Become a morning person. How to end insomnia for $520.99

[edit 7.29.2012: see the bottom of this post for up-to-date recommendations]



I regularly can't fall asleep.  

I often can't fall asleep even when I feel tired.  

Once asleep, I generally sleep through the night just fine.  

It's nearly impossible for me to wake up early in the morning.  

Pulling an all-nighter is surprisingly easy for me.  

I generally direct my lifestyle to avoid morning commitments.

I have delayed sleep phase syndrome, a common form of insomnia.  Sound familiar anyone? 

Or as Wikipedia describes it:


Attempting to force oneself onto daytime society's schedule with DSPS has been compared to constantly living with 6 hours of jet lag; the disorder has, in fact, been referred to as "social jet lag".[7] Often, sufferers manage only a few hours sleep a night during the working week, then compensate by sleeping until the afternoon on weekends. Sleeping in on weekends, and/or taking long naps during the day, may give people with the disorder relief from daytime sleepiness but may also perpetuate the late sleep phase.
People with DSPS can be called extreme night owls. They feel most alert and say they function best and are most creative in the evening and at night. DSPS patients cannot simply force themselves to sleep early. They may toss and turn for hours in bed, and sometimes not sleep at all, before reporting to work or school. Less extreme and more flexible night owls, and indeed morning larks, are within the normalchronotype spectrum.



6-7% of adults report delayed sleep phase syndrome and 17% of university students have symptoms that qualify (from a recent study).  My sense is that entrepreneurs, through both cause and correlation, have significantly higher rates of insomnia than the general population.  I'll talk a lot more about this relationship in a future post, but the anecdotal evidence of morning-hating entrepreneurs is not difficult to find.

If you're like me, you've tried lots of different methods.  You already know about exercising, skipping caffeine, eating well, developing sleep habits, using white noise or a fan, etc.  If you actually have delayed sleep phase syndrome, none of these actually work.  And because they take so much discipline, you generally don't keep up with it anyways.  I get so annoyed by people who have normal sleep cycles offering me solutions that work for them.  Simple solutions like listening to pleasant music, counting sheep, taking a bath...they just don't work.


I've bought virtually every gadget out there and seen lots and lots of doctors.  After years and years of struggling with this problem, I actually have a fairly normal sleep pattern now.   


Here's how I did it:


1.             Avoid bad light at night 

2.             Get bright light in the morning


It's actually that simple.  Caffeine matters and sleep habits matter, but none of them fix the underlying problem: that your circadian rhythm is not working right.  I first realized this when working at summer camps growing up.  I always had tremendous sleep problems during the year and then they would magically go away every summer when I was up at camp.  The key was that at summer camp, I was exposed to early morning light outside every day and I had no access to the bright blue light of TVs and computers at night.  In response, I went to sleep at normal hours and woke up (reasonably) easily.


It took me years, but I've now found the right mix of gadgets and systems to duplicate this success:



1. Avoid Bad Light At Night


This is super important.  The body falls asleep as melatonin rises and serotonin falls.  Seritonin is stimulated by blue wave light.  Very simply, the more light at night, the harder it is to fall asleep.


Let's be real here though, I'm not turning off my lights or living by candle light.  There's no way I'm turning off my HD TV, Macbook, iPad, or iPhone either.  I need ways to limit bad light at night without hampering my digital lifestyle.


For the computer, I use a program called f.lux.   It adjusts the color of your screen to reduce the blue light composition.  It's far more important to reduce blue light than it is to simply turn the brightness down, though I do that too.  F.lux will slowly adjust my monitor color levels to a light red tint after sunset and then return to normal after sunrise.  It has a Disable-for-an-Hour feature that lets you easily bypass it whenever you want.  I highly recommend it and it's free.


I double up with a physical filter as well.  I got a blue light filter made by Low Blue Lights, which is basically just a high-priced orange clipboard, but I'm not complaining.  With a little piece of velcro, it affixes to my monitors and really blocks out the blue light.  While F.lux starts working at sunset, I use the physical filter when I'm using my laptop in bed.   Want to see just how effective this is?  Have it on for just 10 minutes in a dark room, enough for your eyes to adjust.  Then remove the filter.  You'll be shocked at how blindingly bright your monitor now looks, even on its lowest setting.


Low Blue Lights also sells red light bulbs that you can use as a reading light.  These are awesome.  They always feel way too low in intensity when you first turn off your regular light, but once your eyes adjust, you realize that there's still plenty of light to read by. 


