For those who thrive in the solace of darkness, the thought of transitioning to a “morning lark” lifestyle is both exciting and intimidating. For this freelance writer, who is forced to stay up past midnight to complete this article (oh the joys of working sporadic hours in the hospitality industry!), becoming a “morning lark” seems almost near impossible.
It’s common for younger people to consider themselves “night owls,” which makes sense considering changes to the circadian rhythms occur during adolescence that make them naturally feel more alert during the evening. A study published in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion found that those who wake up and go to bed early report higher levels of happiness. However, this seems to account mostly for older adults whose circadian rhythms have balanced out with age, whereas younger adults are still struggling with making an early bird routine habitual.
So what are the most effective ways to morph from an owl into a lark? Hope is on the horizon, should you challenge yourself to follow these eight simple steps:
- Set Yourself Up For Success
There’s more to becoming a lark than just setting your alarm and getting up at the crack of dawn. Your actions the day before will also affect your mood and energy levels in the morning.
If necessary, look to naps for a natural caffeine kick. The Mayo Clinic recommends naps should last no more than 30 minutes (any longer could put you into a deeper REM sleep and increase grogginess) and no later than 3 p.m (any later could interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night). However, if you’re already having trouble falling asleep, especially if you’re just getting into the habit of going to bed earlier, do your best to instead avoid these daytime naps to prevent potential unwanted nighttime alertness.
Stick to consuming only decaffeinated tea or water before bed; consuming large amounts of alcohol in the evening will set you up for dehydration, which will upset your mood as well as your sleep schedule.
Keep morning grouchiness away by setting aside time during the previous evening to pre-pack a lunch, prepare your briefcase and pick out your clothes. This will save you a few minutes of time in the morning so you’re not feeling rushed.
- Get Into A Routine
If you’re going to make waking up at the same time every morning a routine, preparing yourself for a good night’s sleep should be part of that daily routine as well.
Set an official bedtime, and enjoy a warm bath, decaffeinated beverage or a few pages of a good book beforehand. This repeated itinerary will help your body settle down and prepare itself for what’s next to come: a full, deep, night’s sleep.
- Don’t Fight The Light
According to the National Sleep Foundation, a group of cells in the hypothalamus of our brain that respond to light and dark signals are responsible for our circadian rhythms. Light travels through the optic nerve of the eye to this suprachiasmatic nucleus – more light sends signals to raise body temperature and keeps us alert, whereas less light releases more melatonin, which encourages sleepiness.
Keep the blinds open and the curtains pulled back so your body can naturally wake itself up when daylight breaks through your bedroom window. During wintertime, you may also choose to invest in a light box to mimic natural sunlight. With that in mind, this also means that when the sun starts setting, house lights should be turned down and television should be watched minimally to prevent the suprachiasmatic nucleus from mistaking these for natural sunlight.
- Eat Right
We all know the saying: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” What you choose to eat for your first meal of the day is significantly more important than what time you choose to eat it.
Cut the doughnuts and sugary cereals that will set you up for a midday crash out of your morning diet. Instead, opt for foods high in protein to keep you satiated throughout the day, fiber to maintain a healthy digestive system and fruits that provide easily digestible glucose for an energy boost.
- Get Physical
If you’re not already used to being a lark, the very thought of throwing on a track suit and going out for a run or bike ride as soon as your alarm goes off in the morning is exhausting enough. But even a 15-minute spurt of physical activity will be enough to quickly get rid of grogginess.
Former Navy SEAL Stew Smith recommends crunches, jumping jacks, pushups, squats and dumbbell exercises to kick the day off, especially if 15 minutes is all the time you have to spare in the morning.
Kudos to you if you are addicted to working out and keeping your body in shape – just remember to keep physical activity strictly to daylight hours, and allow your body to mellow out after the sun has gone down.
- Listen To Your Body
Your owl conditioned body is not going to get into the swing of things right away, and help from an alarm clock is certainly expected at first. Unfortunately, that might mean you’re being rudely awakened from a deeper cycle of sleep, which will make that initial leap out of bed quite the challenge.
The goal is for your body to get into such a light sleep cycle in the morning that it naturally awakens. So if you find yourself waking up half an hour before your alarm clock goes off, take it as a personal victory and reward yourself by NOT going back to sleep for the remaining 30 minutes and risk sending yourself into a deeper REM cycle. Just get up and get your day started half an hour earlier.
Listening to your body also means making your health and well-being a priority. If you can’t get out of working that late shift, don’t force yourself to run on three to four hours of sleep the next day. If you wake up feeling ill, give your body all the care and sleep it’s asking for.
- Don’t Stress Over Being Perfect
A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology revealed that it could take anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form a habit. Make this new habit your own, and don’t compare yourself to how “easier” or “more successful” it might be for others.
While 18 to 254 days seems like quite an ambiguous range, it was also noted that “missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process.” Considering that a good majority of people will not transition from owls to larks overnight, that’s good to hear. Keep in mind that should you stumble attempting to meet your goal (which EVERYONE has done whether they admit it or not), it’s not worth beating yourself up over; stressing over perfection is counter-effective to your long-term goals.
- Remember: It’s All In Your Head
The physical challenges of transitioning to being a morning person are only half the battle – the other half is completely mental.
If you wake up dreading your itinerary for the day instead of waking up looking forward to something positive the day will have in store, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Give yourself a pep talk and remind yourself of your goals, why you’re doing this and how much better you’ll feel about yourself mentally and physically in the long run. If the willpower is there, you will find success.