How to Become a Morning Person
If mornings typically involve hitting your snooze button eight times before dragging yourself into the shower—as opposed to energetically leaping out of bed feeling ready to face the day—it may not be a result of your just-before-bed screen habit or your nightly dish of ice cream: You might just not be a morning person. "Some people have stronger circadian rhythm differences than others, which can make going to bed early and waking up early more difficult," says Dr. Sara E. Benjamin of the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep. "There are true biological differences between people that make some people more alert in the morning and others more alert at night."
Unfortunately for most of us, adjusting employment hours or school times to match our own personal circadian rhythms just isn't an option. "If you have a flexible job and flexible family responsibilities you may be able to make some scheduling changes to embrace your natural rhythm, but many of us need to adapt to our work, our family responsibilities, and our environment," says Dr. Benjamin, "not the other way around." (Your biological preference for sleeping in or waking up early can also change with age—just consider your teenager who sleeps until noon and your father-in-law who's up before sunrise.) And while Dr. Benjamin admits that not everyone can become a true morning person, with a few conscious choices, she says, "many people can adapt to embrace the mornings."
The best thing you can do to wake up more easily in the morning is to set your alarm for the same time every day, says Dr. Benjamin. "Have a set wake up time and stay on a consistent schedule throughout the week, including weekends and holidays," she says. When the days are shorter, try incorporating a wake-up light alarm clock, which slowly brightens your room to mimic the natural sunrise and can help you battle your snooze button habit. "Bright light exposure in the morning can help to train someone to more morning alertness," says Dr. Benjamin.
If you have trouble being productive (and efficient) in the morning, Dr. Benjamin suggests minimizing your before-work tasks by doing as much of your routine as you can the night before. "I recommend staging the things you need for the morning: lay out exercise clothes, work clothes, and have your lunch already packed," she says. "Try to go to sleep with a clean kitchen sink so that you don't get distracted with cleaning in the morning." If you have trouble falling asleep because you can't stop going over your to-do list, write it down and let it go. "Put a little pad of paper and a pen next to your bed in case you think of something that you need to remember in the morning," says Dr. Benjamin, "and that way you do not ruminate on that when it is time to sleep."
Your midday habits might not seem like they have much effect on your mornings, but you can improve your sleep—and therefore feel more rested when your alarm goes off—by incorporating healthy habits throughout your waking hours. "Regular exercise, especially to the point that a person sweats, can improve sleep," says Dr. Benjamin (she suggests planning workouts for the early morning so you're less likely to miss them). "Avoid caffeine, especially after noon. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine and even morning caffeine can fragment their sleep the following night. In general, you should have less bright light exposure in the evening, including light from electronic screens."