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How to Reset Your Sleep Schedule, Seriously (projectb14ck.org)
96 points by b14ck on Sept 6, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments

One thing which I think would help many programmers reset their sleep schedule is to remove routine use of caffeine.

For me it was only giving up caffeine that made me realise how powerful a stimulant it actually is. If you're in a daily routine in which you're routinely and regularly drinking caffeine throughout the day then it's almost certain that it is impacting your sleep cycle. If you're drinking caffeine in the evening and still sleeping at night you're probably exhausted or at least over tired.

I'd recommend to anyone cutting it out for 2 - 3 weeks just to understand it and allow you to better work out how you want to use that effect. For me that means first thing in the morning and as needed (I have a 15 month old daughter - that can be fairly often) but never in the evening and rarely in the afternoon.

Certainly if you wanted to reboot your sleep schedule I think stopping it would be significant. If nothing else then for a heavy coffee drinker the added tiredness caused by removing the additional stimulation would help you sleep earlier.

More on the impact of caffeine on sleep and sleep in general in Counting Sheep by Paul Martin (http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Sheep-Science-Pleasures-Dream...). It's a bit long and in places but it's worth reading despite that if you're interesting in understanding sleep.

"first thing in the morning as needed I have a 15 month old daughter"


I have a 24 month old daughter and she is attacking me as I typo these wor .';;= =-p3r=0oi, m \weprkg!!!!!!!


For the chronically sleep-deprived, cutting back may be enough to show serious effects. I cut down to two caffeinated drinks a day during the summer (usually tea or coffee in the morning and a soda in the afternoon). I was dragging around for the first week or two, but doing physical work (home renovation!) helped with that. I definitely needed the respite from the high-caffeine hijinx that characterise the academic year for me.

I conducted an experiment. I slept as much as I wanted and whenever I wanted. Sometimes I slept for 10 minutes and at other time for as much as 14 hours. I just let my body sleep without limitations whenever I felt sleepy - no exceptions.

After about 3 to 4 days of doing this my sleep schedule settled on its own accord. On most days, I now sleep at around midnight and sometimes perhaps in the afternoon for a bit. Some days I don't sleep at all because I don't feel sleepy but that corrects in a few days to become normal again.

For me this is remarkable, I used to be an extreme example of a night owl.

It is certainly true that going camping will reset your sleeping schedule. Last year, my sleep schedule was to start sleeping at 8AM, and wake at 4PM; after a few days of camping, it had shifted all the way to sleeping at 8PM (sunrise).

The only problem with this is that camping isn't something that you can just go out and do, especially if you have any sort of obligation (work, school).

I recently "reset" my sleep schedule from sleeping at 4am to sleeping at 12am. It wasn't really that hard, and I didn't use anything tricky or uncomfortable, like starving myself beforehand. All you really have to do is climb into bed two hours before you went sleeping the previous night, and start reading. I find that reading puts you in a much more relaxed state, and after an hour or so, I don't drift off to sleep so much as it hits me like a train. :) You can knock back your sleep schedule almost an hour a day through this strategy.

The other advantage of this is that you get to do a lot of reading.

I've basically stopped reading bed because I found myself staying up far too late reading. If I'm going to read before going to bed I do so in my chair in the living room. I've found that training myself that bed is for sleeping only works really well. This way my body seems to know that lying down in bed means it's time to shut down, since nothing more is going to happen after that. It seems to work the other way as well, as soon as I get out of bed I find myself more awake than before.

When I was younger, reading in bed often caused me to stay up way too late but now it helps me fall asleep. I think the difference is that these days I only read non-fiction in bed. If I don't bond with characters and get fascinated with a plot, its a lot easier to fall asleep.

Wouldn't sleeping with the curtains open achieve much the same thing?

From the article there doesn't seem to be much special about camping other than it removes much of the artificial control we exert over our environment (light, noise and so on). Just willingly stopping those things would be a big step in moving back into a rhythm which was more in step with the natural day / night cycle.

I would sleep with my curtains open more often but I generally find the sodium street lights to be an annoyance when my eyes adjust to the almost darkness. At which point they get closed.

I regularly go camping and have to agree with everything the author says. The physical exertion (setting up camp, building a fire, walking around etc) lack of environmental controls and natural light certainly correct any day / night in balance immediately.

Though, since I finished University I have found that just having to get to work for 9am each morning takes care of most problems. Other than the occasional nights bad sleep, usually caused by being fascinated by some programming problem or even a real life issue!

Not really. When you're camping, the primary illumination is the sun rather than lights under your control. Especially if you're camping in a tent without a rainfly. Plus, around dawn lots of noisy animals decide to wake up as well. On my recent camping trip to Yosemite, I found that the birds were often what woke me up.

I think it would. A few years ago, my curtain rail collapsed, and it took a few days before I could have it fixed.

Automatically waking up with the sun streaming through the window was a wonderful experience and I felt well rested, but, for privacy reasons, the curtains had to go back up.

This depends on which direction your windows are facing.

I've slept in rooms with East-facing windows where I would always wake up around 6:30-7. I've also slept in rooms with West-facing windows, where I could very easily sleep till 11.

It depends on how 'natural' are the conditions outside. Light and sound pollution over the night can make it uncomfortable to sleep with curtains or windows open.

Up here in the cold, dark north a recent trend in alarm clocks is to incorporate A) a gradually intensifying "natural" bright light (think light therapy) starting about 30 mins before wakeup and B) a "natural" alarm sound such as bird calls.

Works well for me in the winter. Summer not so much.

I dunno, growing up part of the reason I stayed up so late to begin with was because I was in bed reading...

I notice that the author used to be sleeping 6-7 hours (going to bed at 3 or 4 am and waking up at 10), but after camping, is sleeping 9 hours (going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 8).

That seems like a bigger deal than shifting the schedule. I imagine it's much easier to feel rested in the morning if you're getting 2+ hours of sleep more than you used to.

I think what helped him reset his sleep schedule is :

- Exercise

- The lack of artificial light

You don't have to go camping to have that.

You're correct. But it's easier to enforce those things at a campsite than at home.

Don't forget nature sounds (animals, etc.) and weather. They both played a big part in it for me.

Try sleeping in a room above an open-air street market. The roosters will raise a ruckus starting at 4am during the summer -- an alarm clock that you can't turn off.

If you do turn it off, you might end up with a nice pot of soup though ;-)

I've camped in my back yard at times for this exact reason. Yes people find that odd, but there's no better alarm clock than the sun baking you in your tent.

When camping in good weather I always feel refreshed upon waking up.

If you are camping in your back yard, why not just skip the tent and enjoy sleeping under the stars?

I would assume occasionally the weather changes between going to sleep and waking up. Might be able to sleep through rain on the tent (it may even enhance the sleep by being white noise).

If you're ever building or reroofing a house, look into a corrugated steel roof. Sure, it has all the visual appeal of corrugated steel, but it's cost-effective and the sound of rain on a steel roof is very beautiful. My parents had their house reroofed with steel a couple years after I left for college and I've always loved the sound of rain on it.

Wouldn't it trap heat like crazy in summer?

The house isn't in a particularly hot place so I'm not sure, but I suspect there are ways of defeating that.

Walking with an umbrella in rain always makes me feel really sleepy.

I'd always put this down to spending a lot of time camping in the wilds of Scotland when I was younger - where I spent a lot of time dozing/sleeping listening to rain.

And enjoy sleeping with all the bugs? ;)

I stopped reading when he says "go camping" and "it's fun" because I frikin hate camping. Does that make me a weirdo?

"If you find yourself trapped in the middle of the woods without electricity, running water, or a car you would likely describe that situation as a “nightmare” or “a worse case scenario like after plane crash or something.” White people refer to it as “camping.” " -- Stuff White People Like


Curious what kind of camping you've done -- I used to think I would hate it, but if you do it right it can be a pretty amazing experience.

It's a bit weird that you stopped reading because of that, yes.

