The dilemma of sleep and the late-nighter parent

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This post is sponsored by Sleep Number.

I have always been a late-night kind of person. 
My mother was, too.  I remember growing up, watching my mom get a burst of energy right around the time we were all going to bed.  It seemed like this was the time when she always got absorbed in a project.  It wasn’t unusual for us to hear the sewing machine start to hum at 1am.  It’s still not unusual to get a phone call or facebook notification from her at midnight.  And she’s three hours ahead living in Florida.
It’s hard to say if it’s nature or nurture, but I’ve always been the same way.  As a child, I loved laying in bed and reading in a quiet house in the wee hours.  In high school, that was the time when I would make a collage from my Seventeen magazine or lay out photos into my overflowing scrapbook.  I’ve always relished the time between 10 and 2am as the best part of the day.  Obviously, in high school, my schedule was at odds, and I spent many tired days dragging myself from class to class.  Then I went to college and majored in theater, where my nocturnal habits were completely acceptable.   I found a whole community of people who were energized late at night.  Classes were scheduled around the assumption that our shows would keep us up late, and I was able to exult in a lifestyle of staying up late and sleeping in every day.
The problem is, I never really broke this habit.  For years, I was able to arrange my life to support my night-owl preferences.  My graduate school classes were at night.  When I went into private practice, I set my own schedule, and most of my clients preferred to come in the afternoon.  This meant that sleeping until 10am each day was a luxury I could afford, even with a professional job.  Sure, I had the occasional moments of shame about my lifestyle- the mailman catching me in my pj’s at noon . . . explaining to neighbors why I didn’t open the door at 10am.  But by and large, it worked for me.  When I added my current gig as a part-time professor fit in perfectly, because those classes are held at night as well. 
I think you know where this story is headed, though. . . . right?
It was all fun and games until the kids came along.  And actually . . . . I managed to get a few good years in even then.  When our kids were young, we kept them up late, and they slept late as well, assisted by blackout curtains and a mother bent on shaping their body clocks to match her own.  Sure, I had to reconcile that I’d probably be woken up at 9am instead of my preferred 10, but that wasn’t so bad.  But as the years ticked by and the family size grew, that wake-up time bumped up incrementally, and starting them in school all but busted any illusions I had that I could maintain this schedule. 
These days each kid needs to be at school by 8am, which means our wake-up time has shifted to 7am.  Now, I know to many that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to me, 7am is HELLA EARLY.  One might think that the simple solution would be for me to just go to bed earlier.  In theory, this sounds easy enough.  In practice, though, I find it really difficult to get myself to bed at a reasonable hour, despite the fact that my late-night revelry means I am exhausted pretty much every day. And I’m aware that adults are supposed to get at least eight hours of sleep per night, as confirmed by a recent Sleep Number survey.  I’m usually getting far less and struggle to commit to sleep.

This is the cycle of insanity I go through every day:
7am – wake, exhausted and grumpy, curse myself for staying up too late
8am-9pm – exist in a state of pure exhaustion, vow to myself on an hourly basis that tonight I will go to bed at a reasonable hour.
10pm – get burst of energy, begin rationalizations for staying up
11pm – MINE!  MINE!  This time is MINE!  I feel great right now.  Best I’ve felt all day.  I deserve this time.  I NEED IT!  I want to write and return emails and just sit in the still quiet of this beautiful, blessed hour.  I can pull myself together tomorrow.  This is MY TIME!
and repeat.
I’ve spent the last year doing this, with varying levels of shame and frustration at my lack of self-control about going to bed.  Gee, what was I just telling my students the other night about the definition of addiction?  ENGAGING IN REPETITIVE BEHAVIOR DESPITE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES.  That would be me . . . every night. 
Hi, my name is Kristen and I’m addicted to staying up late.
Lately I’ve tried a few new techniques for forcing encouraging myself into an earlier bedtime:
1. I put a program on my computer than shuts it down at 11. I’m mindful of it and it forces me to wrap up and get my work done and save everything before it powers down on me.
2. I cuddle with my daughter. Sadly, I only have one kid who really wants to cuddle at night, but nothing makes me drowsier than a good cuddle.
3. I set an alarm on my phone to tell me to go to bed. It reminds me that I will be sorry tomorrow if I don’t.
4. I drink a cup of chamomile tea. I don’t think the chamomile necessarily puts me to sleep, but I like the ritual that forces me to slow down.
5. I read a book in bed instead of watching tv. We don’t have a tv in our bedroom so I try to drift off to a book instead of the drone of a tv.
6. I put my phone away. I don’t lay in bed scrolling through social media, because the backlight stimulates the brain. I try to stay screen-free after 11pm.
I have had some improvement doing these things– I’m in bed most nights by 12:30 which is obviously much better than my preferred 2am.  I wish I was one of those people who can function well on less than eight hours sleep, but I’m just not.
Sleep Number has a few other tips for improving sleep:
  • Try to move your bedtime up 15 min. every night until you wake up feeling rested.
  • Track your sleep for a week and journal what took place the day to see how different actions or foods affect your restfulness.
  • Watching TV or using computers before bed stimulates the brain and makes it difficult to sleep, so power down one hour before bed.

I’m curious to hear from other night-owl parents. How have you compensated for the early-morning schedule inherent in having school-aged kids? Have you been able to change your body clock? Or, like me, are you just resigned to being perpetually tired?
Having trouble sleeping? 
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