You Don’t Have to be a Morning Person
You’ve all seen the endless articles and self-help books that encourage you to wake up early. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that describe how the most successful people wake up far before dawn, and in order to be rich and fulfilled, you must never dare to get up after the sun.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been dragged out of bed a couple times and repeatedly reminded that waking up late is a sign of laziness. Many of us have been raised on the belief that consistently waking up early and forcing yourself to be a morning person (whether it comes to you naturally or not) is the healthiest and most productive way to live. However, this could be little more than a myth.
Understand Your Body Clock
What’s healthy for one person isn’t necessarily healthy for the next. The time at which you naturally wake up is determined by your body clock, which is in turn determined by your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are the cycles in living things that determine sleep, waking, eating and digestion. They are 24-hour cycles that are determined by genetics but are influenced by environmental factors like the changes in external light and temperature. They are the reason why some animals are nocturnal (active at night) and others are diurnal (active during the day). Basically, they make up a complex internal body clock that regulates how your body works.
So what has that got to do with when you wake up?
Your body clock determines whether you are naturally an early bird, a night owl, or somewhere in-between. Though human beings in general have similar circadian rhythms because we are the same species, it varies slightly from person to person. That’s why some people easily wake up at the crack of dawn, others naturally get up late in the morning, but most fall somewhere in the middle. Yup, it may or may not concern your boss that the reason why you can’t handle that early morning or late night shift is, well, science.
A person’s circadian rhythm tends to change according to age. Babies are not born with a circadian rhythm. Their sleeping patterns often lack structure and they take a few months to develop a rhythm. Teenagers often go through what is known as “sleep phase delay”, in which they do not get tired until late at night and have trouble getting up early in the morning (no surprise there). However, they still need the same amount of sleep as younger children.
In adults, the circadian rhythm is more stable as long as one maintains healthy habits. Adults tend to have the strongest sleep drive (the desire to sleep) between 2.00 am to 4.00 am and 1.00 pm to 3.00 pm. In the elderly, the circadian rhythm changes yet again, with older adults getting waking up earlier in the morning and getting tired in the evening earlier than they used to. They also tend to sleep fewer hours than before.
How to Make Your Body Clock Work for You
The key is to lean into your natural body clock, not against it. You can change a lot of external factors which could possibly alter your body clock, but when it comes down to it, it’s best to work with what you’ve got. Forcing yourself to be a morning person when you’re not could be a lifelong battle against your body, yet you can simply find more effective ways of being productive. The first thing you should focus on is getting quality sleep by having good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene simply refers to healthy sleep habits.
1) Get the Right Amount of Sleep
Whether you are a morning person or a night person, when you wake up won’t make a difference if you’re not sleeping enough. It’s easy to get caught up with responsibilities and end up with a massive sleep debt, but there’s only so much that the body can take. The average adult needs a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night to be well-rested. As an individual, make sure to listen to your body and pay attention to how long it takes you to have a refreshing sleep. So whether you wake up at dawn or at noon, you’re ready to face the day and get everything done.
2) Have Regular Sleep and Waking Times
It’s tempting to sleep in on weekends and whenever you have a day off, but this can easily lead to imbalance of your body clock. Waking up and going to bed at roughly the same time each day will help keep your circadian rhythm in sync, and help you attain better quality of sleep.
3) Expose Yourself to Light in the Morning
The circadian rhythm is greatly regulated by light. Think of your body clock as an old mechanical watch; it has its own internal systems, but it needs to be wound up daily to stay in sync. In much the same way, we need to regulate the external factors affecting our body clock. Getting light in the morning signals to your body that your day has begun and it should become more alert. It is advised that one should get light within two hours of waking up, for 30 to 45 minutes.
If you can’t have access to natural sunlight, store-bought is fine. No, seriously.
If you have to get up during the night for work, you may want to consider purchasing a lightbox. Lightboxes are devices that mimic natural sunlight, and are often used in lightbox therapy, a treatment for certain sleep disorders. They are admittedly expensive, but are a solid alternative when sunlight isn’t an option.
4) Avoid Screens Before Bed
It has now been widely accepted that blue light disrupts the sleep-wake cycle. Blue light refers to a wavelength of light that can be found in sunlight but is also produced by digital screens. This light inhibits the production of melatonin; the hormone that makes you feel sleepy to signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep.
As such, it’s not a good idea to spend time on your laptop, TV or scroll through your phone right before bed. It makes falling asleep a lot more difficult than it has to be. The easy solution is to simply avoid screens before bed altogether; some people even advocate to have no screens in your bedroom at all.
However, you have other options. You can download apps like f.lux that regulate the light temperature of your device, which means that they reduce the blue light emitted. You can also invest in glasses that filter out blue light.
5) Learn How to Properly Structure Your Time
If your goal is to be more productive, make the most of the time you already have. Often, we really do have enough time, we simply don’t use it well. If you struggle with handling time, try to schedule all your activities, including sleep, rest and yes, even ‘free time’. Prioritize your sleep. Thinking that sleeping less will save you time is a myth, because chronic sleep deprivation will definitely not be good for your productivity in the long run. It would be a better idea to cut out little miscellaneous things like the amount of time you spend online, and thoroughly plan for your activities in advance. If you can, avoid taking on responsibilities or jobs that require you to completely go against your natural body clock.
6) Monitor When You Take Caffeine
Caffeine itself may not be the issue, but when you take it. Taking caffeine beyond the afternoon may alter your natural body clock, by forcing your body to stay alert for longer than it should. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, the best time to take coffee isn’t first thing in the morning. 8.00 am to 9.00 am is the average time when the levels of cortisol, a hormone that induces alertness, are highest. So you honestly don’t need that early morning coffee. The best time to take coffee would be late morning.
7) Avoid Frequent Shift Work
I understand that this may not be an option for many people, but whenever possible avoid shift work. The irregular sleeping patterns demanded by long-term shift work is very likely to knock your circadian rhythm out of balance.
8) Avoid Frequent Long-Distance Flights Across Time Zones
The immediate change in light and darkness is bound to offset anybody’s body clock. While traveling long distance isn’t necessarily bad, doing it on a regular basis might jeopardize the quality of your sleep.
All in All,
Poor sleep hygiene and sleep disorders can cause your circadian rhythm to fall out of sync. Signs of an out of sync circadian rhythm include experiencing a lot of sleepiness in the daytime, having a hard time falling asleep at night, and having restless sleep with many interruptions. It is important to watch out for the things that can upset your body clock and leave you with no clear pattern. With good sleep hygiene, planning and organization, you don’t have to be a morning person to have a productive and successful life. The key is having enough and quality sleep; not waking up earlier.
What’s your experience with waking up early in the morning? Tell us in the comments.
Cynthia Kinyera is a freelance content writer specializing in women's wellness. She incorporates her easy-flowing prose, SEO techniques, industry experience and content marketing chops into her writing to craft high-converting content. She aims at using words to educate, entertain, empower readers and help her clients make a dollar or two. She is based in Uganda where you can either find her online, writing, studying for her Law degree or obsessing over natural hair care. Get to know her work at cynthiawrites.com, or find her on LinkedIn or Twitter.