2. Get Bright Light in the Morning


There are two reasons to get light in the morning.  First, the early light will help you wake up and feel refreshed.  Additionally, the light, if bright enough, also helps you reset your circadian rhythm so that your body will start the countdown to night earlier.  Several gadgets can help you achieve this:


First, I use a sunrise alarm clock.  This is an alarm clock that slowly turns on to mimic a sunrise (duh).  The beauty here is that you set it to start 30-60 minutes before you need to wake up.  It increases the likelihood that you'll naturally wake-up before your alarm goes off.   With my sunrise alarm clock (and all these other methods...), I wake up before my alarm all the time.  It dramatically changes your mood to wake up naturally.


You can geek out on your success by tracking your sleep habits.  I use Sleep Cycle : An iphone app that monitors your sleep by tracking your tossing and turning.  It also has a built in alarm clock that tries to optimize the time it wakes you based on when you're in the lightest sleep.  I don't use it anymore since the sunrise alarm clock works so well, but it's a nice idea.  My friends at WakeMate are working on a similar concept.


While the sunrise alarm clock will help you wake up, it won't reset your circadian rhythm--which is the root cause of delayed sleep phase syndrome.  If you have the means, go spend half an hour in bright sunshine outdoors and you'll be fully reset.  If you have any type of normal job or class schedule, this won't be possible.  You need really bright light in the morning to reset your schedule and it needs to be done every morning.  Your office light probably gives you 500 lux of light.  Standing outside on a bright day is closer to 10,000 lux.


I have two powerful lights.  The first is a bright flourescent light that supplies 5000 lux of light.  Importantly, I have it sitting next to my bed, and the bulb part reaches out over where my head is.  I connect this light to a standard timer, the type you use to program your outdoors lights.  I set it to go on about 15 minutes before my alarm clock.  This way, if my sunrise alarm clock (which uses a normal bulb) doesn't wake me up, I get a huge burst of light as well.  Ideally, I would have large bay windows that wash me with natural sunlight at the perfect time each morning, while blocking out all light the night before when I try to go sleep.  Since that's nearly impossible to pull off, this is the next best thing.


I generally get out of bed pretty quickly after my 5000 lux overhang light turns on.  By then, I'm refreshed and awake, and I start my morning routine.  I still haven't gotten the needed ~30 minutes of bright light to reset my circadian rhythm though.  If I don't get this bright light early in the morning, it will be harder for me to go to sleep that night.  


So, while eating my breakfast, I have a 10000 lux light that sits on my table pointing into my eyes.  I've tried the really big box lights from BioBrite.  If you're really struggling to adjust your schedule, this is the way to go.  If it's overkill, than I also recommend the much smaller light notebook.  It delivers 5000 lux of light but is far less intrusive.




Shopping list and total Cost: 


$0      F.lux

$30    Blue Light Filter

$25    Low Blue Light bulb

$120  Sunrise alarm clock

$130  Bright overhanging light

$30    Timer

$180  Light notebook

$.99   Sleep Cycle


So, for a total of $520.99, you can squash probably one of the most frustrating bad habits in your life.  


There are, of course, many many other solutions--please share what has worked for you in the comments.



[Edit 7/29/2012:]

Finally, a company made a decent product that addresses this issue.  I now whole heartedly recommend the Naturebright Per3 as both a sunrise alarm clock and bright overhanging light.  It replaces the need to work with our own timer, since it's integrated into one.  I've bought two, one for each side of my bed.  I've now also bought over a dozen for friends and family members that suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome.  Reception has been quite positive.  Go try it out-


NatureBright Per3 Deluxe Wake Up Light



Find discussion of this post on Hacker News and on Reddit


I'm Jason Freedman.  I co-founded FlightCaster.  
I would be remiss not to recommend the following opportunity: @JasonFreedman.
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63 responses
FYI, the link to f.lux is broken. Should be:

Thanks Jolan--I updated the link
I recently wrote about my experiences on the software side for this, specifically on Mac OS X and Linux. I use Nocturne on the Mac side and wrote a red-only inverted filter for Compiz on Linux. Both of them change not only the tint but the overall brightness of the display. There's more info about that at:

Some other recent posts on there detail my quest to build my own sunrise alarm clock. I'm pretty sensitive to light, so I'm hoping that some 10,000mCd are enough to wake me gently - if not, I'll probably be on to some kind of combination servo-rheostat gadget that increases the brightness of a desk lamp with an LED bulb.

