Have you heard the saying that, “nothing good ever happens after midnight?” Probably it was something your parents told you to prevent premarital sex, underage drinking or just general youthful tomfoolery. But for me it’s been almost uniformly true.
Okay, sure, as a twenty-something working for nightclubs in South Beach in the 90’s, I did have a lot of fun after midnight. And, yeah, as a thirty-something derby girl, I did a lot of crazy shit after midnight. But despite the fun, you know what else is almost uniformly true? I barely remember anything that happens after midnight.
There are two reasons for my late night amnesia. One is inebriation. After midnight is when I got too drunk to stand or speak clearly and my choices were dance or die. Another choice was to go home with someone, who may or may not take good care of me, or who I may or may not have remembered the next morning.
The other reason is that often the fun I had at midnight started much earlier in the evening. All the great outfits and all the great conversations inevitably deteriorated as the night went on.
Still, staying up and out late doesn’t really sound that bad, huh?
Except that there is a difference between having fun and being happy, and while I might have been having fun late into the night, I often wasn’t happy. I was often just pushing myself to stay up later and drinking more to try to conjure up the feeling of happy.
At forty, I can say with conviction that this tactic doesn’t work. If you aren’t happy at nine, you aren’t going to be happy at midnight, and chances are good you will be miserable at 2 am, at best, and at worst completely inoperable. I am done chasing late night happy.
Most of the happiest moments of my life happened in the bright light of day. The beach… My wedding… All the yoga practices… All the life-changers and all the game-changers.
Wouldn’t you rather chase that kind of happy?
I would. And honestly, I usually do. Because my body will wake me around sunrise no matter what time I go to bed, it’s really better if I get in bed by 9:30. Plus, as Cate Stillman notes in Body Thrive, 10 pm is when Pitta time starts, and once that fire gets burning, it gets much harder to go to sleep.
Here are some things I do to get to bed by 9:30:
- I set an alarm an hour before bedtime. Yes, that is really necessary. It takes me a full hour to wind down and do my evening rituals. I spend a few minutes straightening my house and the rest is pure self-care. I love that hour. That hour is full of sweet sleepy conversations with my wife and leisurely cat petting. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
- I turn off all the screens in my house. This has a triple purpose. First, it keeps me from being overstimulated by artificial light. Second, it prevents me from working. I love to work and sometimes it’s hard for me to stop, but turning off the iPad makes it much more likely. Third, it ensures that I don’t start scrolling social media and get lost in a click hole.
- I make my bedroom as dark as possible. I close all the blinds and curtains, not just in the bedroom, but in adjacent rooms. Darkness is a signal to your body that you can relax, that it’s okay to be tired.
- I rub my feet. First I scrub them with a washcloth soaked in essential oils, then I rub homemade body butter into my tired soles and cover them with socks. This is a super relaxing way to wind down and it also keeps my feet super soft, even if I only get a pedicure every two years.
- I don’t talk about anything important after 8:30 pm or before 8:30 am. It’s a family rule, and it keeps my wife and from starting conversations that we can’t or don’t want to finish. Plus, both of us feel more relaxed knowing that we won’t be surprised with the surprise arrival of a marital grudge or gripe.
Here’s what happens as a result of my early to bed habits:
- I get enough sleep. This is so important that I feel like I should put it on the list twice. As a person who was sleep deprived for probably twenty some odd years, I actually can’t express to you how much of a difference this makes in my life. I have more energy. I feel more in control of my emotional state. I am less prone to overwhelm. Because I honor this simple physical need, I am more in touch with how I feel generally. I know immediately if I feel tired during the day that something is going wrong and I need to pay attention.
- I sleep better in a dark room. The insistence on the dark sleeping quarters in the newest of my habits, and it’s awesome. I used to be the kind of light sleeper that was constantly awake at the slightest sound or movement in the room. It was like there was almost no difference between sleeping and waking. I was always aware. Now I sleep hard and deep and waking is a daily revelation.
- Other bad habits lessen. The more sleep I get, the less coffee and alcohol I drink, because I’m not trying to artificially regulate my energy. I eat better. Because I am well rested, I am less tempted to justify indulgences. Who needs a cookie when you can have nine hours of sleep?
- I get up before my alarm rings. I used to be a snooze-aholic. Waking up was almost never pleasant because it came with a screeching alarm. Is that anyway to introduce your consciousness to the day? No way. Waking up before the alarm gives me time to stretch and yawn and reckon with my humanity before I have to inhabit it.
I know, I know. That’s great for me, but you’re a night owl. Uh-huh, yeah, me too. Except all that means is that you stay up late. What you have to do to change it is change your ideas about what it means to stay up late. If you think life is only interesting at 2 am, of course you’ll stay up.
You might have to shift your perspective on what kind of person goes to bed early if you want to become one. And it doesn’t have to be that big a deal, either. All you have to do to become the kind of person who goes to bed early is go to bed early. You don’t have to hate fun. You can just have it earlier.
If you’re anything like me, rebellious and adventurous, it won’t be a perfect system. I go to bed before 10 about five or six nights a week. I usually don’t make it past eleven, but every couple weeks I stay up really really late. The extra bonus of keeping a regular schedule is that I can take things in stride.
On Tuesday, I was up until almost 3 am, drinking and dismembering Trump piñatas. I got up at six to practice and I was fine. I didn’t need a nap. My body is so habitually well-rested that I can totally handle a late night here and there without freaking out. Going to bed doesn’t make me any less of a rebel. It makes me a more effective rebel.
Viva la revolución.