With respect to sunlight hours, wouldn't this technique depend a lot on timing (e.g. winter vs. summer) and latitude? I mean, it wouldn't seem to be of much use in say northern Alaska during the summer where daylight nears 24 hours or in winter where you're in the dark much of the time.

No hack will help in the long-term:


Look on the positive side: by sleeping from 4-5am to 9-10am, you have both day and night! While "normal" people have only day and evening.

That's exactly what I've thought when I read:

Thirdly, after you come back from your short camping trip, you’ll not easily fall back into your old schedule.

I've reset my schedule a couple of times and I can say that falling back to the old schedule was a piece of cake.

Same here. I've found the only way I can stick to a morning schedule for any length of time is if I push my schedule later and later until late is early; my body tries to push my schedule backwards for a couple of weeks before it starts slipping forward again.

I don't recommend my sleep hack for everyone though, it's probably only easy if you have a really easy time staying up 4 hours later than usual but find it almost impossible to get up even one hour earlier.

Please, for the sake of non-Americans (non-Californians?) use the following regular expression on your titles.

s/", Seriously"//

Indeed it took me a few seconds to understand the meaning (or rather lack thereof) of "seriously" in the title.

I actually just did this!

I just got back from a long weekend camping. We hiked 8+ miles Saturday and Sunday, and I was so tired last night I went to bed at 8PM (no joke). Thursday night, I went to bed at 1AM.

More generally, I've found that exercise helps a lot with moving my schedule earlier, just because I'm tired. If you're out camping, you tend to be active all day (there aren't many non-active activities in the woods), which helps a lot.

My sleep schedule usually becomes "normal" on vacation. I'm not much of a hiker but being outside 80% of the day seems to do the trick for sure. But I don't go to that from getting up at merely 10AM (which I'd consider normal myself) I just got up at 6PM ;-)

Interesting. I recall a good discuss here a little while ago that involved, primarily, a morning walk as being invaluable for shifting from night to day. Similarly, it espoused the importance of sunlight on your body's natural sleep rhythm.

I originally didn't think it would make much of a difference. I just figured that sunlight and nature would have very little (if any) effect. However, after actually doing it, and seeing such a huge shift in schedule, I realized the importance of sunlight a LOT more.

I didn't see the article you're referring to (can't seem to find it), but I'll try taking a morning walk as well. Sounds like a peaceful way to start the day.

Simply taking a few 10-15 minutes walks during the day -- one in the morning, one after lunch, and maybe even one before bed -- is a good habit to get into if you're indoors and/or in front of a computer all day. Fresh air, sun, and movement are all awesome things.

I have a great way of dealing with this that's simple, fun, and requires very little lead time: get drunk.

I head out around 10PM and drink beer or whisky repeatedly until I'm completely intoxicated. By 2AM or so all I want to do is go to sleep.

Alcohol may make you sleepy. But it doesn't make for better sleep. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_use_and_sleep

Alcohol makes it extremely difficult for me to stay asleep. Even two or three glasses of wine is enough to ensure that I'll wake up throughout the night, sleeping only fitfully.

The hardest part of resetting my sleep schedule is actually sticking to it ... I almost always end up staying up later and later and before I know it it's a total mess again.

What if I want to reset my schedule to something unnatural?

Stay indoors. Seal out all natural light. Replace all your lights with theraputic Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps to simulate the natural light spectrum of the sun. Work out an automated schedule of turning the lights on and off--or varying their brightness, if you find ones with dimmers--to trick your body into thinking it's daytime when you want it to be daytime, and nighttime when you want it to be nighttime. This might actually work, but I've never tried it.

Melatonin. Much better than conventional sleep pills.

That doesn't really work in winter though.

Or it might just be me who object to sleeping outside in subzero weather.

I find camping in subzero temperatures a lot more pleasant than camping in cold & wet temperatures - it's fairly easy to stay dry and staying warm really isn't a problem if you have the right equipment.

If you have a good sleeping bag you'll be plenty toasty even in sub-zero temps.

This works even better if you don't build a campfire.

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