Whether it is break-of-dawn school start times or early work meetings, most schedules seem to accommodate morning people.
If you are wondering how to become a morning person, there are several factors to consider. Being a night owl is hardwired to some extent, due to a phenomenon called chronotypes. That said, there are tactics you can use to make yourself feel more comfortable in the morning.
We will explain the science behind chronotypes, and share tips for becoming more of a morning person.
Why Are Some People Morning People and Not Others?
Our sleep-wake cycles are dictated by our circadian rhythm, an internal body clock that regulates our energy levels throughout the day. The circadian rhythm operates on a 24-hour schedule that generally follows the patterns of the sun. Most people feel awake when it is light and sleepy when it is dark, but the specific timing of these schedules can vary from person to person. That variability is what is known as a chronotype, and it is the official term for whether you are a morning or a night person.
Morning people, or early birds, have an early chronotype. They like waking up early and they tend to feel at their best earlier in the day. Night owls, on the other hand, have a late chronotype. They prefer to wake up later and they feel most motivated and active at night. Chronotypes lie on a spectrum, and most people fall somewhere in between.
These preferences are reflected at a physiological level, all the way down to your central nervous system activity. In morning people, brain pathways are most excitable in the morning, empowering peak physical performance early in the day. In night owls, it is the opposite.
Neither chronotype is inherently better than the other; they are simply different. However, in many ways, night owls are at a disadvantage. From school to work, important activities are often scheduled for the morning, when night owls are still sleepy and experience lower cognitive and physical performance as a result. There is also a link between depression and being a night owl.
Some researchers have compared having a late chronotype to living with a chronic form of jet lag. The tension between their natural sleep-wake cycles and society’s demands can create real consequences for night owls, including an increased risk of health problems, mood disturbances, and poor performance in work and at school.
Can You Change Your Chronotype?
Your chronotype is largely genetic, but your age, environment, and activity level can all influence it. For example, in one study, night owls were able to shift their sleep cycle forward by as much as two hours through a handful of ordinary lifestyle changes. Over a period of three weeks, those with late chronotypes were instructed to:
- Wake up and go to bed two to three hours earlier than normal
- Closely maintain this sleep schedule, even on days off from work or school
- Get as much outdoor light as possible during the morning, and limit their light exposure at night
- Adjust their meals so they had breakfast immediately after waking up, ate lunch at the same time daily, and refrained from eating dinner after 7 p.m.
- Avoid coffee after 3 p.m., refrain from napping after 4 p.m., and reschedule exercise for the morning instead of the afternoon or evening
With these lifestyle changes alone, night owls in the study were able to shift their sleep cycles forward, without negatively impacting the total amount of sleep they got each night. Moreover, they declared feeling less depressed and less stressed. When researchers carried out tests of their reaction times and grip strength, they found the night owls performed better than before in the morning, which was usually their weakest time of day.
Your chronotype may also shift due to age, gender, and physical changes. For example, one study found that women are more likely than men to be early birds from childhood through their 20s, but are more likely than men to become night owls after age 45. The chronotypes of pregnant people shift earlier during the first and second trimesters, before returning to normal during the third trimester. Having a stroke may also affect your chronotype.
Tips for Becoming a Morning Person
People change their sleep schedules for all sorts of reasons. If you need to become more of a morning person to support a new work or school schedule, help out your family, or simply because you want to, it may help to follow these tips.
Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene
Before you start shifting your sleep schedule, it is beneficial to establish healthy sleep practices, commonly referred to as sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene encompasses a set of habits that are said to to promote better sleep, such as:
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially before bed
- Avoiding afternoon and evening naps
- Finding relaxing pre-bed activities
Sleep hygiene also involves making your bedroom conducive to better sleep by creating a dark, quiet, and cool bedroom environment. It may help to use blackout curtains, invest in high-quality bedding, and clear the room of clutter.
Develop a Nighttime Routine
A bedtime routine signals to your brain that it is time to fall asleep. This type of behavioral cue is all the more powerful when you perform the same activities in the same order, night after night, before going to bed.
Filling your bedtime routine with calming, restful activities can help your body wind down for sleep. Consider taking a bath, reading a book, journaling, listening to relaxing music, or doing some light stretching or meditation.
Dim the lights and avoid using any electronics during your bedtime routine, such as your smartphone, TV, or an e-reader. These devices activate the mind and trick your eyes into thinking it is still daytime, delaying sleep. Too much light in the evening may also make it more difficult to wake up in the morning.
Stay on a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Whether you are an evening person or a morning person, having a consistent sleep schedule makes it easier to get your recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night and feel more refreshed during the day. Studies have found that sleeping in on the weekends can disrupt your circadian rhythm, so it is best to set regular sleep and wake times and follow them daily.
Gradually Shift Your Bedtime Earlier
Once you have adopted a regular sleep schedule, start shifting your bedtime earlier, using increments of 15 minutes. At the same time, adjust your alarms to wake up 15 minutes earlier. Make the change gradually, taking at least a few days in between each new shift.
Develop a Morning Routine
Filling your morning routine with things that make you feel happy and energized may help you feel more motivated to get out of bed. That could include your favorite morning beverage, or sitting outside with your beloved pet for a few minutes.
While it is tempting to hit the snooze button, this may be counterproductive. The body starts naturally preparing to wake up approximately two to three hours before your normal wake-up time, and hitting snooze may send mixed messages to the internal body clock. Ideally, people who receive adequate sleep may not even need an alarm clock.
If you do need an alarm, research shows that more melodic alarm noises make it easier to shake off the groggy feeling known as sleep inertia. You could also consider letting light serve as a natural alarm clock, either by leaving the curtains open or by using a dawn simulator that coaxes you gently from sleep.
Keeping a regular exercise routine is proven to help improve sleep. One group of researchers found that morning and evening exercise alike have a particularly profound effect on the circadian rhythms of night owls, and may help them bring their sleep cycles approximately 30 minutes earlier.
Use Light Strategically
Light has a strong alerting effect that exerts a powerful influence on the circadian rhythm. Some research indicates that it may have a stronger effect on night owls. When night owls are exposed only to natural light, their internal body clocks shift earlier. Exposure to bright light in the morning is considered one of the best ways to become more of a morning person and shift your chronotype earlier. If you cannot go outside, sit by a window or buy a light therapy lamp that is designed to imitate natural light.
Shift Mealtimes Earlier
Your appetite is intricately tied to your circadian rhythm, and the timing of your meals can have an effect on your circadian rhythm.
It is common for night owls to eat meals later. By eating at a time more concordant with a morning person’s schedule, you can help your body adjust to an earlier routine. Conversely, if you maintain the same dinner times as before, you might find your body is still carrying out certain components of the digestive process when you are trying to sleep. This makes it harder to adjust to your new schedule. It may also desynchronize your body’s sleep-wake cycle from your eating cycle, which can negatively impact your metabolism.
Be Careful With Coffee
Studies show that drinking caffeine up to six hours before bedtime can disrupt your sleep and make it harder to drift off. Try to limit caffeine to morning hours, avoid consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily, and schedule your last cup of coffee for at least six hours before bed, if not earlier.
Increasingly flexible work schedules open up new possibilities for night owls who cannot adapt to a morning routine. However, if you are still feeling excessively sleepy, talk to your doctor. There may be other factors contributing to your sleep issues, like an underlying sleep disorder or health condition. Your doctor can help you diagnose any unresolved issues and help you work towards improving your sleep.
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