Your genetics can determine if you find it easier to wake up in the morning or you prefer staying up late at night. However, even if you’re the type of person who’s naturally inclined to stay up until 2 a.m., it’s perfectly doable to become the type who hops out of bed at 6 a.m.
How We Sleep
Before we talk about morning types, let’s briefly run over how we sleep.
There are four stages of sleep. The first stage and second stages trigger our bodies to relax, our core temperatures to drop, and our brain waves to slow.
The third stage of sleep is the deepest and leaves us feeling refreshed in the morning, as our bodies not only relax but recover during this stage. The fourth and final stage is REM sleep—the stage when we’re most likely to dream.
We cycle through these stages throughout the night, spending more time in the deeper stages as our sleep cycles continue. Interrupted sleep limits the time we spend in these deep stages.
Most adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to feel rejuvenated the next day, although if you frequently wake in the night, you might need more hours to catch up on your deep sleep.
What Determines Who’s a Morning Person
Our sleep-wake cycles are governed by circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms respond to light and darkness, waking us when it’s light and inducing sleepiness when it’s dark.
Our circadian rhythms are influenced by our chronotypes, which determines our preferred wake time. Studies suggest chronotypes are genetic and inheritable.
Despite the genetic component, a night owl can become an early riser. It just takes some dedication to make the switch—but you can transform yourself into a morning person in as little as two weeks by sticking to a consistent sleep schedule.
Why Become a Morning Person?
You may already have a reason to become a morning lark, as researchers call it. Perhaps you need to wake up earlier to get the kids to school or go to work on time, or you’re trying to make the most of daylight hours.
Still, science suggests there are plenty of benefits to being a morning lark:
- A 2013 study found that morning types exhibit less pain sensitivity than evening types throughout the day.
- A 2012 review reported morning types showed more “positive affect” than evening types. Positive affect refers to a tendency to react positively to life events and feel more positive in general. Positive affect has been linked to better physical health and well-being.
- A 2005 study observed evening types and morning types’ heart activity in response to stressors in the morning and afternoon. Evening types had higher heart rates than morning types in the afternoon, whether at rest or reacting to a stressor. A 2012 study also noted evening types had a higher heart rate and blood pressure during stressful moments.
Setting Up Your Bedroom for Better Sleep
Don’t place your alarm clock on your bedside table. Instead, place it so you have to get out of bed to turn it off, such as across the room. Keeping your alarm clock away from your bed prevents you from just hitting the snooze button, and once you’re out of bed, it’s easier to wake up.
You can also make your alarm more pleasant. Instead of blaring beeps, try setting it to wake you with a favorite song or a prerecorded message—many alarm clock models offer you the freedom of customization.
A quality mattress is essential to a good night’s sleep. The best mattresses mold to a body’s curves while supporting the spine in a neutral position, relieving pressure and prevent pain.
An uncomfortable mattress makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your mattress is lumpy or sagging, or if you wake up tired or in pain, it’s likely time to replace your mattress.
Set your thermostat somewhere between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit before bed—cool temperatures help you fall asleep and minimize sleep disturbances. A cooling mattress and breathable bedding further prevent you from sleeping hot and waking in a sweat.
Blackout curtains can keep a room dark for undisturbed sleep—however, you may want to keep your curtains slightly cracked open to let in sunlight to better wake you up. If that’s the case, consider an eye mask.
If possible, remove electronics such as a TV, cell phone, computer, and tablet from your bedroom. The blue light from these screens can keep you up and distract you from thoughts of sleep when it’s time for bed.
Establishing a Routine
Developing a bedtime routine can help your body prepare itself for sleep.
A warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bed may help you fall asleep. Warm water lowers your core body temperature by increasing blood flow and dispersing heat to your hands and feet, where it’s wicked away by the air around you. Your body cools down as part of its preparations for sleep.
Leave the last hour before bed as your relaxation time. Read a physical book (not an e-reader), do some light stretches, or write in a journal about your day. Avoid electronic screens, as the light may stimulate wakefulness.
Go to bed when you’re tired—don’t stress too much about falling asleep at a certain time, and instead let your body tell you when it’s ready to sleep. As you push back your wake time, you should find it easier to fall asleep earlier. Remember, you need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
Stick to your new sleep schedule even on the weekends—shifting back and forth between what times you go to sleep and wake will only make it more challenging to keep your internal clock on track.
Avoid naps during the day. If you must nap, rest for no more than 30 minutes. Longer naps are associated with lost productivity and grogginess.
And don’t overpack your evening with activities. Yes, you can meet with friends, catch up on chores, and binge-watch a few episodes of your favorite show—but not all in the same evening. Pick one or two activities to keep your mind clear and to feel less stressed.
Waking on your own a few minutes before your alarm is a good sign that you’ve gotten enough sleep. If you do so, avoid the temptation to rest in bed. Falling back into a doze might make you feel sleepier when your alarm does go off.
Give yourself something to look forward to when you get out of bed earlier—whether it’s a few more minutes reading a book and sipping a cup of coffee, extra time spent unwinding in a warm bath, or eating an occasional breakfast treat.
To best wake yourself up, go outside and exercise. Both morning light and movement promote wakefulness, and you needn’t exercise strenuously—a simple morning jog or bike ride will do. If you find it difficult to motivate yourself and exercise in the morning, try listening to your favorite music or podcast while working out.
Don’t neglect to eat a healthy breakfast after your morning workout. Try to eat more protein-laden foods such as eggs and meats, which contain dopamine. Research shows dopamine regulates motivation and gives you energy.
If you can, involve a friend for extra encouragement. Give each other a call or text when you wake up, and perhaps meet up for breakfast or a morning jog.
Don’t Expect Change Overnight
Change is rarely easy or quick. On your first day of trying to become a morning person, you might be bleary-eyed from insufficient sleep.
You might want to tackle the change in increments rather than all at once. If you’re trying to switch from getting up at 9 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., start by setting your alarm clock to 8:30 a.m. Continue working back by half an hour, until you’re rising at 6:30.
Try not to stress out when it’s difficult to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime or wake up in the morning. If you’ve been struggling to fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and read a book or drink a cup of warm milk. Keep the lights dim to promote sleepiness, and return to bed when you feel tired.
Did We Help?
Switching from a night owl to an early bird can be difficult, but you can make the change easier with the right attitude. Get excited about your day, whether you’re looking forward to dinner with friends, a new episode of your favorite TV show, or clearing your schedule of chores so you can relax afterward. Try to avoid frustration during the transition, and forgive yourself for the occasional lapse in your sleep schedule.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.