I’ve been bad at getting up in the mornings ever since my late teens. I’m now in my mid-30s and most days I can’t seem to get up in good time for things. I’m almost always a few minutes late for work and this leaves me feeling unprepared.
I struggle to get up naturally before 10am and seem to need more than 10 hours a night. I only work two or three 9-to-5 days a week, and I still can’t get up on time. I have mostly given up caffeine and reduced my dark chocolate intake in the evenings to try to get into a more natural sleep pattern, but this has led to going to bed earlier and still struggling to wake up naturally before 10am. I eat well, avoid excessive alcohol, don’t smoke or take drugs, and get fresh air and exercise most days.
I feel like requiring more than 10 hours a night in order to feel energised is excessive. I don’t feel this is depression because I have a lot that I look forward to, and this has been a problem all my adult life. I’ve been worrying about it more recently because my husband and I are going through the process of adopting a child, and I worry that I won’t be able to get up to see to their needs, or that I’ll be a grumpy parent all the time. I don’t want to burden my husband with all the morning childcare either, nor do I want to miss out on doing fun things as a family because I couldn’t get up in time.
I went to Dr Adam Zeman, a professor of neurology at the University of Exeter medical school who has been treating sleep disorders for 25 years.
He said that if he were seeing you in his sleep clinic he would take a full sleep history. “Conditions I would have in the back of my mind during this assessment include obstructive sleep apnoea, in which snoring leads to pauses in breathing which disrupt sleep and, less likely, narcolepsy which can disrupt both sleep and wakefulness,” he added.
If anything is disrupting your sleep (and you may not realise it) you may not be getting the restorative sleep you need, so need to sleep for longer. Dr Zeman would also look at what you’re like during the day. Do you nap? Do you feel sleepy? There’s a useful Epworth sleepiness scale quiz you can do to test daytime sleepiness. If you score more than 11, that might be something a sleep clinic looks at.
Dr Zeman wondered what happens when you are totally left to your own devices to go to bed when you want and get up when you want, without family or work expectations. If you were to “consistently go to bed in the early hours, that might tell us your circadian rhythm is delayed compared with the norm – and if you sleep for 10 hours, that would tell us you have a longer-than-average sleep requirement”.
I think we can get very hung up on averages and forget that there are people above and below that average. You may be a person who not only needs more sleep, but who has a delayed sleep cycle. When we start to feel sleepy, our body produces melatonin to help us fall asleep. If you have a cycle that starts later than the “norm”, you won’t be producing melatonin until later.
I would go to your GP and ask to be referred to your nearest sleep clinic (it may not be that near and the waiting lists are long). Your GP may also be able to prescribe melatonin for you in the short term to help you get to sleep earlier, and you may want to consider getting a light box, possibly to use in the morning. Both of these things could help to shift your sleep cycle to an earlier sleep/rise pattern. There is some research to show that exposure to sunlight in the morning also helps regulate your body clock, and if you frequently get up late, or don’t go outside, you may not get this exposure. Your GP could also look at any possible underlying health conditions.
Is flexitime at work an option? It may work quite well for your husband to do the early shift with a baby or child, then you do the late shift. Sleep patterns mature in adolescence and it’s common for our body clocks to shift to a later pattern, so once your child becomes a teenager, your sleep patterns may align very well.
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