You hit snooze twice, skip breakfast and grumpily rush to the office.
By late-morning, however, you’re firing off emails handily. Your mood rises over the day. By 5:30, you’re ready to get some exercise. At midnight, you’re surfing the Internet and doing the laundry. You know you should get to bed, but you’ve had a burst of energy you’d like to use.
You’re a night owl.
Your sister is your opposite. She awakes without an alarm (or at least without relying on the snooze button) in time to mix up her favorite smoothie and go running for 40 minutes and play boisterously with her kids—all before work. But by 4:00 pm she’s slowing down and in the evening, she’d rather watch TV and hit the hay early, just when you’re up for a phone call.
She’s a lark.
It’s Tough Being an Owl
The world does not favor owls. Your kids’ swim practice may start before school at 5:45 am. Larkish bosses have a way of scheduling early meetings. You may worry that colleagues who show up at 8:00 instead of 9:00 am seem more energetic, eager or organized.
Night owls do have one big advantage over larks: they tend to get less jet lag and adjust better to zone changes, especially when traveling westward, according to “The Body Clock Guide to Better Health,” by Michael Smolensky and Lenne Lamberg.
Otherwise, it’s harder to be owlish, unless you’re a jazz-singer or night nurse. Adults need up to nine hours of sleep a night and night-owls are more likely to end up with too little (less than 6.5 hours a night).
Go From Owl to Lark
Let’s just be clear about one thing: Morning slowness doesn’t mean you are lazy or apathetic about your day. Night-owl tendencies are at least partly genetic, but they’re more likely to result from hard-to-reverse sleep habits.
“People lead busy lives and may have to choose between sleep and a little bit of free time,” explains David Kuhlmann, M.D., Medical Director of Sleep Medicine at Bothwell Regional Health Center. And when people do try to shift to an earlier bedtime after such a long time staying up late: “It’s hard for some people to lay down when they aren’t feeling tired so they stay awake doing something until they can’t hold their eyes open any longer,” Kuhlmann continues.
The good news is, “if you are alert—or sleepy—at inappropriate times in your life, you can change,” says James Maas, Ph.D., YouBeauty Sleep Expert.
Some night owls naturally shift toward earlier bedtimes as they get older. You can also take steps to re-set your body-clock at any age.
Since you’re now on the nocturnal side, let’s start with the evening-time. It’s a myth that exercising in the morning is ideal: “The best time to work out is between 5:00 and 7:00 pm,” says Maas, because exercise at that time enhances the depth of sleep. And any aerobic activity, even fast walking, will improve your sleep.
However, if you plan to be in bed at 10:00, finish up by 7:00. Exercise raises your body temperature and can interfere with sleep within three hours of bedtime. Don’t eat large meals late. Lying down slows digestion and may send stomach acids back up into your throat, causing heartburn that can keep you awake. Alcohol may make you sleepy but once the effect wears off, it disrupts sleep.
Do as much as you can to prepare for the next day—select clothes or prepare bag lunches so you’re not rushing around in a panic in the morning, and you can go to sleep with a relaxed mind. Create a soothing bedtime routine—meditate, take a bath, moisturize! For some people, a private orgasm is one (fun) way to help induce sleep.
Save your bed for sleeping (or sex), not watching TV or playing with your iPad—electronics can stimulate your brain before bed. If you can’t avoid electronics at night, Maas recommends trying special light-blocking glasses an hour before bedtime.
Be sure your mattress is the correct firmness for you; you may need something very different than a partner who is heavier or lighter. The latex mattresses at flobeds.com are customized on each side. They are naturally allergy-free and can be adapted if you gain or lose weight (or a new sleep-mate needs a different mattress).
In the morning, it’s essential to arise at the same time every day—even on weekends and days off. If you go to sleep late one night, don’t sleep in the next morning. Instead, nap during the afternoon or go to bed 15 minutes earlier the next night, advise Smolensky and Lamberg.
Night-owls tend to have trouble leaving the house on time. If you decide to trick yourself by setting your alarm clock ahead of the correct time, you might ask someone else to do it without telling you whether its 10 minutes off, or 15, so you don’t make a mental adjustment.
The body sets its own clock by sunlight and night-owls especially need morning sun. If you can, sleep near an eastern exposure, with the blinds up (unless light from outside will disturb you at night). Or get sun as soon as possible after you’re awake, even if it means flossing on the doorstep. Ideally, you’d have time for a morning walk.
Of course, the ideal companion, one who will absolutely insist on a morning walk, is a dog.
If your sleeping issues still won’t budge, you might have a more serious sleep disorder.
One thing to try is a “light box” (starting at $120) providing full-spectrum light (an ordinary lamp doesn’t work), of anywhere from 2,500 to 10,000 lux, a measure of intensity. If you also tend to feel low during dark days or months, a light box can improve your mood too.
Sleep-specialists often recommend starting at 15 minutes and working up to a half-hour before a 10,000 lux light or two hours of 2,500 lux. That may sound like a lot of time, but you don’t have to sit staring at the box. These are your moments to listen to Mozart, knit, write or read poetry, eat a good breakfast or call your grandmother to wish her a good day.
Dedicate part of each morning to your bliss—whether or not you need a light-box—and you can love mornings. In his fifties, after decades of staying up until 3 am, arriving late to work and feeling groggy until lunch, Roger, a copy editor, resolved to change his ways. “I decided I was not some special person with an entitlement to come in much later than anyone else in my office.” After several months of using a light-box, he discovered that if he was in bed by 11:00 pm and arose at 6:00 am, he could listen to music for an hour. Now he walks to work, and is happily the first to arrive.
Sleeping Beauty was onto something. Turns out, your ticket to healthier, younger-looking skin may lie between the sheets rather than on the shelf of your medicine cabinet.
While you’re fast asleep, your body is hard at work, making repairs like construction workers on the nightshift. For example, when you’re in deep sleep, human growth hormone production increases. Your normal release of this hormone plays a key role in healing cells and tissues throughout your body, including your skin.
Not getting enough sleep (and according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder) cuts that crucial repair time short, which can wreak havoc on your skin. Fine lines become more prominent, dark circles crop up and your complexion turns pale, dull and droopy.
Getting enough Vitamin Z makes you appear more attractive—sort of a reverse beer-goggles effect. In one study, people rated photographs based on attractiveness and whether the individuals in the photos looked healthy or unhealthy as well as tired or not tired. The faces of sleep-deprived participants were ranked as less healthy, less attractive and more tired compared to when they were well rested.
So how exactly does being robbed of your rest affect your appearance? “Several theories exist,” explains John Axelsson, an associate professor at the department of clinical neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, who co-authored the study on sleep and appearance. “Sleep may actually affect the skin by reducing its capacity to recover properly, or sleep deprivation may affect muscle tone, resulting in a slightly less attractive appearance.”
When you sacrifice slumber, you decrease the ability of the skin barrier—also known as the stratum corneum, or the outer-most layer of skin—to recover from the daily damage it endures. That’s problematic because the stratum corneum plays two important roles when it comes to healthy-looking skin: It locks in moisture and prevents foreign microorganisms from getting in. Cells that make up the stratum corneum contain keratin, which is a protein that keeps skin hydrated by preventing water from evaporating.
Not getting enough sleep affects the skin barrier’s ability to do its job and can lead to dehydration, which, in turn, makes fine lines more noticeable. “Moisture helps plumps up your skin—it blows out your wrinkles,” says Robin Ashinoff, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. “Your skin droops more because you don’t have that plumpness. You’ve deflated the balloon.”
Dehydration can also trigger the classic signs of sleep deprivation—dark circles. That’s because there’s less fluid to obscure the blue blood vessels that reside just under your eyes. These blood vessels become more noticeable on the surface, showing up as dark, under-eye circles. “Overall you also look paler because the blood vessels in your face aren’t as full,” says Dr. Ashinoff. In addition to all that, “When you sleep, it’s a regenerative time, so if the skin doesn’t have a chance to turn over, you have dead skill cells sitting on top, causing the skin to look dull.”
A weakened skin barrier can leave you more vulnerable to foreign microorganisms. Think of the stratum corneum as a bouncer to an exclusive nightclub, carefully picking and choosing who gets to come in. Insufficient time in the sack makes him less discriminating about who enters the club, which is why a compromised skin barrier is associated with inflammatory skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis.
Your immune system also becomes compromised when you miss out on getting enough rest. But that doesn’t just leave you more vulnerable to sickness. These changes in the immune response may affect collagen production as well. And collagen helps you maintain a youthful appearance by acting as scaffolding—holding up your skin so it doesn’t wrinkle and sag. Add to that the fact that when you’re tired, your muscles, including facial ones, are more likely to tense up, which can exacerbate your current wrinkles and bring on more fine lines and wrinkles over time.
What’s more, not getting enough z’s may bring on breakouts. “Lack of sleep correlates to physiological stress,” explains dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D., co-author of “It’s Not Just About Wrinkles: A Park Avenue Dermatologist’s Program for Beautiful Skin—in Just Four Minutes a Day.” Levels of cortisol—the stress hormone that breaks down skin cells and is linked to acne—also spike when you’re missing out on some much-needed pillow time.
Speaking of pillows, your sleeping position can also put a crimp in your complexion. “If you sleep on your side or front, rather than your back, it’s like you’re folding over your skin—except it’s sustained pressure,” says Dr. Schultz. “It’s breaking the collagen, which can give you wrinkles and make your skin look saggy.” Sleeping on your back helps prevent fine lines from being etched into your skin overnight. But if you can’t sleep prone, try slipping on silk or satin pillowcases instead, which are more forgiving and won’t tug at your skin, causing fine lines.
The bottom-line: “Sleep is the body’s natural beauty treatment,” says Axelsson. Rather than shelling out cash on expensive creams or relying heavily on concealer and coffee, try pulling a Sleeping Beauty and getting a full night’s rest instead.
You’re lying there wide awake, your tummy rumbling. Could it be that big burger you ate for dinner that’s keeping you up? The after-dinner cocktail? The chocolate cake you couldn’t resist? Or are you simply hungry for a late-night snack?
Stop eating tonight three hours before lights out. If you must, try 3 cups of air-popped popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese or six whole-grain crackers with peanut butter. The carbs will trigger the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you calm and sleepy, while the fat and protein will help you feel full.
Turns out that the foods you eat — or don’t eat — can make a big difference in how well you sleep. Even the timing of your meals and snacks can affect your rest. While noshing on the right foods can nudge you toward sweet slumber, eating the wrong ones can keep you tossing and turning. Here’s how you can manage your food for better sleep.
Cut the Caffeine
If you’re having trouble with sleep, try eliminating caffeine from your diet by lunchtime, says Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, CDE, advanced practice dietitian for the Cleveland Clinic. As a natural central nervous system stimulant, caffeine can rev you up, sometimes for hours.
“Caffeine has a half-life of three to four hours,” Dunn says. “That means that half the amount of caffeine you have at lunch is still in your system three to four hours later.” One study found that poor sleepers metabolize caffeine at a slower rate.
Banish the Booze
An evening nightcap may wash away the day’s stressors, but it may also keep you up at night. At first, alcohol enhances the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger in the brain, which signals you to relax and makes you sleepy. Because the effects are enhanced, the brain cells that secrete GABA stop making so much of it.
“When the alcohol effects are gone two to three hours later, your brain is still not synthesizing enough GABA, so you have a relative GABA deficiency that results in poor sleep during the latter half of the night,” says Sam Fleishman, MD, medical director of the Sleep Center for Cape Fear Valley Health Systems. Ultimately, you get less sleep.
Try Early Bird Dining
Nodding off too soon after you’ve just downed a hefty meal can make it hard to doze off. Lying down slows the digestive process and can send stomach acids involved in digestion creeping back up into your throat, which results in indigestion and acid reflux. “It will make you feel uncomfortable and possibly keep you awake,” says Joy Bauer, RD, author of “Joy Bauer’s Food Cures.” Instead, keep your dinners small. “I recommend eating a dinner that has no more than 600 calories and optimally at least three hours before bed,” Bauer says.
Go Mild, Not Hot
Fatty foods linger in the stomach longer during the digestion process, causing the stomach to secrete more acid. The result? Heartburn and reflux, says Beth Czerwony MS, RD, LD, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. “The more acid there is, the more uncomfortable you may feel lying down.” The same is true for spicy foods, which also trigger more acid production.