Forcing Yourself To Be A Morning Person When You Aren’t One Is A Terrible Idea
It might be wise to stop fighting nature and just give in.
I’ve long believed that getting up early means more than just being able to watch the sun come up. Morning people, in my experience, are more energetic, cheerier, more successful, and more productive than night owls.
When I was little, I used to stand over my older sister, demanding that she wake up and play with me, baffled as to why anyone would want to stay in bed past 8am. My sister was decidedly not a morning person. Given the chance, she’d stay up until two or three in the morning, then sleep past noon and eat a plate of leftover spaghetti for breakfast. I could never understand it – and I hated it.
There’s plenty of research out there to confirm my suspicion that staying up late and sleeping late is bad news: many studies have found that early risers are more ambitious, have more self-control, and are higher-achieving than those sleepyheads who pull the covers over their heads and grumble about getting up.
Night owls, while they may be more creative, have better memories, and be more open to taking risks, are also more likely to have addictive personalities and be depressed. Knowing this is part of why I’m always vowing to get up earlier in the morning. After all, is 7am really that early? Not so much. How about 6am? There’s a hashtag for people who wake up at 5am to write; if I join those early-morning scribes and open my laptop before sunrise each day, will I finally write that novel?
Maybe not. Because, while the research does seem to say that early risers have a lot more going for them than those people who stay up until all hours of the night, it also says that trying to become a morning person, if you aren’t inherently one, is a losing battle.
Oxford University biologist Katharina Wulff studies biology and sleep, and she says people do best when they follow their body’s cues. “If people are left to their naturally preferred times, they feel much better. They say that they are much more productive. The mental capacity they have is much broader.”
When a night owl forces herself awake at an uncomfortable hour, she’s fighting her brain, which is still producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and waking cycles. “You disrupt it and push the body to be in the daytime mode. That can have lots of negative physiological consequences,” explains Wulff. What kinds of consequences? For one, it messes with your sensitivity to glucose and insulin, which can cause weight gain.
One thing to keep in mind is that setting your alarm for 5am and successfully dragging yourself out of bed won’t transform you into a morning person if you aren’t one. True morning people pop awake on their own before the sun, due to their biology. Their body temperature and hormones are undergoing changes as they sleep, so that when they get up, they’re not only out of bed, they’re actually alert. So, if you’re a night person, you can get up early, but you’ll be dragging for much longer than the natural-born early riser.
So, if you’re not a morning person, are you just screwed? Should you resign yourself to a life of depression and non-productivity? Not necessarily.
Researchers point out that night owls could be more depressed than morning people because our culture prizes early risers so much. People who stay up late and sleep late are viewed as lazy (just like I saw my sister), and are often forced to get up early anyway and push themselves to function when they’re not in top shape. Would they be happier if they weren’t made to feel like slackers, and could sleep when they want to sleep and work when they want to work? Very possibly.
If you’re still determined to try and change your body clock, so you can get up earlier and actually be productive and not groggy during those pre-dawn hours, there are a few things you can try, says Wulff. Exposing yourself to bright light in the morning may be the most effective method. If the sun isn’t up, you can use a light box that mimics natural sunshine, such as people who Seasonal Affective Disorder use. You can also take melatonin in the evening, and avoid artificial light. (That means no screens before bedtime, kids!) You’ll have to be consistent about this though. Expect it to take some time before you adjust, and don’t be surprised if you never fully do.
If you try and fail to become a morning person, don’t worry. Another recent study found that changing their waking times did not, in fact improve people’s moods or make them more satisfied with their lives. Scientists conjecture that even if you succeed in adjusting your internal clock, your personality will stay the same: morning people are morning people, and night people are night people.
And despite my own personal prejudice against late-sleepers, there are some successful night owls. Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, for example, told Fast Company that he stays up until 2am and sleeps until 10am. (Of course, that was before he and wife Serena Williams welcomed their baby girl, Alexis Olympia, in September – he’s probably adjusted his schedule a bit since then.) The CEO of Buzzfeed, Jonah Peretti, doesn’t wake up until 8:30am, which may not sound that late, but next to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who rises at 3:45am. it’s pretty leisurely.
The bottom life? It’s best not to fight Mother Nature. If you’re one of the approximately one-quarter of the population that functions better when you stay up late and sleep in, embrace your biology and ignore any bratty little sisters who stand over you, judging and pouting. (Sorry, big sister.)
Images via shutterstock and tumblr.
Comment: Are you a morning person or a night person? Have you ever tried to change?