Every now and then on Hacker News, I see a new discussion about resetting your sleep schedule. Resetting your sleep schedule is the process of shifting your awake hours from night to day.
I’m a night person. I go to bed late, and wake up late. However, for many night owls like myself, this can cause a lot of problems. Often you’re required to be awake for work early in the morning (9 to 5, anyone?), and most of the businesses you need to use daily (grocery stores, barber shops, etc.) operate only during the day.
So, the question of course, is how can you reset your sleep schedule easily without any pain? Numerous web sites would have you believe that your sleep cycle can be hacked, by doing some particular ritual.
Wisebread suggests that if you don’t eat for roughly 12 to 16 hours before you want to wake up, your body will automatically adjust to a new schedule without any work.
Gigaom says that you should just start doing it. Force yourself to wake up at the desired time each day, and you’ll get used to it quickly.
There are a million websites (Google says there are ~7,570,000) with different suggestions for hacking your sleep cycle.
Why Most Sleep Hacks Don’t Work
Most sleep hacks don’t work because they require a lot of hard work and willpower. I can tell you from lots of experience, that after going to bed at 4AM, waking up at 6AM is not trivial (and it’s even harder to stay awake until 10PM the following night!).
If you have the dedication and willpower to follow through with the sort of punishment that most sleep hacks require, then more power to you. But for most people, that is not a viable option.
Instead of trying to hack your sleep, I recommend a more simple, natural approach:
Camping is a great way to help reset your sleep schedule.
First of all, it’s fun (you can do it over a weekend). An important part of adjusting something major (like your sleep cycle) is to make it enjoyable. If you’re a night owl trying to get into a 9 to 5 schedule, then you might as well do something that will not just ‘get you through the day’ (e.g. caffeine overdose), but will actually make you feel normal during those hours.
Secondly, camping is cheap and natural. You don’t need to starve yourself, you don’t need to take any drugs, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money talking to your physician about your sleep woes.
Thirdly, after you come back from your short camping trip, you’ll not easily fall back into your old schedule. You’d be surprised how easily the human body can adjust to natural day / night cycles, and how long those effects can last.
How it Works
The way that camping helps align your sleep cycle with day / night rotation, is simple-it exposes you to the elements.
When you spend most of your time inside your house (apartment, office, etc.), you are separated from most natural elements. This includes (among other things): sunlight, night (darkness), temperature, and sound.
While camping, you’re exposed to sunlight as soon as the sun rises. Where I live in California, the sun typically comes up around 6AM. An hour or two of sunlight in your eyes, shining through your tent, will naturally make waking up easier.
At night time, whereas you’d usually be awake very late, you’ll find that when out camping, there isn’t all that much to do. Besides the lack of light, without a constant stream of things to keep you busy (computers, movies, etc.), you’ll feel much more relaxed, and will begin feeling tired a lot sooner than you would otherwise.
Sound has an equally important role. When camping, you’re surrounded by nature. Depending on where you are, you may hear birds chirping in the morning, crickets singing at night, and owls hooting. For me, anyhow, these sounds help me both fall asleep easily, as well as wake up when the animals start making noise.
And don’t forget the impact that temperature has. At night, when the temperature drops, you won’t feel comfortable until you’re snuggled into a sleeping bag to keep warm. When the sun comes up in the morning and you start to roast in your sleeping back, your body will quickly adjust and help you out of bed.
My wife and I just got back from a short three day camping trip with some of my wife’s family and friends. Last weekend we left Friday for San Simeon state park in California, and got back to our apartment in Los Angeles late Sunday afternoon.
I’ve been a night owl as long as I can remember, usually falling asleep around 3 or 4AM, and waking up at 10AM or so depending on my daily responsibilities. So, one goal of this trip was to document my sleep schedule, and see whether or not it is possible to reset one’s internal clock over a 3 day 2 night trip.
I wake up at 10AM, and hop into the shower. About 45 minutes later my wife and I are on the road heading to the campgrounds (a 4.5 hour drive).
After arriving at the campsite, and feeling a bit tired from the long drive, my wife and I setup our tent quickly, dump off our clothes and items, then drive to the nearest town to get some food and supplies.
When we come back, sunset is fast approaching, so we decide to walk to the beach (just a few steps away from our campground), and walk along the coast as the sun sets.
We get back to camp, start a fire, and sit around chatting with one another for approximately two hours.
It’s dark, we’re tired, so we decide to go to bed. It’s around 9PM, and it feels like it’s 2AM. It’s probably 50F outside, and with the cold weather it feels especially good to be in a warm sleeping bag :)
The sun comes up early, probably 6 or 7AM, and I hear birds chirping loudly outside of the tent. I try to stay in bed for a little while, and manage to go for about an hour longer before I’m way too hot in my sleeping back, and jump out of bed. I feel relaxed, and not tired at all. I haven’t woken up at 8AM willfully in a long time.
My wife and I spend most of the day hanging around the campsite, but take a short trip to the nearby town and walk up and down their main street to see all the little shops.
When we get back to the campsite, we all sit around the campfire talking and eating chili. Around 10PM, my wife and I feel tired again, so we go back to the tent and play some cards before falling asleep.
It was extremely easy to fall asleep. The cold weather outside made my sleeping bag feel all the more comfortable, and I just drifted off in several minutes.
I wake up a bit before 8AM, listening to birds chirping and feeling the sun on my face. Feels good. I feel rested. We pack up the campsite, and drive back home.
After getting home and catching up on emails, I start feeling tired again, and doze off at 11PM with no problems.
This Entire Week
So far, I’ve been going to bed at around 11PM, and waking up at 8AM every day this week, with no issues. I feel great. I haven’t had any problems going to bed or waking up early.
What Will You Do?
While some of the sleep hacks you’ll read about online may seem more convenient than going camping for a weekend, I’d highly recommend camping to anyone who is serious about adjusting their schedule.
In addition to resetting your sleep schedule, you’ll also get out of the house for a bit, and hopefully de-stress yourself for a couple days.