getting to sleep will feel difficult.

A good option for night owls? Consider intermittent fasting. This simply means to consciously choose a cutoff time in the evening when you stop eating. Once that time has arrived, switch to some herbal tea, water with lemon, or sparkling water. If you are feeling fatigued, consider drinking some filtered water with a pinch of sea salt, as many people lack essential minerals, including a good quality sodium.

Still hungry late at night? Aim for a snack that is lower in carbohydrates and that contains some lean protein and healthy fat; this will help you avoid sugar crashes or jolting awake during the night.

5. Infuse Essential Oils: You may be up late burning the midnight oil, but you can still stay zen by infusing some essential oil! Aromatherapy is the use of scents, including essential oils, to promote wellbeing.

Essential oils such as lavender, Roman chamomile, and cedarwood can promote relaxation and calm. Consider using candles, bath salts, or applying a diluted oil directly to pulse points on your skin.

How to wind down

Try one or more of these methods to get your body and mind ready to sleep after working late.

6. Stretch and/or practice Yoga Nidra: Slow, gentle movement can be relaxing for the body, and help you wind down from work or play mode to sleep mode.

7. Journal, brain dump, or meditate: When we have been super alert and busy for the whole, long day, it can be difficult to get our minds into sleep mode. Depending on how you’re feeling, here are a couple good options that can help you slow down a restless mind:

  • Pre-bed journaling can be helpful, especially if you complete a “brain dump”, in which you write down all the things that are keeping your mind busy. This will help you remember to address those things in the morning if needed, and help you release them so you can fall asleep.

  • Another option is meditation. Meditating gives you a chance to do some breathwork (good for your nervous system and stress hormones), and improve your mindfulness. It will calm your mind, and help give you perspective into what is and isn’t worth stressing about, and what you can and cannot control. Remind yourself that bedtime is not the time to let nervous energy take over: it’s better to rest up and start fresh tomorrow!

Prepare for optimal sleep

Healthy sleep hygiene is a key ingredient for getting a good night’s rest.

8. Keep your room cool, dark and quiet: To reduce disturbances, aim to make your room as quiet as possible by turning off any electronics and positioning your bed away from thin walls and windows. Cooler temperatures stimulate sleep as your body temperature naturally lowers. Darkness signals your brain that it’s time to get those zzz’s.

Struggling to create darkness in your sleep environment? Invest in blackout curtains, cover up any lights on devices like fans with black electrical tape, or try using an eye mask.

9. Sunlight alarm clock: Ever wake up to your morning alarm and feel incredibly fatigued and spacey, even if you slept enough? This is probably because you were woken during a REM cycle, which occurs most during the latter part of sleep.

If you can’t rely on a natural sunrise to wake you, try a sunlight alarm clock. These clocks will slowly brighten in the morning, leading up to the time that you need to get up. The light will naturally signal your body that it’s time to wake up soon, and to shift from REM to light sleep. That way, once the light is at its brightest, you will wake up naturally and without the “hangover” feeling commonly experienced when you’re yanked out of REM.

Waking up right from a late night

Whether you’re waking up early or sleeping in, the routine you practice in the morning can make all the difference in your energy for the rest of the day.

10. Sun and movement: The best way to energize yourself in the morning, especially if you were up the night before, is to get some movement and some sun! Get both sunshine and exercise in one fell swoop by taking a brief walk as soon as possible when you wake up. Even 15 or 20 minutes moving outside will signal your brain and body that it is daytime. Movement raises cortisol in the body (which is ideally high in the morning and low at night!), and exposure to the sun will essentially “re-set” your circadian rhythm for the new day.

Many people, whether by choice or necessity, are night owls. There are things that you can do to stay productive at night and still get a good night’s sleep. Which of these suggestions have you tried already, or are you willing to try in the future?


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