For those of us who have to drag ourselves out of bed every morning, who eye the alarm clock with hatred and who think that putting our feet on the floor next to our bed is the first step of our daily surrender, it is hard to believe that there are people who actually love the morning. But despite our doubts, there are some who spring out of bed at the first sign of light, delighting in their morning coffee sipped while listening to chirping birds and revving themselves up with a run around the neighborhood or watching their favorite early morning show. Some have always been early birds and some have taught themselves to wake up happy, and believe it or not, you can too.
There are definite advantages to enjoying the morning. As unnatural as it may seem, once you get the hang of waking up easily you find that you can get a tremendous amount done in the hours before other people wake up. More importantly, if you wake up feeling good then you set the tone for the rest of your day.
Turning yourself into a person who is happy in the morning isn’t as easy as simply making the decision to do so. But by the same token, it’s not that challenging either. The first step is the most important one – you have to make sure that you get a good night’s sleep. Without that, no matter how much you will yourself to enjoy the early hours you’re going to feel groggy and exhausted, and that is not a good start to anybody’s day. According to Jennifer Neily, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, “Solid research indicates we need seven to nine hours of good sleep for optimal performance, health and even weight management.” Add on to that the substantial amount of research that shows that without enough sleep we’re also likely to be overweight, and it’s enough to make you want to climb back under the covers and hide your head under the pillow.
But Dr. Joseph Takahashi, a professor of neuroscience at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says that getting up early (and happily) is not just about the amount of sleep that you get. Some of it is your genetic heritage. He says that in the hypothalamus, an organ located at the base of your brain, many of the body’s functions are regulated, including a group of cells called the suprachiasmitic nucleus. The cells within this bundle operate on a 24-hour cycle that controls a number of the body’s functions, including the way that we sleep. Our suprachiasmitic nucleus’ operation is affected by things like sunlight, and heredity too. Takahashi says, “Humans show incredibly wide variation in sleep need and in preferred wake up time and bedtime.” But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some control over what your body does.
It is entirely possible to turn yourself into a morning person, whether your genes are programmed that way or not, and one of the first steps to take in order to help yourself along is to understand the role of light in the way your body clock works. Because the sun’s rays (and your brain’s exposure to it) are what sets your internal schedule, it is important that you block light when you want to sleep and give yourself lots of exposure when you want to be awake. Invest in room darkening shades if you need them, and get yourself out into the sunshine during the day.
It’s also important that you establish a nighttime routine that helps you get to sleep at a reasonable hour, and that you stay away from caffeine in the afternoon. That one little cup in the late afternoon might help to pick you up for the last couple of hours, but it will make an even bigger difference (to the negative) when you want to go to sleep at night. Same goes for late night exercise. Instead, keep it for the morning. Takahashi says, “It gets the blood flowing naturally. Any exercise is great, but to really feel the benefits for several hours after, do some vigorous exercise that really gets the heart rate up for at least thirty minutes.” She suggests jogging, or an energetic early-morning group class to get yourself really revved up.
One of the most important aspects of waking up to a good morning is to give yourself a couple of hours before your daily obligations set in. This enables you to set a plan for the day, and to do things at your own pace. One thing to avoid, however, is the internet in the morning. Getting sucked into looking at social media, blogs or email can set you down a path of getting little to nothing accomplished, and you won’t get the energy that you would have if you’d accomplished something tangible.
If you want to convert yourself over to being a morning person, here are some tips that you’ll find helpful:
• Establish a regular routine at night that will ensure that you get the seven to nine hours of sleep that you need.
• Avoid caffeine after 2:00 in the afternoon and alcohol after 8:00 at night. Both will interfere with your sleep.
• Exercise in the morning or during the day, and avoid exercise within a couple of hours of your bedtime.
• Figure out what time your daily obligations begin and wake up at least two hours before that time in order to allow yourself some free time in which you can accomplish something for yourself.
• If you are a breakfast person, then eat something nutritious that includes a healthy source of protein, some whole grains, and some fruits or vegetables.
• Establish a morning routine that you can look forward to. It might be as simple as reading a chapter of a book, making yourself a smoothie, or taking your dog for a long, brisk walk.