A few months ago, I read a viral article from the New Yorker called Mornings Don’t Make You Moral.
For some reason, we as a society have internalized this idea that morning people are better — physically and mentally. Everything in our Western culture is built around this idea that humans should rise and fall with the sun. Biologically, it’s accurate; our circadian rhythms are oriented around the amount of light we get (which is also why blue light from screens can mess you up so much.)
We’ve also started to realize the intense impact that sleep has on our mental health. If you’re a workaholic like I am, it’s easy to glamorize the idea that we should be sleepless, pounding coffee, running on fumes. We’ve been conditioned for so long to prioritize that mode of living. It’s in all the movies, all the entrepreneur-working-80-hours success stories. But it’s actually not true.
People who sleep more do better for themselves. If you’re having a rough time, try getting some more sleep, and you’ll feel much brighter and more capable in the morning.
In Hawaii, I feel like I know way more morning people than night owls. I once heard a friend complain that Hawaii didn’t have real nightlife, because everyone was in bed by ten. With a culture of surfers and hikers, it’s a pretty logical leap. We do so much in the sun, wear ourselves out, and align our clocks with natural light rather than artificial light, meaning that we all tend to follow our biological schedules.
That’s not to say that night owls are unnatural. We have small preferences aligned in our genome that push us towards one or the other, but you have a lot of control over which camp you fall into.
If you do want to be more of a morning person, there are a few hacks and general bits of wisdom that can help you a lot in this pursuit.
How to Become a Morning Person
1. Get up consistently — even on weekends.
Bedtime has less to do with sleep than we’ve always thought. The secret to a consistent sleep schedule is actually a consistent wake-up time.
It throws you off way more to sleep in on the weekend and return to work early Monday morning, than to just stick with a consistent early rising schedule. Your body doesn’t recognize that Saturday and Sunday are different; it just sees you making a sweeping change to its rhythms on two days a week.
While it may be hard to cut yourself off from that beloved Saturday morning snooze, consider how your body actually feels when you wake up. Do you feel groggy? I find that if I wake up naturally early and then decide to stay in bed and snooze, I actually feel less rested when I finally drag myself out of bed a couple hours later.
Listen to your body and mind. See how you feel when you first open your eyes in the morning. Rather than succumbing to the immediate reaction to roll over and put the blankets over your head.. Take just a second to say to yourself, "I'm awake. I'm aware. It's going to be a great day. Let's go."
This doesn’t mean that you can’t let your body recover when it needs it. It just means that it doesn’t have to be every weekend, and you should consider whether the benefits of setting no alarm actually feel better than the cost. If you’re not willing, try to compromise with yourself; instead of sleeping in an extra three hours, try thirty minutes to an hour.
2. Cut out caffeine in the afternoon (or at the very least, switch to decaf.)
We all know the feeling of grinding through an afternoon work slog and hitting a complete wall at 2 P.M. It happens to most people (like I said, most of us are on the same rhythms and cycles of wakefulness and sleepiness.)
But the tendency to reach for another pot of coffee, or green tea, or even (God forbid) a Red Bull is actually doing a bigger disservice to our energy and sleep cycles. Thankfully, there are other ways you can regain energy during your workday that don’t involve caffeinating too late in the afternoon.
If possible, opt for low-caffeine or no-caffeine options. There are plenty of natural caffeine alternatives you can try, which I’ll tackle in a blog post soon. Another possibility: you may need to eat something -- low blood sugar can also cause drowsiness.
Usually, a quick walk around the block does the trick, as it gets the endorphins pumping. If not, you can also indulge in an activity that will energize you, like taking a break to draw, call a loved one, or simply turn off your screen for a few minutes of real, dedicated off time.
P.S. this guideline also applies to phones. Blue light can have the same artificial, sleep-disrupting effect, and it’s perfectly okay to turn off your notifications and alert others that you will only be available during certain hours.
3. Have a consistent nighttime routine you only do before sleeping.
People tend to get sleepy around the same time every night if they’re sticking to the same wake up schedule. Our bodies are oriented around so many cues: the amount of light, the sun going down, and our habits we perform at the end of the night.
I mentioned this fact in my post about the myth of willpower, but we rely much more on habit than intention. Adjusting your habits is the quickest way to change who you are, and removing temptation does more for us than mentally willing ourselves to change.
If we tried to focus on everything about our days intentionally all the time, we would explode; instead, you have to operate on autopilot for some things — which generally includes how we start our mornings and end our evenings.
If you have a nighttime routine you look forward to, you also have the benefit of relishing when you retire to bed, because you have a treat to be excited about. Maybe you’re reading a chapter of a new book, or giving yourself journaling time, or lighting your favorite candle. Maybe you use a refreshing face mask or brew a nighttime cup of beloved (non-caffeinated) tea. You should sleep just as intentionally as you do everything else.
4. The bedroom is for intimacy and sleep only.
As humans, we’re so much more spatially aware than we think we are. Your space impacts so much of what you do, because we rely on visual cues to tell us which actions to take — consciously or unconsciously.
Unfortunately for some of us, our real life has spilled into the bedroom. If you have a studio apartment or crowded space in which spatial separation isn’t possible, try a curtain drawn around your bed, throwing a Turkish towel on your bed when you’re sitting on it for reasons other than bedtime, or changing the lighting around your bed when you use it for daytime activities versus wind down time. The goal is to find ways of mentally dividing your sleep space from your “other” space.
Creating a certain ambiance around sleep does so much! It feels so good to crawl into bed at the end of the night for some special time with your partner, or to fall asleep quickly and deeply in a way that leaves you rested for the next day.
If you’re used to your head racing while in your bedroom, or worrying about work, or in any way stimulating your brain in a way other than the specified uses, then you’re carrying all that energy with you when you try to sleep. Your body doesn’t recognize that it should be signaling the release of melatonin. Try a few minutes of deep breathing or listen to a guided meditation to help you wind down.
Also, pro tip: if you can see across your bedroom, it’s too bright. Try a sleep mask, or blackout curtains, to minimize this effect.
5. Give yourself something to look forward to in the morning!
Similarly to how you should give yourself a piece of your nighttime routine to look forward to, you should have a reason you’re excited to get out of bed in the morning. This can help especially in the beginning of your transition, when you’re foggier and more frustrated with the earlier hour.
You can also recognize that it can be a little harder to get yourself up and motivated during a pandemic. There’s a lot of difficulty going on right now, and a lot of emotion and exhaustion swirling around too. That being said, it’s easier to get up in the mornings if you give yourself something that you want.
What new food have you been dying to try? What new sight have you been itching to see? If you’re really stoked for a new hike, or working to hit a new goal in your routine, you can get fired up to do that bright and early.
This could mean buying yourself those flowers at the farmers’ market that you normally see as too indulgent. Make yourself a fancy artistic coffee for a morning treat. Bake that breakfast recipe you’ve had pinned on Pinterest for months but haven’t tried.
The standard argument is: "oh, but work starts too early and I won’t have the time." Then get up earlier. It’s a win-win.
Normally the reason people dislike mornings is that it takes them so long to wake up that they feel rushed and frazzled by the time they have to actually start their day. If you give yourself more leisure time in the morning, you can savor that time and do something that will have your day off to a great start.
Are you a morning person, or are you trying to be? Drop a comment below or send me a message on IG to share your story!
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash