How to become (more of) a morning person
You know those people who wake up bright and chipper each morning, jumping out of bed at the first ray of light? Either you are one of those morning birds, or they probably drive you nuts. Or you want to be one. But every person has a chronotype—think of it as a personality type for your sleep—which some say is genetic. So can you become a morning person if you aren’t one naturally?
“It takes work,” says Dr. W. Christopher Winter, a board-certified sleep medicine specialist and medical director of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. “There’s a certain aspect of you swimming upstream.” However, while Winter doesn’t think true night owls will ever really become true morning people, “I think you can change your rhythm,” he says.
There are plenty of reasons to try. Studies show that morning people are often more successful—they’re more alert for school and work, and they may even make more money. Here’s how to work on changing your sleeping rhythms to became more of a morning person.
1. Establish sleep habits
You can’t become a morning person if you’re not an anything person—meaning, if you go to bed at 9 p.m. one night and 1 a.m. the next, you have no regular routine. Before you start changing a routine, you have to have one. Practice healthy sleep habits: As much as possible, go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Even if you need to change up your schedule on weekends or for special events, some regularity is better than none.
2. Start shifting gradually
Rome wasn’t built in a day (although it was probably built by early risers). Force yourself to get up three hours earlier than you’re used to, and you’ll give up after the second pot of coffee. Experts say you should do it gradually, by increments of 20 minutes a day in the morning and in the evening.
3. Get up when you wake up
Don’t hit that snooze button! To be a true morning person, it’s not what time your alarm goes off that matters, it’s when you bounce out of bed. So no lingering in the warm cocoon of your sheets, even if you’re reading work emails. Put those feet on the floor and start your day.
4. Be constructive in the morning
Exercise. Eat. Enjoy your family. The point of rising early is to get a head start on the day—and to do the fulfilling things first. Virgin Airline’s Richard Branson gets up at 5 a.m. “Over my 50 years in business I have learned that if I rise early I can achieve so much more in a day, and therefore in life,” he says.
5. Work on your zeitgebers
Morning and nighttime tasks—from brushing your teeth to turning off your electronics—are all time cues, or “zeitgebers” (“time-giver” in German), according to Dr. Winter. “The more zeitgebers a person is exposed to—particularly cues that are presented at uniform times each day—the more synchronized an individual’s circadian rhythm.” Tip: Stepping out into the sunlight is one of the best morning zeitgebers.
6. Keep waking up on the weekend
Sorry about this one: If you really want to become a morning person, you can’t slack off on the weekends. Sleeping late on weekends can cause something called, “sleep onset insomnia,” and come Monday you’re going to have to start trying to be a morning person all over again. According to experts, even if you stay up late on weekends, you should still wake up at your regular time, and compensate for the lack of sleep with a nap.
7. Stick to it when traveling
Traveling for work or pleasure can also wreak havoc on your morning-person aspirations. Though dealing with jet lag can be a bear, stick to your regular routine as much as possible. You’ll thank yourself when you get home.
8. Know your chronotype limits
While your chronotype is partly genetic, it’s also environmental. With the right sleep routine and a gradual shift in schedule, you can learn to wake up earlier in the morning. But if you can’t make a full-on, Branson-level transformation, don’t stress about it. You might not be built for it. But any amount of waking earlier can help.
Written by Amy Klein
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