Your step 2 suggestions were very helpful for me. :)

Kiel--any thoughts on how to block out blue light on the ipad?
No clear way to do it specifically for blue light, although I've had a lot of luck reducing overall light output by using the "White on Black" Accessibility feature (Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Triple-click Home -> Toggle White on Black) when using light-backgrounded apps.
This tip also works for the iPhone 3GS, but not prior iPhones.
Brilliant Kiel--never used that feature. Love it.
* serotonin
I was with you until you plugged Wakemate. Your friend are running a scam, and anybody still supporting them is complicit.
The single greatest life "hack" I know to fix this is:

Don't close your curtains.

It's that simple! When the sun comes up, you'll wake up. A few months of this and you'll be keeping regular hours. Nowadays I wake up naturally at 6am and am able to get so much work done in the mornings, it's great :)

@Jonathan: Call me complicit if you want, but I stand by the Wakemate guys. Their execution, communication, and decision making abilities leaves a lot to be desired, for sure. And they have my $5 from months ago.

But I know without any uncertainty that they're good guys feeling the pains of entrepreneurship. They absolutely need to get their sh*t together, but it was never intentionally a scam.

My method is a little different , I i pretend i'm gonna sleep, with the TV on, and thats the only way i can fall asleep.
Cheers from a fellow Duke alum. Great post. I've been using f.lux for three months now and can't imagine going back. I might have to invest in a sunrise alarm clock, too (recently, I've just been leaving my blinds open at night -- a somewhat cheaper solution).
@yongfook great idea but there is lighted parking right outside my window. It's pretty much as bright at 1am as it is at 6am :)
also, the other day the sun started coming up at 5:18AM, and it's not even 21 June. Reverse problem in the winter. You must be closer to the equator than me :)
Sleeping with curtains open is only an option if it actually gets dark at night. The darkest it gets is twilight. Time between sunset and sunrise is a little less than four hours, so the sun never sets so far that it actually gets dark. Stay awake for an hour too long and you've ruined your sleep schedule.

Of course, I've acquired the fantastic talent of sleeping through sunrise with very light curtains and an east-facing window - simply because sunrise is at 3:30.

One of the downsides to living in Norway :P

If you can't sleep with the curtains open, due to the carpark, what about fitting a powered curtain opener ? Do a little real-world interfacing to have them open slowly as the sun comes up. Maybe a current detector on the sunlight alarm clock - as it slowly brightens, have a number of steps in curtain opening. Most modern curtain railing systems have the ability to add an opening motor, and the control mechanisms are very simple, either a open/close switch or remote control.
I've been using flux for a couple months and it works great. Have tried dimming brightness and white on black options for using my iPad but doesn't work for everything. Hoping someone figures out how to do flux on the iPad. Great post - thanks for the wonderful advice.
Great post - I haven't had time to read it all yet but even so there's a couple of items that I hadn't come across in my pretty long lifetime of researching my delayed phase syndrome.

I've experimented with light in the morning, both with my own equipment and also at a seasonal affective disorder research facility, and it just doesn't work for me - I'm inclined to feel more sleepy when I use it!

Some extra tips:

1. Wear an eye-mask in bed, unless it's always truly black in your bedroom, otherwise it can be very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Likewise, wear the mask if you get up for the bathroom, and grope your way - just a few minutes light can affect your ability to get back to sleep. I wear 2 black masks, one on top of the other.

2. Try an airbed constructed like these (*not* an affiliate link):
Pump it up so that it's nowhere near full, and you get a lovely waterbed-type result. It has really helped my sleep.

3. If you're desperate, consider amitriptyline, with dosage of 60-70mg. It's well below the anti-depressant dose, and the sleepy effect of amitriptyline is considered a side-effect of the medication. This requires discussion with your doctor.

For me, it's all about turning off the business brain. Gotta to have a book that in no way relates to my business, and that I can just get lost in. An hour later, I can turn off my light and fall asleep within half an hour. I was VERY close to asking my doctor for a prescription to sleeping pills, but so glad an old fashioned solution worked for me.
How about wearing red-tinted sunglasses in the evening? Would that work too? If so, it would be cheaper than placing filters on all light fixtures.
(invariable "sunglasses at night" reference)

But yes, that is a good and cheap solution.

Jason, thank you for publishing this. I've had this for 13 years but have never been able to find an actual diagnosis for it. I saw a couple of doctors during school but eventually gave up trying to figure it out.

I live with it using a managable but not ideal compromise at the moment. However, I now feel very relived to have information on what it is and how I can change it... if I choose to give up my 3am creative time that is. :)

Thanks again!

