How do I become a Morning Person?May 15, 2022
I often get asked by clients; “how do I become a morning person? I want to be more productive during the day but I’m always slow to start and tired until the late afternoon or evening…” Does this sound like you?
While getting out of bed in the morning can be extremely difficult for some it is likely that there are some simple explanations for this, provided you are not suffering from any kind of sleep disorder.
Firstly, you need to ask yourself why are you struggling to get out of bed, or why do you need to hit the snooze button 5 times before you actually wake up?
Is it because you are just not motivated about the day ahead, if this is the case you might need to review where you are at and what you are doing... Maybe you aren’t aligning with your purpose in life and you’ve found yourself stuck in a routine that isn’t fulfilling… you know you’ve never had trouble waking up for something you are excited about! But this is a whole other conversation…
If you’re hitting the snooze button or dragging yourself out of bed after a solid night's sleep and still feeling tired, or like a truck has run you over, or you’re travelling and experiencing jetlag there are some simple things that you can consider that will help you get back on track feeling rested and have you bouncing out of bed when your alarm goes off… or even before!!!
Let’s take a quick look at what is happening in the body that controls your sleep-wake cycle…
Your circadian rhythm is a daily cycle that regulates many biological processes. When your circadian rhythm is out of kilter so can many aspects of your health, including your wake-sleep cycle. You might find yourself wide awake into the night and feeling dazed and sleepy well into the afternoon.
If this sounds like you… resetting your circadian rhythm should be a priority. Circadian rhythms are regulated by light and it has been discovered that the circadian rhythm of a human is just over 24 hours so needs to be regularly reset, ideally on a daily basis.
We are going to explore the things you can do to reset your circadian rhythm, but first I want you to understand that your sleep and wake phases are tightly tethered together. No doubt you’ve probably experienced that the quality of your sleep affects how you feel when you are awake, but I also want you to understand that what you are doing during the day, can significantly affect the quality of your sleep, and therefore how you wake up the following morning.
It is all about how you transition from one state to the other, how your transition into sleep one night will influence how you wake up the next day. Some people struggle with getting themselves to sleep or staying asleep, others struggle to wake up and some have issues with both. Let's explore some things that affect these transitions and will help you to reset your circadian rhythm, have you feeling more alert and rested throughout the day and sleeping better at night.
As mentioned your circadian rhythm is regulated by light, so exposure to certain light at certain times can significantly affect your circadian rhythm. Light exposure is associated with the “wake” stage of your daily rhythm, your nervous system is programmed to be alert and increase external awareness in the presence of light.
There are specific sensory receptors in your eyes that respond to the wavelengths of the natural low light found at both sunrise and sunset, these receptors are directly connected to your internal clock. Exposure to sunlight at both sunrise and sunset will help reset your circadian rhythm.
Being outside at sunrise and getting exposure to this light will activate these receptors and initiate a release of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that mobilises energy and increases alertness making your feel more awake. If you are exposed to this light at the same time every morning your body will naturally wake at this time each day. This release of cortisol also starts a ‘timer’ for the release of melatonin in the late afternoon/evening. Exposure to the light at dusk can also aid melatonin release to assist with a smooth transition back into sleep. Melatonin is important in helping calm you down in preparation for sleep.
While we are on light exposure... Let's discuss screen time!! The blue light that you get from your phone, computer or TV screens confuses your brain into thinking that it is still daylight, you, therefore, remain alert and the physiological changes that are required to calm your nervous system and prepare you for sleep are less likely to occur when exposed to these lights late into the evening. Looking at blue light between the hours of 10pm and 4am can significantly interfere with your circadian rhythm and therefore your sleep-wake cycle and I highly recommend you avoid this where possible.
If you have trouble waking up in the morning, my best guess is that you are spending a good chunk of time in the evening watching TV, looking at your phone or computer or all of the above... Bright fluorescent lights will have similar effects. To improve your sleep routine switch off all screens at least 1 if not 2 hours before bed and set the lighting to be at a low level to promote calm and let your brain know it is getting dark and therefore time to sleep.
Body temperature is such a crucial element in health and can have significant effects on your physiology. Over the course of 24 hours, your body temperature will shift; its lowest temperature will be about 2 hours before your wake and highest temperature about 12 hours later in the late afternoon.
Through the process of falling asleep your body must drop in temperature about 1-degree celsius. Ensuring that your sleep environment is not too warm will aid this transition, also having a hot shower or bath right before bed activates the cooling systems in your body to also help this temperature drop and you falling asleep. Being overheated in bed can cause issues so I suggest if you struggle to fall asleep, assess the temperature of your room, bed covers, and body temperature as you are going to bed.
Cold showers or cold exposure is another great modulator of our physiology. While there are many benefits to cold exposure, a cold shower in the morning will assist that burst of cortisol to set the timer for melatonin release later than evening, this helps that morning transition from sleep to waking.
Food is another factor that can influence your sleep-wake cycles. Our nervous system tends to predict patterns and the pattern around when your next meal is coming is an important one for survival. You’ve probably noticed that your stomach will tell you when it's lunchtime, even when you have no concept of time! Scheduling your meals at times when you want to be alert and awake can be helpful, but also be mindful of what and how much you eat as this can affect your alertness levels - Sugary foods can lead to a spike in energy and alertness followed by a significant slump, not ideal is you need to be focusing and alert at work for an entire day.
Eating will also cause a slight increase in your core body temperature as your metabolic rate increases to digest the food. Eating too close to bedtime can cause issues with falling and staying asleep. Ensure that you finish consuming food at least 90minutes before bedtime.
Exercise like food will influence your circadian rhythm, it will increase the secretion of neurochemicals that stimulate alertness and increase energy, and it will also increase your core body temperature. All of these factors suggest that participating in any moderate to high-intensity exercise too close to bedtime will affect your ability to fall asleep.
On the other hand, exercise will also help to stabilise and balance many physiological systems in the body and also release hormones and neurochemicals that are responsible for recovery. Participating in moderate to high-intensity exercise at least 5 hours before bedtime will help to align your physiology and promote quality sleep. For some people exercise can be very beneficial first thing in the morning to wake them up and increase alertness throughout the day.
Caffeine and Alcohol
We know that caffeine helps us to become more alert and “wake up” but what you might not realise is that caffeine is just blocking the urge to sleep, and these effects can last much longer than we think. Caffeine will continue to influence your physiology for 8-16 hours after you consume it. If you are one that is sensitive to caffeine, you might find that you struggle to fall asleep if you have a cup of coffee within the 10-12 hours of bedtime. If you consume caffeine (of any sort) be mindful not to have it too close to bedtime.
Alcohol is a sedative. While it helps us to calm down and many believe it helps them get to sleep, it actually doesn’t allow the body to complete the necessary functions during sleep to recover and repair itself to be fresh and ready for the next day. It doesn’t matter how much sleep you get if the quality is reduced from alcohol consumption you will still feel the effects the following day.
In summary, simple actions that will help to improve your sleep and get your bouncing out of bed in the morning:
- Exposure to early morning sunlight
- A hot shower before bed; a cold shower upon waking
- Turn off all screens 90min before bed
- Dim overhead lights or use lamps in the evening
- Avoid coffee or alcohol too close to bedtime
- Exercise at least 5 hours before bedtime
Each of us has a different circadian rhythm, meaning some of us function better by getting up super early, are better able to concentrate and have more productive hours in the early morning, whereas others are night owls and find that those productive hours occur later in the evening. You need to work out what works best for you. Michael Breus author of “The Power of When” has developed a quiz that can help you determine your Chronotype and gives you great detail on a schedule that is likely to work best for you.
While all these tools are relatively simple in theory it can certainly be difficult to actually making the changes to become a “morning person” or start getting up early, or going to bed earlier. It is important that you are making subtle changes to these times so that your circadian rhythm can adjust and the change will be sustainable.
If you are someone that is currently going to bed after midnight and not waking up until 9am but wants to start getting up a 6am, you will need to make this change over a few steps. First set your alarm for 8:30am for a couple of days, then 8am, then 7:30 until you are waking up at 6am, while you are adjusting your morning alarm you will also need to adjust your bedtime, going to bed a half-hour earlier each time your switch your alarm.
Be consistent with your routine and give yourself 3-4 days at each new time to let your circadian rhythm adjust to these changes. If you’re one to hit snooze in the morning, place your phone on the opposite side of your room so you physically need to get out of bed to switch it off. Remember your not looking at your screen so you don’t need to have your phone within reach of your bed!!!
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