Thursday, March 5, 2015

How to Become a Morning Person

We’ve all met people who seem consistently chipper early in the morning, and experience no observable loss of vigour or enthusiasm during the day.

For some, this comes quite naturally. Many habitual early-risers have the built-in ability to get up early and still maintain an adequate energy level without resorting to copious infusions of caffeine. If this description sounds like you, then you’re probably a morning person. Good for you!

Others are less fortunate. If you find you need to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, and feel an urge to whack away at the snooze-bar on your alarm clock (possibly dislodging a few items from your bedside table in the process), then you’re likely not a morning person. Maybe you’re a night owl. Or perhaps you just enjoy getting an ample nightly amount of shut-eye.

To be sure, old habits die hard. If you’re a non-morning person who has recently embarked upon a career path that will require you to get up much earlier than you’re used to, or if you’d just like to increase your productivity early in the day, then you’ll need to adjust your routine. Changes in sleep patterns are not always easy to stomach—but there are some practical steps you can follow to ease the transition.

In any case, the key is to ensure you go to bed early enough to still get a healthy amount of sleep; experts recommend about eight hours for most adults.

  Simplify your morning routine—before you retire for the night.

Lay out your clothes, organize your lunch and snacks for the following day, and pack anything else you need in your luggage/briefcase/backpack. The last thing you want in the morning is to squander precious minutes hunting around for important items, or (even worse) realizing you’ve forgotten something after you’ve left for work.

  To fall asleep sooner, power down and cut the lights.

Several years ago, I spent some time volunteering in a village in rural Costa Rica. In that community, as in many parts of Central America, locals both go to bed and rise quite a bit earlier than I was accustomed to in Canada. This is partly because farmers in pastoral areas are obliged to begin their work early in the day. But it’s also a function of the day-night cycle in regions near the equator, where the duration of daylight hours varies little over the course of a year.

One factor that I believe facilitated my quick transition to the Costa Rican sleep pattern, was that the community where I stayed had little noise at night (apart from a few animal sounds), and was relatively dark after the sun set—just after 8:00 PM. There were no streetlights, and few appliances or television sets.

There is a useful lesson here for those of us who live in cities and industrialized areas: if you’d like to go to sleep and wake up earlier more easily, try to isolate yourself from bright lights and noisy appliances at least half an hour before your intended bedtime. Reading with a nightlight or listening to some gentle music before bed is okay—but watching TV or checking e-mails immediately before you hit the hay might interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

  Find an alarm clock that works for you.

The archetypal alarm clock jars the sleeper into consciousness with a strident “beep, beep, beep”. But that high-pitched hectoring is not for everyone, and it doesn’t exactly launch the day on a pleasant note.

Fortunately, a wide range of alternatives are now available, including daylight simulators that gradually brighten, and high-tech alarms that slowly entice you into a state of wakefulness with gentle tones. There are also various apps available for your smartphone.

  Suppress the urge to hit the snooze bar.

Waking up once is hard enough. Trying to wake up twice in the space of ten minutes (or three times in the space of twenty minutes, as the case may be) can actually disrupt your circadian rhythms, and leave you feeling sluggish and discombobulated. Furthermore, if you stay in bed long enough to allow yourself to slip into a deeper sleep stage, you’ll likely find it even harder to get up on your next attempt.

  Leave yourself plenty of time for a wholesome breakfast—at least twenty minutes.

A balanced breakfast that includes fruits and vegetables, proteins, and complex carbohydrates will allow you to maintain peak performance throughout the day, and help you avoid some of the negative consequences associated with quick (but not necessarily healthy) breakfast options—including heartburn, an upset stomach, or an energy level that wanes by the mid-afternoon.