A number of studies have sought to determine whether it’s better to be an early bird or a night owl, but in fact, both sleep cycle tendencies are associated with some positive traits. For example, one study found that early risers tend to be happier while another study suggested that those who stay up late are more creative thinkers.
If you’re a night owl who’s been thinking about trying to morph into a morning lark, consider another benefit to waking up early: It could be a boon for your mental health. Research published in “Jama Psychiatry” in 2021 found that waking up just one hour earlier could reduce a person’s risk of major depression by 23%.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply setting your best alarm clock radio for 6 a.m. and stepping into a new routine.
As it turns out, your sleep patterns are somewhat hardwired. A study published in the journal “Nature Communications” analyzed the sleep habits of nearly 700,000 people and identified a number of genes that help determine whether someone is an early riser. Your chronotype (i.e. your biological clock that controls your body’s rhythms) lies somewhere on a spectrum, with some people feeling most active in the morning, others at night and most people falling somewhere in between.
With that explainer out of the way, here are five tips to help ease the transition to becoming a morning person.
Gradually Shift Your Bedtime
If you have a later-skewing chronotype, maintaining an early-bird orientation will be an ongoing process as your biology will be fighting your new schedule, explains published sleep researcher Jeff Kahn with Rise Science, the makers of the sleep and energy app Rise. Kahn suggests gradually shifting your sleep and wake times in 15- to 30-minute increments every few days. Your new wake time should account for your biological sleep needs, he says. Not everyone needs eight hours, but most people need somewhere between 7.5 and nine hours.
Limit Caffeine In The Afternoon And Evening
The scenario: It’s 4 p.m. and you make a late-afternoon coffee run to help you power through the rest of the day. That jolt of caffeine, though, can cause you to toss and turn once bedtime comes around. According to research, drinking caffeine up to six hours before you go to sleep can disrupt your sleep schedule. Your best best is to consume your caffeine in the morning, and the Food and Drug Administration recommends taking in less than 400 milligrams a day. An 8-ounce serving of coffee clocks in just under 100 milligrams.
Take Advantage Of Natural Light In The Morning
Light has a powerful influence on circadian rhythm, with some research suggesting that it has an even stronger effect on night owls, according to the National Sleep Foundation. For this reason, exposure to bright light in the morning is one of the best ways to shift your chronotype to earlier and move toward becoming a morning person. If you can’t go outside, try sitting by a window or purchasing a light therapy lamp that imitates natural light, the foundation suggests.
Set Your Alarm Clock Across The Room
Even the best alarm clock radio will be ineffective in rousing you if your initial reaction is to hit the snooze button as soon as the alarm goes off. To combat this tendency, try placing the alarm clock in another part of your bedroom so you have to get up to turn it off. If you rely on your phone to wake you up, there are some apps that make it even more difficult to sleep in by requiring you to do a puzzle to turn off the alarm clock.
Eat Dinner Earlier
Your appetite is also linked to your circadian rhythm, the National Sleep Foundation points out. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to shift your dinner to earlier in the evening. That way, your body isn’t carrying out certain components of the digestive process while you’re trying to fall asleep at the earlier time.