Wake Up! How to Become a Morning Person
The early bird catches the worm — and some important health benefits. Here's how to reset your clock
Who doesn't know an early bird who finds time to hit the gym, read the newspaper and answer email, all before going to work? If you find the mere thought of that exhausting, you’re not alone.
It’s OK to not be a morning person: Only about one in 10 people is. (At the same time, just two in 10 people are true night owls.) However, research suggests early risers may have some advantages over folks who roll out of bed later.
For instance, they appear to adapt to life’s demands more easily. They also report being healthier and feeling happier. College students who get up early have GPAs that are a point higher than their late-rising peers (perhaps because they’re more likely to be on time for class).
If you aren’t a morning person but you’d like to enjoy some of the benefits, these tips are for you.
1. Get better Zzzzzs. You won’t be able to wake up earlier if you don’t get a full night’s sleep — at least seven to eight hours. It needs to be a restful sleep as well, so start preparing two or three hours before bedtime. Don’t eat a big meal during that time and steer clear of caffeine and alcohol. Unplug from your smartphone, tablet and laptop an hour or so before bed. Studies show that the blue light from screens can interfere with sleep. Unwind by reading or meditating before you hit the hay instead.
2. Change your sleep routine — but take it slow. Your body clock may rebel if you try to make a drastic change, so do it gradually. Start by going to bed just 15 minutes earlier and getting up 15 minutes earlier. When that’s comfortable, move your bed- and wakeup times back another 15 minutes. Keep doing this until you’re getting up earlier but still feeling rested. Sticking to the same sleep schedule on weekends will help regulate your body clock. Researchers found that proactive people aren’t just early risers during the week: They get up around the same time on the weekends.
3. Find an alarm that fits your personality. If you use your smartphone to wake up, check out the wide variety of wake-up apps available. These range from coddling to sadistic. Gentle apps, for example, may wake you up to soothing sounds that slowly get louder over a 10-minute period. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s an app that forces you to get up and walk around your house scanning items before the alarm will shut off.
If you prefer an alarm clock, no problem. Like phone apps, alarm clocks have features ranging from dual alarms, nature sounds, dawn simulators and aromatherapy. And if you enjoy waking up to favorite music, a clock radio with an MP3 player might be the ticket.
4. Wake up with a sleep monitor. Another way to wake better in the mornings is to use a sleep monitor (usually worn on the wrist) that’s controlled with an app. Some sleep monitors use motion detectors to determine a person’s sleep cycles, others track heart rate, skin temperature and perspiration. Most, but not all, have a wake-up function that vibrates to wake you during your lightest sleep phase — within 10 to 20 minutes of your set alarm time.
5. Lighten up. The Sleep Foundation recommends using bright lights to help manage the circadian rhythms that regulate sleep/wake cycles. These cycles are determined in part by exposure to light and darkness, along with other cues such as meals and exercise schedules. Dimming lights in the evening can help your body wind down for sleep. Exposure to bright light in the morning can help you wake up, so throw those curtains and let the sun shine in as soon as you get up.
6. Caffeinate if you must, but be sure to eat breakfast. A hot, steaming cup of java will definitely give your nervous system a boost, but don’t rely on Joe alone to jumpstart your day. You’ll need complex carbs, protein and a little bit of healthy fat to fuel you up for the start of the day and give your brain a boost. Think eggs and a little cheese rolled into a whole-wheat tortilla or yogurt topped with granola and fresh berries.
7. Move it. If you become able to wake up early enough, there are lots of good reasons to include exercise in your new morning routine. Being active early will help you focus and also increase your metabolism during the sedentary part of your day. It also will boost your mood, energy, concentration and fitness level, and help create deeper sleep cycles. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a full-out workout. A brisk walk around the block is enough.