Most of you are aware of the difference between a night owl and an early bird, but can night owls become early birds? Night owls tend to stay up very late and feel their most mentally alert at night time (which is often a genetic trait) and they have trouble waking up in the morning.
An “early bird”, “morning lark” or a “morning person”, however, has no problem getting up early – and they don’t tend to stay up late.
We’ve all heard the expression, The early bird catches the worm and we’ve read anecdotes about successful people who wake up at the crack of dawn to work on their projects. However, does this “early to bed, early to rise, makes you healthy, wealthy, and wise” lifestyle seem completely unattainable to you? Do you often find yourself staying up until well past midnight each night, thus struggling to wake up for work or class the next day? Do you find yourself wondering, Can night owls become early birds?
Our Sleep Chronotype is Ingrained in All of Us
Every person has a sleep chronotype that determines when they sleep and wake up. Night owls have a late chronotype. Our sleep chronotype is not something we can change, as it’s genetic, but it could be managed. It’s a given that society is built more around morning larks; working a “9 to 5 job” is the norm for most people. This is why night owls are often more chronically sleep-deprived. This may make you wonder — can night owls become early birds and can you fix your sleep schedule?
Lifestyle Changes are Key
While we can’t easily turn night owls into early birds, there are lifestyle adjustments they can implement to help them catch up with morning larks. Here are just a handful of simple yet effective changes that will improve your sleep hygiene if you’re a night owl wanting to become a bit more of a morning person:
Use Light Strategically
Limit your exposure to light especially before going to bed, and avoid blue light as well, as it could disrupt your sleep or make you feel less sleepy. If you have an in-office work setup, choose a window seat if at all possible. If you cannot, make use of light therapy (i.e. using lightboxes/lamps to help stimulate the part of your brain that regulates your sleep/wake hormones).
Change Your Sleep Schedule, But Not the Amount of Sleep You Get
Adjust the time you go to bed, but don’t change the amount of sleep you’re getting. Just as we each have our own sleep chronotype, sleep requirements also vary from person to person. Thus, if you need 8 hours of sleep to perform well, don’t shave off a few hours just to help you adjust to your new schedule.
Have a Consistent Wake-Up Time and a Consistent Bedtime
It’s okay if from time to time, you’re not able to sleep when you’re supposed to sleep. Try to be consistent, however, with your wake-up time (even on weekends). If you oversleep on weekends, you will somewhat squash the progress you’ve built up over the week. Also, having a consistent wake time helps us become more flexible in the other aspects of our lives. If you did not get enough sleep the night before, try to fit in recovery periods/naps in your day. If you’re taking a 30-minute nap and you’re a coffee drinker, drinking your coffee before you take a nap is a good choice since caffeine takes about 20 minutes to affect your body.
Avoid Nicotine and (if Possible) Avoid or Reduce Caffeine
Nicotine is a stimulant that causes smokers to sleep very lightly, so avoid it. Smokers also tend to wake up early due to nicotine withdrawal. In regard to caffeine, if you cannot avoid it, consume it strategically. Caffeine blocks adenosine and its effects could take as long as 8 hours to wear off. If you must drink coffee, don’t consume it too close to bedtime and only take the recommended amount (400 mg) per day.
Master Both a Bedtime and Morning Routine
Implement a pre-sleep (bedtime) routine that tells your body it’s time to go to bed. For example, eat a light snack if you’re feeling hungry (but avoid large meals and beverages late at night). You could also empty your bladder, shut down gadgets (artificial light is not good before sleeping), and download your day (i.e. write down things that worried you throughout the day, etc.). You can also do little tasks that don’t require too much effort (i.e. preparing things you’ll use the next day, washing the dishes, etc.). Doing light exercise, like yoga, can also help raise your body temperature a bit, which can help you transition from warm to cool when you get into your bed.
Once you wake up, good post-sleep (morning) routines can help you move from a sleep state to a fully awake state. Have a dawn-wake simulator to help wake you up so the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is to keep up with your circadian rhythm. If not possible, have a standard alarm clock. Open your curtains/blinds so daylight floods you. This helps raise your awareness by setting your body clock and letting your body make the final hormone shift from melatonin to serotonin. Don’t check notifications right after waking up (wait about 15-20 minutes), as your cortisol levels are at their highest shortly after waking up. You can also exercise, and definitely eat breakfast because it will give you fuel for the day and ensure that you get hungry at the right times (i.e. lunch and dinner). This lessens the need to snack on food that’s not healthy. Here are some more morning routine tips for people who aren’t morning people.
Make Sure Your Sleep Won’t Get Disrupted So You Get Quality Sleep
What can disrupt your sleep? Many things. However, below are some tips for getting uninterrupted sleep:
Avoid Alcoholic Drinks Before Bed
This could rob you of REM sleep. Heavy alcohol ingestion also contributes to difficulty in breathing at night, and more tossing and turning.
Avoid Large Meals or Too Many Beverages Late at Night
A large meal can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep. Drinking too much fluid could cause sleep fragmentation due to an urge to urinate. Some people who wake up to use the washroom end up having a hard time falling back asleep.
Avoid Medications That Delay/Disrupt Sleep if Possible
Some medications can disrupt sleep patterns. For example, most antidepressants and ADHD medications are meant to be taken in the morning, as many of them are stimulants.
Don’t Lie in Bed Awake
If you still can’t sleep after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do some relaxing activities until you feel sleepy. The anxiety caused by not being able to sleep may make it harder for you to fall asleep. Get out of bed, fold some laundry, do something productive, and then try falling asleep once again.
Can Night Owls Become Early Birds? The Bottom Line
Our society is definitely built around the morning lark lifestyle. If you’re a night owl, keep in mind that you cannot change your late chronotype, as sleep chronotypes are genetic. However, there are lifestyle adjustments that you can implement to help you catch up with morning larks.
There are ways to transition your sleep patterns to suit an early bird lifestyle a bit more manageably. Using light exposure strategically, taking steps to ensure your sleep doesn’t get disrupted, and implementing an energizing morning routine are just a few ways you can improve your sleep hygiene and feel more energetic in the morning.