Experts and self-described early birds shared their best tips on getting that worm.
The early bird gets to feel superior.
Morning types comprise about 40% of the population, according to University of California, Berkeley neuroscientist Matthew Walker, while evening types make up about 30%; the other 30% are somewhere in the middle. (“Essentially, a ‘morning’ person is up with the sunrise or shortly thereafter,” Rebecca Robbins, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Langone Health, told Moneyish.) But the world seems to favor so-called “larks,” or early risers whose unique rhythm of wakefulness and sleepiness lend themselves to a morning type: In one oft-quoted line, Ben Franklin claimed that “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
For instance, people with self-reported later chronotypes — aka night owls — have a 10% increased risk of mortality relative to those with morning chronotypes, a U.K. study earlier this year found. Women early risers may be less likely to develop depression than those who aren’t, according to a June study. Bosses perceive folks with later start times to be less conscientious, per 2014 research; morning types even earn more than evening types, according to one 2012 Danish study. And larks have been shown to have higher levels of positive affect than owls, a 2012 study found.
Being a night owl may have its own perks: Evening-type participants in a 1999 study were more likely to demonstrate higher intelligence. Research also suggests they have more sexual partners, with 2012 research suggesting that “eveningness is associated with psychological and behavioral traits that are instrumental in short-term mating strategies.”
Still, the morning person is positioned to succeed in our society, which is “based around the morning person’s schedule,” said Robbins. “Which is unfortunate, because an evening person could do very, very good work, but they’re just going to be on a different timetable,” she added. “The workplace of the future might be one that understands these differences … where quality of work would be the goal, as opposed to the number of hours spent at a desk at a predetermined time.” (The international B-Society advocacy group is working to boost late risers’ productivity and quality of life with later start times.)
If you choose to try and shift your internal clock to morning type, whether it be for personal or professional reasons, there are some factors you can adjust, Robbins said. Here are tips from scientists and self-described morning people that might work for you, too:
Light up your life. Exposure to the blue light found in sunlight is one of the “most powerful” levers you can pull in the morning, Robbins said. “You don’t need anything special,” agreed David Dinges, chief of the University of Pennsylvania’s Division of Sleep and Chronobiology. “Sunlight is the magic light — even a cloudy day has enough light in it.” Opening your blinds works well if you live in the country, Robbins said, “but sleeping with open blinds in the city is not advised, as light from the street would interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Our eyelids are very thin.” For more focused light, Robbins added, try a light-therapy device like Litebook.
Cut out late dinners. “(Digestion) requires effort and work … so if you’re having a meal late in the day, that can disrupt your ability to fall asleep, especially if you’re shifting to an earlier timeframe,” Robbins said. “It’s a good idea not to eat too close to sleep,” added Dinges. “It can produce reflux, which some people have when they sleep on their backs in particular.” Heavy sauces and lots of carbs tend to disrupt sleep, Robbins said, so kiss your midnight pasta snack goodbye.
Don’t overstimulate before bed. “It’s very important to start the wind-down before sleep an hour or two before bed,” Dinges said. “Don’t use that time to talk about something really intense, emotional or problematic … Dim the lights down, do something relaxing, don’t eat a lot of food. Just do the common-sense things that help people generally relieve themselves of stress and go to sleep.”
Watch your caffeine intake. Monitor how much caffeine you’re consuming throughout the day — read labels, as it’s cropping up in more and more foods and drinks — and “try to make sure that you’re not ingesting something that would make your desired sleep-wake pattern more difficult to do,” Dinges said. Robbins advises aspiring larks cut off caffeine around 2 p.m.
Find a morning accountability buddy. Tim Trampedach, the San Francisco-based founder of the e-commerce site Torqued and a reformed night owl, hauls himself to the tennis club about two weekday mornings a week — and both the commitment to meet up with a partner and the early-morning court availability, he told Moneyish, serve as strong motivators. “You’re not just accountable to yourself to get up, but you’re accountable to your partner,” he said. Trampedach, 40, says his body now naturally wakes up around 6:30 or 7 a.m.
Write before bed. Danielle Bayard, the 31-year-old senior staff writer for a national adoption nonprofit who transitioned to morningness around 2010 for a teaching job, likes to write a to-do list to put her mind at ease. “I feel like it’s helped quell some of those racing thoughts, because a lot of those thoughts are about what I have to do tomorrow,” she said. She also likes to write “just a simple couple sentences in my journal about how I feel anxious if I have a presentation or something like that.” “That way, when I fall asleep, I’m really calm — and when I wake up, I feel confident and ready because I slept really well.”
Water works. Try keeping a cup of water in the fridge and drinking it right after you wake up, suggested 28-year-old social worker Alisha Powell, a former evening type who worked a night shift before transitioning to days this past spring. She also advocates a 15- or 20-second cold shower rinse to kick-start your alertness. “It’s not the most pleasant experience,” she said, “but it does get me awake.”
Cut out screens about 90 minutes before bed, Robbins said, as staring at a device “will wake you up when you’re trying to wind down.” Instead of settling into bed to catch up on your favorite show, Bayard advised, work backward from your target bedtime and budget time for it earlier in the evening.
Don’t booze before bed, as research shows that alcohol can yield poor-quality sleep. “Alcohol doesn’t work,” confirmed 44-year-old Rachel Martin, a Washington, D.C.-based co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” who rises at 3 a.m. “In my ideal world, I would be able to have a glass of wine every night. … It just doesn’t give you a good night’s sleep.”
Stick with it. Remember the reasons for your trying to make this change, Bayard said, and how it feels to see its results. Maybe “you really rocked your presentation, or you were really sharp in your morning meeting,” she said.
But do what’s best for you. “You can listen to other people and what they do, but it’s often best to just try to do it yourself to figure out what’s optimal to you. … Don’t worry about what other people brag or claim,” Dinges said. Pay attention to what seems to help and feel right, he added — after all, “there’s a point at which it can just get too difficult, and it’s just not worth it anymore.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved