Our natural wake/sleep cycles are known as our circadian rhythm, and they can vary a lot from individual to individual. People fall into different chronotypes or groups, depending on whether they feel alert and most awake in the morning, in the night, or somewhere in between.
No chronotype is inherently worse or better than another. There’s nothing bad with staying up late and sleeping in. If that schedule fits with your obligations and your lifestyle, it’s not imperative to change it.
The trouble comes when our late bedtime clashes with our early morning obligations. If we’re regularly getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, our well-being and health can suffer.
Sadly, we can’t pick our chronotypes. Genetics plays a part in whether we identify as a morning lark or a night owl. Still, our behaviors and habits can reinforce those natural tendencies. And those habits aren’t set in stone. By making behavioral changes, we may be able to shift our sleep schedule preferences.
If our job demands, our school schedule, our family’s needs, or our personal goals require us to be more productive and active during morning hours, we may be able to alter our wake and sleep cycles. Here are a few expert-recommended tips for aligning our sleep schedule with our current needs:
Whether we’re an owl or a lark, a good night’s sleep is important for our health. Sleep experts recommend that we start by going to sleep anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours earlier every night.
Over a period of weeks, move the nighttime regimen earlier and earlier until our bedtime allows us to get the requisite amount of sleep before our alarm goes off, and the day begins .
[Read: How Much Sleep Do We Need]
Our body has an inner clock that sets our circadian rhythms. That clock is extremely sensitive to changes in light. Our body is capable of releasing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin in reply to sunset-hued light.
Dawn-like blue light, by contrast, prompts a wake-up response in our body. We can use this light sensitivity to our benefit. Limit the exposure to devices that emit blue light (such as tablets and phones) close to bedtime, and opt for bedside lamps and nightlights with red bulbs or amber that mimic sleepy-time sunset colors.
Going to sleep isn’t as simple as switching off the lights. If you’re trying to override a lifetime habit of nighttime activity, it may help create routines that send a bedtime signal to the brain.
Meditation, gentle stretches, aromatherapy, deep breathing, journaling, reading books, and other calming rituals can help us develop a relaxing and pleasant nighttime routine that encourages an earlier start to our sleep cycle .
[Read: Importance of Restorative Sleep]
Try to set up something to look forward to in the mornings so that waking up feels like less of a toil. Perhaps the daily crossword puzzle and a hot cup of coffee sipped in silence. Knowing that something pleasant awaits can help us take that first, painful step out of bed.
Hitting snooze is all too tempting, so delete that option. Try placing the alarm clock across the house, so we have to get up to switch it off.
Some apps make it even tougher to sleep in by forcing us to engage in mentally stimulating activities like solving a crossword to stop the beeping. Do whatever it takes to keep you from hitting snooz
If you are a night owl, an early morning run might sound like torture. But if we can get ourselves into the habit, exercising in the mornings can give us the energy to jump-start our day .
We don’t have to be captive to our schedule. If we want to stay out late at a Friday night party or sleep in on vacation, that’s okay. Life happens. But try to keep the new schedule as consistent as you can. Restrict the ‘exceptions,’ or they’ll snowball and push you back toward your old schedule again.
Do you want to become a morning guy so you can be more productive (or just less of a zombie) at work? So you can devote more time with your family on weekends? So you don’t wake up at noon feeling like you’ve wasted half the day? Thinking about your reasons can help keep you motivated.
If our job, health, education, family, or personal goals require us to be an early riser, it is possible to make a steady change in our natural sleeping tendencies. It can take time to make the change, and we may revert to our genetically-set chronotype at some point in our life, but here are steps we can take to become more of a morning individual now.
Exercise and diet can help us adjust our sleep schedule. New nighttime routines and a sooner bedtime will make a difference, and we may find that changing the lighting in our sleeping environment also helps.
Once you begin waking up earlier, keep track of any productive effects, reward yourself often, and remind yourself of the continuing challenges and overall objectives along the way.
Changing our chronotype is a challenge, and we may want to seek help from sleep experts if these strategies don’t work for us. If we still find that we aren’t bound out of bed, jubilant and alert at the crack of dawn, recognize that chronotype diversity is on the rise — whether you are ready to wake up or not.