You've heard that waking up early is one of the best tactics for becoming more productive. You know that many of the world's most successful people wake up early. You may suspect that once you get used to waking up early, you'll feel better than you have in ages.
If all that's true, why is waking up early so dang difficult?
As it turns out, the answer isn't all that complicated. In this article, you'll learn about some common culprits behind morning grogginess and how to become an early riser -- if you even need to at all.
Why is it so hard to wake up in the morning?
One major contributor to tough mornings is nighttime wakefulness, says Barton Scott, a nutritionist and founder of Upgraded Formulas, a supplement company focused on improving sleep.
"Nighttime wakefulness is ultimately, as a concept, being out of harmony with your normal circadian rhythm," Scott told CNET. "This can be termed chrono-misalignment, and this lack of harmony leads to issues getting to bed, falling asleep earlier than expected, [and] unexpectedly napping."
You may experience conscious wakefulness, where you know that you aren't sleeping well, or you may experience fragmented sleep, which involves many brief awakenings each night that you're unaware of or don't remember.
Consider these situations to decipher whether you might've spent the night tossing and turning, even without knowing it:
- You took a nap longer than 20 minutes the day before
- You took a nap after 3 p.m. the day before
- You consumed caffeine in the afternoon
- You ate your last meal within two hours of bedtime
- Your last meal was very heavy
- You drank alcohol within a few hours of bedtime
- You were looking at screens all the way up until bedtime
Another contributor, perhaps the biggest one, is that some people simply aren't morning people, says Terry Cralle, registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator. Everyone has a unique chronotype that regulate their sleep cycle.
"Night owls often struggle against a society that is geared to early risers," Cralle told CNET. "Obviously, this can result in sleep deprivation and all of its consequences if their working hours are not in alignment with their body clock."
Can I make myself an early riser?
There are essentially two main reasons it's hard to wake up in the morning. Either you're an early riser, but something has gone wacky with your sleep, so you don't feel rested in the morning. Or, you're just not an early riser and you'll have to shift your chronotype from an evening type to a morning type.
If you fall into the first group, good news: Yes, you can turn yourself into a morning person by identifying what's wrong with your sleep and fixing it.
If you fall into the latter group, good and bad news: You can become an early riser, but because you'll essentially be overriding your biology, and this change will take planning, self-discipline and consistency. That is, it's not going to be easy.
How to identify sleep issues to wake up earlier
In addition to the poor-sleep culprits discussed earlier, you should also look to your overall state of physical and mental well-being. For example, nutrient deficiencies and anxiety are two common reasons why people can't sleep at night, Scott said.
You may want to startif you don't already, as well as and a regular journal so you can go back and pinpoint what may have caused a sleepless night.
For instance, say you write in your journal that you're worried about a big work project. You were stressed, so you ate pizza and ice cream for dinner. You won't have to wonder much why you didn't get any sleep -- the answers are in your journal.
The anxiety probably prolonged the time it took you to fall asleep, and diet choices can disrupt your sleep. High-fat foods, in particular, take longer to digest and acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, can cause acid reflux. And sugar disrupts sleep by causing all sorts of physiological changes.
Once you pinpoint your triggers of poor sleep, you can start implementing changes for a better night's rest. And if you're naturally an early riser, quality sleep should be enough to make it easier to wake up in the mornings.
How to wake up earlier when you're not a morning person
If you aren't naturally an early riser, you'll have to use tactics such as light exposure and gradual changes to your bedtime to shift your body clock. Here are some tips from Cralle:
- Start small: Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier every couple of days, continuing until you reach your ideal wake-up time.
- Don't snooze, which can make it even harder to wake up (even if you are not trying to shift your body clock)
- Get some morning light, when possible, for 20 to 30 minutes. Exposure to bright light first thing in the morning helps suppress melatonin production and reset your body clock. Pull back your curtains or go for a brief walk to get that exposure.
- Maintain a consistent wake time, even on the weekends.
- Use the RISEUP Method: Refrain from hitting the snooze button, Increase activity in the first hour awake, Shower or wash face, Expose yourself to sunlight and Upbeat music, and Phone a friend.
- Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m.
- Eat a high protein breakfast soon after waking.
- Avoid napping if possible. If you can't, keep naps short.
- Avoid bright light in the evenings and have a media curfew. Try to put screens away at least one hour, but ideally 2 hours, before bedtime.
These daily tactics will become habit if you stick to them long enough, and eventually you'll find that it's easier to wake up in the mornings.
Do I need to be a morning person?
Society praises early risers for their productivity and success, but you don't need to be an early riser to be productive or successful. For many people, waking up early does lead to overall better habits and health, but for some, waking up early just goes against their biological chronotype.
Roughly 25 percent of people are natural early risers and roughly another 25 percent are night owls. The rest of us fall somewhere in between. Genetics definitely play a part in your natural circadian rhythm and some experts say it may be detrimental to your health to try to change your chronotype.
There's actually an advocacy group for late risers that fights for later start times in schools and workplaces. The group, called the B-Society, says that while society endears "A-persons," (early risers), "B-persons" (late risers) are constantly forced to ignore their body clocks.
Their mission? "We need to break free from 9 to 5 society and its lack of respect for B-persons. Quality of life, health, infrastructure, and productivity would all improve if we offered people work hours matching their circadian rhythms."
The group's got a good point. Research has shown that purposely shifting your body clock to become an early riser won't necessarily give you the traits that are associated with early risers, such as better moods and more life satisfaction. Instead, the shift could result in the opposite -- poorer moods and a lower level of well-being.
So the fact isn't necessarily that waking up early makes you more productive and successful. Instead, it's more likely that early risers are just more in-tune with the schedule society has set out for everyone.
For instance, a 17-year-old early riser probably has no trouble paying attention and completing work in a first-period class that starts at 7:30 a.m. Another 17-year-old -- an evening type -- may struggle to focus in the same class and get poor grades because their body is still producing melatonin at 7:30 a.m.
Chronotypes can also fluctuate with age. For example, young children tend to wake up early, teenagers stay up late and sleep late, and older adults tend to shift back toward a morning preference. Your current body clock may, in part, be a product of your life stage.
Worried that your natural chronotype will negatively impact your job? If you work in shifts, ask your workplace about switching to a later shift. If you work in an office with a mandatory start time, try talking to your boss about shifting your schedule. They may be more accommodating than you think, especially when you tell them you'll be much more productive and your work quality will increase if you're working with your body, not against it.
So, unless you really need to change your late-night tendencies, you may be better off sticking to your natural chronotype.