I wrote a program "xdark" which works on Linux / X11 and adjusts the gamma ramp to invert the display or darken the screen. It doesn't currently adjust R,G,B separately, but that would be an easy patch, and it's open source! :) It was inspired by / written with reference to the standard "xgamma" program. I use a GUI nvidia tool to do the same thing on my windows box at work. I believe compiz can also do this sort of thing, and it can also invert individual windows. Generally most programs such as browsers seem to prefer black-on-white but I prefer white-on-black, so it's easiest to invert the whole display, except if I am looking at photos or video when colours matter!
@Sam I discuss the Compiz approach in the link I posted earlier
Thanks for your post and helpful tips.
Hey! gonna say something too, i dont like the standby light of many electronics devices, like the monitor, always turn off ^^
tips are good and the solution seems to be cheap
I'm very excited to try this method. I've struggled with DSPS-like morning hate for a long time. The SleepCycle iPhone app helped quite a bit, and it's now my most-used app. But sometimes even that doesn't cure the persistent grogginess. I can't wait to try the lighting tricks and see if that helps.

Any suggestions on what to do with an iPad? Orange plastic wrap?

Same solution for $20 or less:
I solved my insomnia problems very simply when mp3 players showed up, just listen to audio books, it will put you to sleep. The reason it works is , it prevents your mind to have wandering thoughts, it focuses them on book and you can fall asleep easily. After short while you should be able to fall asleep instantly.
" I get so annoyed by people who have normal sleep cycles offering me solutions that work for them. Simple solutions...they just don't work."
I had all these symptoms growing up. When I was in college I tried to do polyphasic sleep. I failed, but what happened was essentially about 3 days of near-complete insomnia. When it was all over, I was a morning person.

I think staying up for over 24 hours at once may be a good way to reset your sleep timer.

Meditation. Helps with everything, but particularly healthy sleep.
All well and good, but how do you people EVER hope to survive the zombie apocalypse? We're going to have to move at night! :P

Seriously though, not all of us consider "night owl syndrome" a terrible thing. I've lived with it for over 35 years (since I was in my teens) and had a very productive career. Of course, I'm no banker or farmer; I've worked as a comic, an artist and done late shifts most of my life.

This post will save many hours of bed sleeping. But the price is too high for me. Think about sleeping 300 years ago. When the sun is off you go sleep and vice versa. So the amount of time you sleep depends on the year period. More sleep is needed in winter less in summer. Makes sense? But the best advice from this post cost nothing. Make dark when going sleep and light when awaking. It's what I use and works perfectly. Thank you Jasson!
Jason, I was using a filter myself until I realized all I needed was a pair of their glasses for 2 hours before bedtime and my 25 year struggle with insomnia was OVER! I use a pair of their Novelists which seem to be the most stylish of their collection. By simply using their glasses you don't need any other red or amber light or even a filter over the computer or TV screen. The glasses filter out the blue light from every light or electronic device in your house. The other thing I'd recommend from LowBlue would be their nightlight. It seems that any eye contact with blue light throughout the night defeats any blocking you did earlier so that includes flicking on the light in the bathroom for only a minute or two while taking care of business. Jason one more thing. You inquired earlier about help with iPad insomnia. Sure enough, has just come out with an adhesive free, bubble free amber Zzz iPad filter. Best of all with their money-back guarantee and Made in USA statement sure sounds like they're way ahead of the curve. Thanks for your great work here. Hope this helps too.
Good stuff, Jason. I use a light box in the AM, not for DSPS, but for seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I think much, if not most, of the population at 40+ lat. would be served by 20-30 minutes of light box from November to March (or year round if 90+% of one's time is spent indoors). For me, it was a $130 solution to an incredibly frustrating annual cycle of building a life each summer and self-destructing each winter.

I know you're living high on the digital scene, but this line made me cringe: "There's no way I'm turning off my HD TV, Macbook, iPad, or iPhone either. I need ways to limit bad light at night without hampering my digital lifestyle."

Sometime, try a week of shutting everything down after dinner and reserving that time for friends, books, baths or whatever gets you off, sans electricity. The electronics stimulate the brain in a very distinct way apart from the light. I'm bad at this too, but having a couple hours unplugged before bed is very refreshing.

Oh, and I'd be remiss not to point out.... one more problem created by industrial society that will be taken care when it collapses.

"Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." -Benjamin Franklin. We've all heard it, and unfortunately for us night owls, it's true. The business world heavily favors morning people. Have you been passed over for promotions a few times? It might be because you either a) struggle to make it to work on time or b) are so jacked up on caffeine in the morning you don't come across well.

I purchased a Sunrise alarm clock in 2007 and it helped me tremendously.

More recently, I learned the fasting until breakfast trick from wise bread:

Finally, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of cold exposure as described by Timothy Ferriss in his book, The 4-Hour Body


Another great post. I too have strong night-owl tendencies. Immediately after reading this, I downloaded f.lux. Hopefully, it should work great tonight. Thanks again for the insight.

I have one other issue. I tutor students and so end up working late and having to rise early. My issue is getting sleep in the afternoon. Will 6 hours of sleep and 1-2 hours of sleep in the afternoon be sufficient sleep overall?

This is all stellar content. I'm printing this bad boy out right now and starting with the basics. I'd love to share with you how progress is over time.

You can also buy ZEO the personal sleep coach, which is kinda like Sleep Cycle app, but way better because it uses more direct measurements: your brain waves. Whereas, Sleep Cycle uses the accelerometer to figure out when you are tossing and turning, ZEO is basically an EEG hooked in to an alarm clock, and wakes you up just as you as slipping out of REM sleep. This is the most crucial thing to be able to achieve, because it is the difference between feeling groggy all day or feeling wide awake.

Great way to wake up. Kinda makes you wonder how you could have put up with an alarm clock for 20+ years.

An old axiom in natural health care is "if you can't go to sleep, you need calcium, if you can't stay asleep you need B-Complex"
Calcium RDA(Recommended Dietary Allowance)is minimum 900 mg per day, up to 1800 mg per day, if calcium is too high you tend toward constipation, add a little magnesium.
B-Complex, B100, 100 percent, 2-3 tablets an hour before bed to stay asleep, only side effect is bright green/yellow urine.
The only thing that ever worked for me was the discovery of Trazodone.
Hi Jason,

Great article about a little-known disorder. From someone who has DSPS, I'm a little surprised that you would call it a "bad habit" (in the sentence just below your shopping list). DSPS is far from a bad habit; it's a disorder (see:, and definitely not as easily changed as a bad habit.

For others out there with DSPS, the 10000 lux blue spectrum light in the morning is key, but my sleep doc has also put me on melatonin, taken at 10PM. I've been using this combo (light/melatonin) for a few weeks now, and while it's a slow process, it's definitely helping my sleep phase move in the right direction.

Does anyone know what the difference between the PER3 Naturebright light and the new PER2 one is? On Naturebrights website it sounds like they are similar, but it says the PER2 has a "color temperature changing LED reading lamp with auto shifting color temperature." I tried emailing Natruebright, but of course the just repsonded that the PER3 is discontinued (although you can still get it on Amazon for $45 cheaper than the PER2)...
I like your article, and just wanted to add one thing that I have also tried that really does seem to make a difference for my delayed sleep phase syndrome, that I recently found out and have been doing. I have taken melatonin literally since it came on the market like 15 years ago, under the advice of my then sleep doctor. I have seen other sleep specialists since then, and it seemed the guidance was to take the melatonin at bed time or maybe up to an hour before. Doing so, I was able to fall asleep between 1-2 AM instead of 3-4. With my recent research it seems that the current guidance is to take 0.3-0.5 mg (which is what I had come to myself through trial and error), but to take it 8 hours after your natural wake time, if you want to advance your sleep time earlier, which most people with delayed sleep phase syndrome do want to do, becuase we are falling asleep at 1-5 in the morning! So for me, my 'natural wake' time is 11 AM (8 hours after my natural sleep time of 3AM - even though I usually get up at 8 every day anyway). So under the current guidance, I should take my melatonin 8 hours after 11 AM - or 7 PM!! This was really a crazy thought for me, but is making my sleep a lot better, even though I'm not following it exactly- taking it at like 7-10 PM- when I get home and after dinner. But even with just that I notice I am actually a little tired when I try to go to bed at 12-12:30, and I feel less like the walking dead in the morning when I get up at 8. Using this technique I was able to quickly (within 2 days) advance my sleep time from 2 AM to 1 AM, which usually takes me tortuous weeks/months of not enough sleep to accomplish. I would definitely recommend taking melatonin earlier, if anyone has been taking it near bedtime, like I was.
For any apple devices i recommend jailbreaking and downloading the flux application through cydia. works just like the PC version and allows me to use my ipad late nights without being so bright.
Thanks for the great tips, very helpful. I have already started using flux and found an app called 'Twilight' in the google play store for use on my android devices. Just a heads up for anyone else who needs it.
Thanx for recommendations! I struggle with DSPS mostly in de wintertime when my clock lacks the morning light to wake up. This gave me some alternatives to natural morning light. :)
Thank goodness folks are starting to report on this. I use the SleepShield iPad filters ( ) and they work great. I also put the new Good Night LED Sleep Lights in my bedside table ( ).
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