I Don't Sleep Between 11PM and 5AM, Here's How
For the past few weeks I’ve patrolled the yellowing halls of a residence building on campus during the unsettling quiet that exists between the hours of 11PM and 5AM. Due to an unexpected situation, Resident Assistants, which is one of my jobs, in order to maintain the safety of an on-campus building, were offered additional shifts. The catch? The shifts were round the clock.
Out of my 22 coworkers, only three of us chose extra shifts, which I thought was crazy. Who doesn’t want extra money for just walking around a building? Other RAs signed up from different residence halls, but what I noticed is that all of the day-time shifts quickly filled up, while the night shifts remained empty and waiting. Due to my busy schedule during the day, and compounded by my need for extra income, night shifts were the only choice for me. My fellow coworkers were incredulous that I would be taking night shifts, which would be in direct conflict with my normal sleep times. Every time I accepted another night shift, my boss would ask “Are you sure?” and the looks my coworkers gave me were the equivalent of those that one would give to the person that mixes chocolate milk and mashed potatoes together. But instead of seeing it as an endgame to my sleep, I took it as a challenge: find a new sleep schedule.
For some time, I had been interested in alternate sleep routines, and I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to test my limits. First, I did some research on common sleep routines.
How to be Hipster: Alternative Sleeping Cycles
There are more types of sleep routines than you would think; here’s a few in summary:
Monophasic Sleep- The way most people sleep: in one solid chunk of time usually between 7-9 hours during the night.
Segmented Sleep (Biphasic Sleep 1)- Historically, the most natural sleeping pattern: Going to sleep at dusk, waking up in the middle of the night for a few hours, and then going back to sleep before dawn. Usually between six to eight hours of sleep
Siesta Sleep (Biphasic Sleep 2)- My preferred sleep schedule for university life: Sleeping five to six hours at night and taking a short 20-90 minute nap in the early afternoon
Triphasic Sleep- Off the beaten path: Sleeping for 90 minutes three times a day. Once after dusk, once just before dawn, and once in the afternoon.
Everyman Sleep- The alternate college student sleep cycle: Sleeping four and a half to six at night, accompanied by two 20 minute naps during the day
Uberman Sleep- One of the most extreme sleep cycles: Taking six to eight 20 minute naps spread evenly throughout a 24 hour period.
Which One Did I Choose?
As a person who on-average hasn’t slept more than six and a half hours consecutively since high school, I thought I could handle less sleep. Since entering university I mastered napping, so ‘Siesta Sleep’ was my norm. Getting more than seven hours of sleep meant it was either the weekend, or I was very, very sick. Before even knowing it had a name, the siesta sleep cycle worked with my schedule for three years. Because of this, I was a fool and believed that I could jump into a triphasic sleep cycle, which was said to be easy to do if one had a siesta sleep cycle.
Long story short: I tried doing this one day, but due to social circumstances I was up for 23.5 hours. When I tried to sleep only for 90 minutes, I went to sleep at 10:30PM and found myself awoken at 5AM. So much for trying.
Finding My Formula
I failed with triphasic sleep. I knew I wouldn’t be able to control my body enough to only sleep in three 90 minute segments. But I had these night shifts, so what was I going to do about sleep?
Sleeping during daylight was out for me. With my grad school classes and two jobs, the hours between 9AM and 6PM were ‘no-go’s for naps. The remaining time had to be dedicated to dinner, schoolwork, the night shifts, and lastly, sleep.
Dinner was easy to knock out. I made sure that I had finished eating before 7PM. After that I allotted time for showering, packing my backpack for my night shift, and general socializing with my coworkers and residents, which brought me to 8:30/9:00PM. Then it was off to sleep until 10:30PM, when I would wake up, grab my bag, and walk to the location of my night shift. Until 5AM I would patrol the halls, but during gaps in patrolling I would work on my schoolwork. If that’s not killing two birds with one stone, I don’t know what is. When I got back to my room from my shift, I would knock out until my classes began between 9AM and 11AM.
Here’s a quick table summarizing my new schedule:
9:00AM/11:00AM - 6:00PM
6:00PM - 7:00PM
7:00PM - 8:30PM
8:30PM - 10:30PM
11:00PM - 5:00AM
Night Shift Work/Schoolwork
5:30AM - 8:30AM/10:30AM
Many of my friends and coworkers couldn’t fathom how I was able to keep working night shifts and still function during the day, but I actually began to enjoy my sleep schedule. When I only had 2AM to 5AM shifts, I still kept up my sleep schedule and studied during that extra night-time. I even kept up the schedule on nights I didn’t have shifts, just so that my body would stay acclimated.
I didn’t do a typical sleep cycle, but instead I created one that worked for me. You can, too, as long as you are educated on the topic and know your limits.
Making It Work for You
To begin, there are many reasons why not getting enough sleep is dangerous. Diabetes, strokes, and emotional problems are all associated with getting too little or too much sleep. The ideal amount of sleep for the average adult should be between seven and nine hours, although some people can perform daily life tasks with just six hours of sleep.
If you need to change your sleep schedule whether it be for midterms, finals weeks, or work, I have a few tips for you to follow:
Start noticing when you feel sleepy or when you wake up during the night- if you document these times, you can use it as a rubric for your body’s natural rhythm. Use that rubric to plan your sleeping schedule.
Stick to a schedule- make sure you wake up and go to sleep at the same times, so that your body can adjust to the change, and you get the same amount of sleep each day/night
Try to sleep in darkness- if you have to sleep for longer than 90 minutes during the day try to find a place that has minimal sun exposure. Another option is to sleep just after dusk, and just before dawn, which are natural sleep times for your body
If you’re going to nap, practice- if it’s difficult for you to nap, try to begin napping in longer lengths (let’s say one hour) and slowly decrease the napping time until you can easily take 20 minute naps. If you conquer the 20 minute nap, then you can conquer any nap.
Make sure you can make it through the day- don’t push yourself to do some insane sleep cycle if you cannot function throughout the day. Momentary periods of drowsiness are normal, but if your mood or ability to do daily tasks is changed, then change your sleep schedule.
These are only a few tips, but if you choose to experiment with your sleep cycle, then what works best for you will become apparent in due time. You can change your sleep schedule, but you need to make sure it’s still healthy sleep. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, but don’t get too crazy with it. Your physical and mental sanity are what’s most important.
If you have undergone an alternative sleeping schedule or want to, let me know in the comments!
Until next time, good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite.