Let us begin by saying that being a night owl does not mean that you’ll never be a successful person, no matter how biased the world appears to be toward early risers.
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
According to research, Benjamin Franklin did not get it right. Night owls have been known to be extremely creative and humorous—qualities that help them generate unique ideas and work around big challenges.
Having said that, it is the reality of life that most institutions, be it schools, markets, or offices, are kinder to morning people. We understand the dread you feel when asked to attend that 8.00 a.m. office meeting, but what if you had no choice but to arrive on time?
To understand how the sleep-wake cycle of our body works, you need to know that there are 3 separate clocks that our body follows to keep time. One is the solar clock that stays in line with the rising and the setting of the sun. The second is the social clock that runs according to the time periods established by social institutions such as our workplace or children’s schools. The biological clock is the third clock that we follow; our body takes cues from this clock to decide when to wake up and when to sleep.
Around 70% of us have all three clocks working in harmony, with the occasional disconnect (which is when we feel lethargic). Another 15% people wake up early and go to bed early, commonly known as “larks” or “morning people.” The remaining 15% people are the “night owls,” who are at their most productive during the late hours of the evenings.
So, if you’re a night owl struggling to keep up in the world of morning people, the good news is that you can train your body and mind to be more productive early in the morning. Here’s how:
#1. Adjust your wake-up time gradually
To genuinely make a difference to the time you wake up, you must take baby steps instead of trying to achieve it all in one go. Your game plan should begin with tracking your sleeping patterns to figure out how many hours of sleep you need to wake up feeling fully rested and alert. Usually, people need anything between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Using this data, work on establishing a time to go to bed and a time to wake up. These times should allow you to sleep as many hours as you need to feel fresh, but you must adhere to them once they have been set.
Sleep debt is a little-understood concept that can have harmful consequences in the long run. If you do not follow the schedule that you’ve set up, that half hour of missing sleep or the extra 5 minutes can pile up into a massive sleep debt. This leads to constant exhaustion—a condition that makes you unable to go about your daily activities.
No one says it is going to be easy, but changing into a morning person does require a certain amount of will power. The feeling of achieving what you set out to do, on the other hand, is priceless!
#2. Create an environment conducive to sleep
Our body produces a hormone known as melatonin that makes us feel sleepy. This hormone is secreted in greater amounts when our surroundings are naturally dark. Thus, mimicking the nighttime darkness can help us sleep better.
Draw the blinds in your room, switch off all sources of light as well as all electronic devices. It has been shown that the blue light emitted by the screens of electronic equipment interfere with our sleep by disrupting the flow of melatonin. Teenagers are usually severely hit by this phenomenon. If you must read, a paperback is a better choice than an electronic reader.
Your bedroom should be at a comfortable temperature, neither too hot nor too cold. Extraneous sounds should be muffled as far as possible—thick curtains or soundproofing the walls should do the trick!
#3. Create a bedroom routine
Preparing yourself to go to sleep is just as important as preparing the bedroom for sleeping. Create a routine that you will follow every night before getting into bed that helps you relax.
For instance, you can take a shower and read a few pages of your favorite book. Avoid reading the news, self-help books, or thrillers that will agitate you or set you off thinking. Instead, read short stories or books you’ve read before that will calm and soothe you.
Building a habit is said to take around 21 days. If you stick to your routine long enough, your body will recognize these activities as signals that it’s time to go to bed. You will find yourself growing drowsy and more easily able to drop off to sleep.
#4. Avoid late-afternoon naps
To be able to fall asleep at the time that you want to at night, you should not take a nap late in the afternoon. Taking a short nap within 7 hours of waking up is okay, anything after that is a strict no-no. This will prevent you from falling asleep at the time that you’ve designated previously.
#5. Eat a protein-rich breakfast
Eating a breakfast that is rich in protein and energy will give you enough energy to see you through the day without feeling tired. Foods such as oatmeal, granola, yoghurt, and fruit are good options.
Research studies conducted in Japan have found that children who eat a nutritionally-balanced breakfast are able to sleep better and wake up earlier in the morning. Although this research was focused on young children, it is no secret that a healthy breakfast makes you alert and able to concentrate throughout the day.
In fact, eating a moderately light breakfast and dinner and a heavy lunch is said to help you sleep better.
#6. Expose yourself to natural morning light
Once awake, how do you motivate your body to stay awake? How do you resist the urge to shut down your alarm clock and burrow underneath the covers?
The answer lies in natural morning light. When the body is exposed to the morning light, the production of melatonin stops. At this time, another hormone called cortisol is secreted by our body, which makes us all zippy.
Usually, morning people produce more cortisol than night owls, so they have a biological advantage. However, not to worry—exposing yourself to the bright and natural morning light revs up the production of cortisol. Invest in an automatic curtain opener and program it such that it opens at least 30 minutes before your planned wake up time. If this isn’t an option because your room doesn’t have a window or you don’t get enough sunlight through the window, you could try a smart light to dispel the grogginess.
Also, if you are able to take a walk early in the morning, it will help you even more. Nothing dissipates sleep better than a burst of natural light.
#7. Hoax your body into staying awake
Instead of hitting the snooze button and going back to sleep, try the “inverted snooze” method. Go ahead and hit snooze, but don’t go back to sleep. Instead, tell yourself to get up and do anything you like, but only for the 5-10 minutes of snooze.
You could draw back the curtains, turn on the T.V., or even make coffee for that time. By the time your alarm clock rings again, you’re wide awake and you’re not going back to bed again.
If you have a dog, getting up early is made easier by fixing their feeding time early in the morning. Dogs will gently nudge you or pat you or may even thump at your door, until you’re awake and out of bed and have given them their food. Their internal clocks are usually quite accurate, so you can be sure of being woken up at the right time every single day. Of course, you’ll have to put up with the noise and the drama!
Following these tips for long enough in a disciplined manner should get you from being a night owl to a chirpy lark. If you can build a strategy wherein you get up and go to sleep on your own terms, you are that much more likely to follow the schedule.
You’ll also find that you have more time in the morning to get your chores done, without the frustration of having to do too many things in too little time. Bit by bit, you’ll notice that those dreaded mornings aren’t so bad after all!