6 ways to become a better morning person and have it actually stick
As it turns out, the right tactics may be more subtle than you think
If you're someone who wakes at dawn and crosses off a few to-do items off your list before 8 a.m., you know all about the bliss that feeling fresh, early, affords you.
On the other hand, if you continuously hit snooze on your alarm and find yourself rushed to leave the house, mornings may be the hardest part of the day. And you've probably already attempted to tinker with your internal clock (your "chronobiology") to fix this. Heck, you might have tried a dozen times. It's not easy defying one's chronotype, otherwise known as our circadian typology, whether we're a night owl or a morning lark — after all, it is partially determined by our genes.
Still, switching to an early-bird lifestyle has its benefits. Those few precious hours in the morning may be the only ones that belong to us alone, and many of us work in an early-bird world, with hours that start at 9 a.m. Arriving on time is the minimum requirement; we're also expected to be productive — and pleasant (read: not cranky).
Yet a 2017 Statistics Canada report reported that one in five adults don't find their sleep refreshing, and one in three have difficulty staying awake during the daytime. (No wonder we're cranky.)
It is possible to become (more of a) morning person; it just may mean making key lifestyle changes — just a few, and they're more subtle than you may have thought. Here are six ways to tweak your rituals, improve your sleep and finally become the morning person you always wanted to be.
Gradually move your bedtime (and yes, consider melatonin)
Becoming a morning person, of course, starts with getting enough sleep, but making drastic changes may not be your best bet. Once you've decided on your ideal bedtime and wake time (making sure you get at least seven hours of sleep), you're going to need to gradually change to this new sleep schedule. Use the same principle commonly used to combat jet lag, adjusting up your bedtime by 15 minutes per day until you hit your goal bedtime.
If you're having trouble getting to sleep, try popping a melatonin supplement two hours before your set bedtime. Melatonin is a hormone that's made by the pineal gland in the brain. When the hormone is released, it tells your body when it's time to sleep, and when it tapers off, when to wake up. Melatonin supplements are an over-the-counter natural sleep aid and are generally considered safe for short-term use (though you should consult with your doctor first).
Cut out heavy dinners — especially these things
Sure, one too many nightcaps and caffeinated beverages are obvious culprits to undermining sleep, but there's evidence that the quality of your sleep is also connected to the last meal you ate before bed. A 2016 controlled study from Columbia University showed that low fibre intake, high intake of saturated fat and high intake of sugar were tied to "lighter, less restorative sleep."
However, it's important to note that it may not be just what you eat (or don't eat). Evidence suggests that timing may be just as important. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that nocturnal eating, including delayed dinners and late-night snacking, correlated with poor sleep quality. In an interview with the New York Times, professor of nutrition science Dr. Courtney Peterson explained how eating later in the evening can confuse the body. "If you're constantly eating at a time of day when you're not getting bright light exposure, then the different clock systems become out of sync," she said.
Meditate at nighttime
Perhaps you've considered meditation as a means to reduce stress throughout the day; the same effect can lead to better sleep. One 2015 study showed that participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and slept longer compared to those who didn't practice.
If you're a newbie to meditation, this article contains some very simple meditations for deep rest. There are also a handful of guided meditation channels on YouTube and apps for your smartphone (some popular options are Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer). If you're not new to meditation, consider adding a practice to the minutes before you hit the sheets.
Work out in the daytime
If you've been exercising just before bedtime, you might want to rethink this. The general rule is to stop exercising two hours before bedtime (even if you feel exhausted after your workout, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get quality sleep). But there's also a case to make for moving your workouts to the morning.
Exercise releases norepinephrine and serotonin, neurotransmitters which are associated with alertness, explaining why so many early-birds report that an early gym session gives them all-day energy. Endorphins are also known to be released during exercise — especially in heavy, sweat-inducing cardio sessions — giving you a feel-good boost as you start your day. Pair a workout with coffee and you're well on your way to becoming a morning person.
Take a warm bath (it does more than you might think)
Recent research is supporting the idea that taking a warm shower or bath before bed can help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality — but it's not just because they're relaxing.
The body's core temperature changes throughout the day, gradually cooling off in the evening due to our circadian rhythms. As our temperature starts dropping, our bodies and minds are prepared for sleep, and we start to get drowsy.
So why not have a cool shower to jump-start that process? According to the research, which reviewed 17 studies, warm water exposure (between 40 and 42.5 C) more efficiently cools the body by bringing blood to the surface, causing the heat from our core to be radiated from our hands and feet. Based on the results, it's recommended to bathe or shower an hour or two before bed. (In a few of the studies, participants fell asleep about nine minutes faster on average when they did this.)
It shouldn't come as a surprise that evening screen time can thwart your plans for a good night's sleep. Blue wavelength light — emitted from our computers, laptops and phone screens — is a powerful stimulant. Scientific studies from the University of Toronto and Harvard have shown that it can also suppress melatonin production and alter our circadian rhythms.
There are a few things you can do to curb your blue light exposure in the evening. The first is an obvious one: limit your screen time and avoid looking at any devices two to three hours before bed. Next, try installing an application to your smartphone and computer to neutralize the blue light. A popular (and free) program is f.lux: it adjusts the quality of light in your computer's display according to the time, gradually tinting your screen to an amber-toned hue toward the end of the day to minimize your exposure to blue light. You can also try wearing blue-light blocking glasses in the evening; these lenses have filters that absorb blue light or prevent it from getting through.
Julia McEwen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @juliapjmcewen.