My father is a typical morning person. He springs up out of the bed before the sun rises, gets ready with a smile, turns on the coffee pot, and begins his day with pep in his step. I, on the other hand, am not a morning person. And my dad used to torture me for it. When I was in school I had to wake up at seven in the morning, which to a morning person isn’t early but to a night owl is far too early to get out of the bed, and my dad would wake me up by yelling, “MORNING BOY,” every morning. It filled my heart with rage and I would ask myself, “Why is he always so energetic in the morning?”
To this day, I am not a morning person, but I have a better understanding of what makes my dad such a delightful pain in the ass. It’s his chronotype. You see, deep in the recesses of your DNA, a small collection of genes exert a powerful influence on whether you are a morning or an evening person. This natural tendecy to be a morning or evening person is often referred to as your chronotype.
You may be more familiar with the animal references to a person’s chronotype, such as early birds, night owls, wolves, or dolphins, but there is no real scientific connection between these labels and human sleep phases. Rather, it is largely a matter of genetics; however, it is possible to change your sleeping and waking cycles, despite your natural inclinations.
What can You do to Change Your Chronotype?
The key to changing your chronotype is altering your sleep schedule. Here are several tips you can use to help morph you into a crazy morning person:
1.) Change Your Bedtime
No matter your chronotype, a good night’s sleep is important for your overall health. Experts recommend that you go to sleep anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours earlier each night. Over time, gradually move your nighttime routine earlier and earlier until your bedtime allows you to get an adequate amount of sleep before your alarm goes off.
2.) Use Light to Your Advantage
Your body comes equipped with an inner clock that sets your circadian rhythms. This clock is highly sensitive to changes in lighting. In fact, your body is capable of releasing the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, in response to sunset-colored light.
In contrast, dawn-like blue light stimulates a wake-up response in your body. You can utilize this light sensitivity to your benefit by limiting your exposure to devices that emit blue light, such as phones, televisions, and tablets, close to bedtime. Instead, rely on nightlights and bedside lamps with amber or red bulbs that mimic sleepy-time sunset colors.
3.) Develop a Nighttime Routine
Going to sleep isn’t as easy as switching off the lights. It requires you to change your routine. Gentle stretches, meditation, deep breathing, aromatherapy, reading, journaling, and other calming rituals can help you develop an enjoyable and relaxing nighttime routine that encourages an earlier start to your sleep cycle.
4.) Track Your Progress
As your sleep cycle begins to transition, you may notice changes to your energy, productivity, or mood. Make a note of these positive impacts as you experience them. By reviewing the positive impacts, you’re enabling yourself to stay motivated on days when you’re feeling discouraged.
5.) Reward Yourself
Research shows that when people pursue long-term goals, they’re more likely to stay motivated if they recognize smaller accomplishments along the way. Therefore, as you plan your strategy for becoming more of morning person, consider the ways you can reward yourself when you overcome the difficult tasks.
6.) Keep Your Eye on Your Overall Goals
You will occassionally become discouraged. When you do, it may help to remind yourself why you began this journey. Take a moment and reflect on the relationships, personal values, hopes, aspirations, and personal characteristics that will be improved by becoming a morning person.
7.) Don’t Let Eating Habits Disavow Your Progress
A 2020 analysis of research on dieting patterns and chronotype revealed that evening people tend to eat their dinner meal much later in the day compared to morning people. The studies also showed that evening people tend to skip breakfast, eat fewer vegetables, and consume more caffeine and alcohol compared to morning people.
If your goal is to ultimately change into a person of the morning, you may want to adapt your dietary habits so that they promote better sleep.
8.) Incorporate Exercise Into Your Daily Routine
Research shows that you can use exercise to move your sleep phase earlier in the evening. In fact, a recent study found that exercise could help advance your sleep cycle to an earlier time of day by exercising either in the morning or in the evening.
9.) Give it Time
Becoming a morning person doesn’t happen overnight. The more engrained your sleep patterns are, the longer it may take to revamp them. While it’s perfectly fine to let yourself hit the snooze button on a weekend morning or when you’re on vacation, try to honor your new schedule as much as possible. Over time, the consistency will deliver better results.
Does Your Chronotype Last a Lifetime?
For many people, waking and sleeping cycles shift more than once in a lifetime. Here are the factors that contribute the most to the shifting tides of one’s sleep cycles.
One of the big players in your chronotype is your hormones. For example, your teenage years often mark a big shift toward a later sleep phase preference.
Seasonal changes can also influence how early you rise and how late you sleep. Alterations in sunlight signals the changing of the seasons. And as we previosuly learned, light has a major impact on our sleep patterns.
Researchers think people have varying levels of sensitivity to changing seasons. For instance, those who are highly sensitive to seasonal shifts may experience changes in their chronotype that enable them to adapt their sleep cycles and make the most of the daylight hours.
Believe it or not, the latitude and longitude of your home influences your circadian rhythms. Wide-ranging studies have shown that night owls are more prevelant in places where the sunset occurs later in the day while early birds tend to be more close to the equator.
In the end…
It’s possible to make a gradual shift in your natural sleeping tendencies. It may take time to make the change, and you may revert to your genetically-set chronotype at some point in your life, but there are steps you can take to become more of a morning person.
Rebecca Joy Stanborough
November 30, 2020