Time to finally wake up and get that proverbial worm.
For SELF, by Amy Marturana.
Photo: Tara Moore / Getty
We all have that friend that somehow jumps out of bed at the first chime of her alarm, and gets started with her packed day with a perky attitude. If she does it without a drip of coffee, it's even more maddening.
For the rest of us, productivity before noon feels like an impossible goal, and the snooze button is at once our arch nemesis and savior. We dream of what life would be like if we could actually get stuff done before heading into the office--imagine how many more happy hours you could make it to if you got your workout in before the day started.
If you're naturally a night owl, there's a chance you may never love the morning. "But you can stop hating the morning," says Norman Rosenthal, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of The Gift of Adversity. "You can stop being dysfunctional in the morning," which for many people, is a necessity to keep their jobs, or get up and tend to their young kids.
To help you start your mornings on a happier note, we talked to experts to learn how we can do as the mythical morning people do.
When and how you wake up is kind of all about when and how you go to sleep. And that says a lot about how you decide to use your waking hours.
"Each one of us has an internal clock that's set to go to bed at a certain time and wake up at a certain time," Rachel Salas, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells SELF. Chances are, your current one is not the same as your natural circadian rhythm, thanks to the constant stimulation our brains are getting. "Back before the invention of the lightbulb, the sun went down and our brains knew it was time to go to bed," Salas explains. You also couldn't really do much once the daylight was gone. Now, we're stuck on electronics, or up doing chores, or whatever else we couldn't fit into our day. So our sleep cycles have shifted drastically.
All our body clocks naturally tick a little differently, but your sleep-wake schedule has a lot to do with your lifestyle, too, explains Rosenthal. "If you're a young person and all your friends like hanging out at bars until late at night, if you don't join them, you feel like you're missing out. That's going to shape your behavior," he says.
So you don't just need to change what time your alarm goes off and force yourself out of bed; you need to change your whole sleep cycle.
At the sleep lab Salas works in, she says the first thing they ask patients is what their sleeping patterns were like in middle school--when it more closely resembled their natural circadian rhythm. "Then, we start pulling them back by 15-minute increments." So if you normally sleep 1 A.M. to 8 A.M., bump it back to 12:45 A.M. and 7:45 A.M.
If your cycle is horribly out of whack (you're used to going to bed at 3 A.M.), it could take months to readjust, Salas says, and you should probably be seeing a sleep behavior psychologist to help you out. "But if you're just off an hour or so--maybe you stay up a little longer on weekends--I would say in a month or two you should start seeing a change," Salas says.
Establishing good sleep hygiene overall is an important place to start.
Paying attention to lighting is a great way to help shift your body's clock and get you moving earlier in the morning. Rosenthal has done extensive research on light (he was the first to name seasonal affective disorder and pioneered light therapy treatment), including how it can be used to shift people's sleep-wake times. The basic science: Dim the lights and minimize blue light in the evenings, and expose yourself to bright light first thing when you wake up.
It's not all about nighttime routine. Pay attention to your habits during the day that may be sabotaging your sleep, such as caffeinating in the late afternoon, stressing over deadlines at work, and bringing your phone or laptop into bed with you. Basically, you should follow The 10 Commandments For Better Sleep to make it easier to set an earlier bedtime and actually fall asleep.
Also, we put such an emphasis on how much sleep we get, that we ignore other important factors, like when we get it. "A lot of times people have somewhat of an irregular sleep-wake schedule," Salas says, meaning some days you go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, and others, like on a lazy Sunday, you sleep in super late. The problem (and it's a big one) is that this confuses your body clock, so it's never really sure what time it's supposed to be up and alert. If you're extra sensitive, even 30 minutes' difference could affect you.
Take this tip from honest-to-goodness morning people: Find something you love and plan to do it first thing every morning.
One thing most morning people have in common is that they wake up early to do something they love.
"The first thing I love to do each morning is get out of bed and go for a walk," says Brad Davidson, personal trainer, performance coach, and author of The Stark Naked 21-Day Metabolic Reset. "I get back and stretch for five minutes, read a book for 10 minutes, and then start my day." He says he wakes up at 5 A.M., but not for work--because he looks forward to having this time to himself before his wife and kids even wake up. "It's two whole hours of me-time and setting my day up for success. I went from an ideal sleep cycle of about 2 A.M. to 9 A.M., and now I'm 5 A.M. to 9 P.M. I love my mornings now."
Kira Stokes, celebrity trainer at BFX Studio and creator of the Stoked Method and Stoked Series workout, says some days she's up by 4:30 A.M. "I'm not going to say it's always easy, but as a trainer it's what you have to do; that's your prime time," Stokes says. Over the years, she's shifted her mindset and found something to look forward to: her morning coffee. "I dream of my coffee. I call it my 'princess time,' where I sit in front of the computer, sip coffee, and answer emails," she says. "I'm so go, go, go, all day, I don't get to answer emails very easily or very often, so it's my peaceful time."
Whether it's getting in some me-time, spending time with your kids, squeezing in a workout before a crazy day, or just getting to the office on time for once, establishing why you want to be a morning person will help you keep that goal top of mind when you're considering hitting snooze again.
More from SELF: