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How to Become a Morning Person (and Will It Improve Your Health?)

Making the Transition From Night Owl to Early Bird? Here’s How.

Key Takeaways:

  • Learning how to become a morning person revolves around shifting your circadian rhythm through exercise, light exposure, and altering your daily routine.
  • Becoming a morning person can be beneficial when you have to accommodate your daily commitments and/or are unsatisfied with your health.
  • A morning-oriented lifestyle is associated with significant health benefits like healthier body weight, sharper memory, and better mood.
  • Your circadian rhythm is controlled by many factors, including hormones, gender, age, genetics, location, and daily habits.

Are you an early riser or a night owl? When I ask this question, many people can instantly, definitively say that they’re one or the other. 

While both have their merits, many choose the former for its ability to accommodate work schedules and parental responsibilities, and for its health benefits. In essence, many may not choose a morning-oriented lifestyle, but have it chosen for them. Whatever your reasons, embracing the morning lark lifestyle can lead to better quality sleep, cognition, mood, and healthier body weight. 

As it turns out, research does support that there’s a biological preference for what hours of the day you’re awake, and it results from a combination of internal and external factors.Your preferences and habits (like when you eat), hormones, light exposure, age, and even genetics have large influence over your internal clock.

While most of us actually fall in the middle of the spectrum, about 40% of the population identifies as morning or evening-oriented [1]. If your natural inclination leans toward being a late riser and you’re looking to reap the benefits of an earlier lifestyle, I’m here to help you learn how to become a morning person. 

The best way to get your internal alarm clock ticking earlier is by regulating your sleep-wake hormones. Being smart with light exposure, exercise, and even meal timing can be your ticket to becoming a morning person. This article will teach you how to hack your circadian rhythm so you can wake up with the sunrise. 

A Snapshot: How to Become a Morning Person

In this article, I’ll walk you through the details of what being a morning person actually means, and how to become one. Before I jump in, here’s a brief snapshot:

  1. Learn about sleep biology 
  2. Uncover your chronotype
  3. Find out the benefits of waking early

  1. Change up your habits and routines
  2. Get smart about light exposure
  3. Exercise strategically

We will get into your practical plan for becoming an early riser, but let’s start with circadian rhythm basics to lay the groundwork.

What Makes a Morning vs Evening Person?

If you are trying to switch your chronotype — your body’s natural preference for the morning or evening — then you have to rewire your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your sleep-wake cycle that determines what time you open your eyes in the morning and when you wind down at night [1, 2, 3, 4]. It’s also what determines whether you’re a “morning” or “night” person.

Your circadian rhythm is regulated by light, which is why scrolling on your phone can keep you up at night (whether you want it to or not). Temperature regulation and hormones, particularly melatonin, play an equally important role. The release of melatonin from the pineal gland is stimulated by darkness, dampened by light, and is highest at night [2, 3, 4]. 

Other hormones, like cortisol, have a part in making up your internal clock as well [5]. This “stress” hormone is released from the adrenal glands and is also responsible for energy levels and wakefulness. Cortisol levels spike in levels in the morning, known as the cortisol awakening response (CAR), and this is a major part of the reason you stay awake after opening your eyes [6]. 

Think of cortisol as the hormone that keeps you awake and melatonin as the hormone that puts you to sleep. Hacking these hormones together (we will get into that in a moment) is your ticket to becoming a morning person.

Those who fall into the “morning people” camp tend to have an earlier release of melatonin and have different morning body temperature and cortisol levels from those who prefer the evening hours [4, 5].

 Other components are also involved in what time you get up and go to bed:

  • Genetics [2]
  • Biological sex (women tend to have a morning preference) [1, 5, 7]
  • Age (older adults are morning-oriented) [1, 5]
  • Early-life light exposure [5]
  • Location [5]
  • Regular light exposure [5]
  • Other environmental influences (meals, exercise, work, etc.)

The good news is that some of these above factors can be influenced to become a morning person, and determining your individual chronotype can be helpful in this process. 

Which Chronotype are You?

Chronotypes reflect our prediction for the morning or evening hours. All of the above factors play a role in determining your individual chronotype, of which there are three primary types [1]:

  1. Morning-type (M-type): These types are early to bed/early to rise and have peak mental and physical performance in the morning. They are the ones who are sharp as a tack and ready to go first thing in the morning.
  2. Evening-type (E-type): They have a tendency to sleep in and stay up late, and are most productive (and creative) in the evening. They also tend to hit the gym later in the day with no issues falling asleep.
  3. Neither-type (N-type): Accounting for 60% of the population, this group exists somewhere along the spectrum between the other two types. Their natural tendencies are harder to predict, as they vary so much. One N-type may prefer an early wake-up time and later bedtime, while another gets up late and is most productive upon waking.

There are various ways to assess your chronotype, and the morningness-eveningness questionnaire (MEQ), Munich ChronoType Questionnaire (MCTQ), and/or Circadian Type Questionnaire (CTQ) can help. 

If you prefer a more tech-based approach to diagnosing your body clock and sleep patterns, many smartwatches and fitness trackers contain an actigraph, a monitor that detects nighttime movements to assess sleep [8]. 

Those who fall into the third category may have an easier time adjusting their natural rhythm when learning how to become a morning person. M-types whose lifestyles have interrupted and reprogrammed their internal clock may also be a bit quicker when shifting their rhythm to an earlier time of day. 

Does Waking Up Early Improve Your Health?

If you are an evening-type and are determined to become a morning person, it’s still possible to achieve this. A morning-type chronotype is associated with better health habits like a less sedentary lifestyle and healthier eating than E-types [5]. 

As a quick caveat before I move on, becoming a morning person doesn’t automatically mean you’ll immediately see a “whole new you”. Being awake by dawn is only associated with a healthier lifestyle and following health benefits, and may not be directly responsible for them (known as causation). It’s entirely possible that the reasons behind early waking (ex: making time for the gym, family, or a meditation practice), or another factor entirely, are what drive the health benefits. 

In reality, it’s likely a shift in both your biological clock and your behaviors that bring about better health. The take-home from this discussion on causation vs correlation is that becoming a morning person may give you a head start, but you will likely still need to put in the work to reap the following rewards.

To maximize overall health, evening-oriented people can generally shift their circadian rhythm to about two hours earlier to reap the benefits of becoming a morning person. This change is enough to improve your mood, stress, reaction time, and muscle strength [9].

Other benefits of being a morning person may include:

  • Improved memory and attention [10]
  • Improved ADHD symptoms [11]
  • Better athletic performance [12]
  • Better sleep quality [13]
  • Decreased depression [13]
  • Better stress responses [13]
  • Healthier body weight [14, 15]

It’s worth noting that if you already have healthy habits in place, and truly feel better and more productive later in the day, you may not need to try to become a morning person. Many people will have to accommodate work/life commitments and responsibilities. But if you’re someone who can choose what your schedule looks like, go by what feels good and natural for you. Everyone’s biology is different, and what works best for someone else may not work for you. 

But if you feel that a later wake time and sleep time may be negatively affecting your mood, cognition, physical health, and/or energy levels, switching to a morning-oriented lifestyle can significantly improve your health. 

How to Become a Morning Person

The overlying concept of becoming a morning person involves shifting your daytime activities to earlier in the day and getting smart about light exposure. To make your transition as straightforward as possible, I’ve designed a three-step process to make you an early bird smoothly and quickly.

Before you walk through these steps, try to remember that consistency is key when retraining your circadian rhythm so your body can adjust to the change. A consistent sleep schedule and daily activities are the only way your body will be able to adapt to a new rhythm and set your internal clock several hours earlier.

Step 1: Shift Your Schedule

The most important thing you need to do while becoming a morning person is to make sure you don’t compromise on sleep. Regardless of what time you like to hit the hay, research consistently shows that 7-9 hours of healthy sleep is necessary for better wellness [16], so don’t cut yourself short. 

Sleep deprivation will do you no favors when shifting to becoming a morning person, and will likely negate the health benefits of waking earlier. Getting enough sleep is so important and has so many health benefits that I have dedicated several articles to this topic, and discussed the prevalent issues with evaluating sleep quality on my podcast.

How to Get to Bed Earlier

Going to sleep and waking up two to three hours earlier is a great place to start [9]. Even if you don’t feel tired, getting into bed can help let your brain know it’s time to sleep. However, if you find yourself staring at the ceiling for too long, it’s best to get up before trying again. Consider reading a book or listening to a podcast while you adjust. 

Melatonin supplements are also a safe, non-addictive option to help adjust your brain to an earlier bedtime [6]. Taking 1-3 mg before your goal bedtime can help you through the transition period. Do your best to avoid prescription sleep medications and sedatives, unless discussed with your doctor, as natural sleep offers better sleep quality.

Other ways to wind down that make a great addition to a bedtime routine are:

  • Taking a warm shower or bath 1-2 hours before your goal bedtime [17
  • Listening to calming music/sounds (many like binaural beats, ASMR, and isochronic tones) [18
  • Keeping the bedroom quiet or listening to white noise [19]
  • Sleeping at a temperature between 60-68℉ (unless you have sleep apnea)  [20
  • Eliminating stress before bed — this means setting boundaries with work, friends, and family

Ensuring proper sleep hygiene while you shift your rhythm will help make the process easier and smoother.

As long as you got at least seven hours of sleep the night before, try to resist hitting snooze when it’s time to wake up the next day. If you have the option, see if a partner or roommate can hold you accountable to your new wake-up time. A wake-up call from a friend is another option for those who tend to hit the snooze button.

Other Ways to Adjust Your Schedule

Meal timing, work hours, caffeine consumption, and afternoon naps are all strong players in determining your circadian rhythm. Here are a few tips on how to make these work for you, not against you [9]:

  • Eat breakfast shortly after waking: if you don’t have a large appetite in the morning, try a piece of fruit or half a piece of toast with avocado on top.
  • Avoid napping after 4 pm: this can make it much harder to fall asleep at night, so keep your naps closer to noon.
  • Avoid caffeine after 3 pm: as we know, caffeine is a stimulant and can keep your brain awake, even when you’re tired at night. Hidden sources of caffeine include chocolate and non-herbal teas. Save your cup of coffee for the morning and early afternoon. (Note: Some people are more sensitive here, and may need to avoid caffeine after 12 PM rather than 3 PM. As always, listen to your body.)
  • Eat dinner before 7 pm: eating dinner too late can prevent you from falling and staying asleep. Push your meals to earlier in the day, and if those you eat with aren’t on board, consider having dinner earlier by yourself and a small snack with your family later.

Getting your new schedule locked in can take some time. While the goal is consistency with any new habit, don’t beat yourself up if you start to slip. Just make sure you’re caught up on sleep and get back on the wheel when you’re ready.

Step 2: Filter Your Light Exposure

Since light is a major regulator of melatonin release, it’s essential to be cognizant of your light exposure when learning how to become a morning person. Getting morning light exposure first upon waking can help shut off your melatonin and release cortisol, so if you want to wake up earlier, it may be time to forgo the blackout curtains in the bedroom [21]. 

Natural, outdoor light is best, but If you can’t get outside in the AM, consider a natural light lamp for your desk (which can also help with seasonal and bipolar depression) [22]. 

Limiting bright light exposure in the evening is also important, as it can disrupt your sleep cycle. Your pineal gland often doesn’t know the difference between natural and synthetic blue light so shutting off electronics two hours before your goal bedtime can be helpful. 

A 2019 systematic review of 13 clinical trials showed that two hours of blue light exposure in the evening is enough to suppress melatonin release [23]. While melatonin levels were able to recover after exposure, using a blue light filter on your phone or wearing blue light-blocking glasses right before bed is strongly recommended. 

Many TVs can now be programmed to turn on a blue light filter at a set time. However, the same study mentioned above showed that all light colors can disrupt your circadian rhythm, so forgoing the electronics before bedtime is your best bet for getting to bed earlier.

Step 3: Get Moving

If you are used to exercising in the evening (or not at all), switching it to your morning routine can be difficult. But if you are set on becoming an early bird, switching your gym session to the morning can be game-changing in resetting your sleep-wake cycle. 

Getting in a morning workout can reset your circadian rhythm and encourages an earlier release of nighttime melatonin and sleep onset [24, 25]. Exercising outside gives you an added bonus of natural light exposure, so great options to consider are outdoor yoga, jogging, walking, and cycling. 

Exercise has also been shown to boost brain health and can improve your cognitive abilities before starting work for the day. With all the other great benefits of exercise, I would be remiss not to mention it when it comes to becoming a morning person.

How to Become a Morning Person 101

Rewiring your circadian rhythm if you’re an evening person is possible through light exposure, early morning exercise, and dedication to shaking up your daily routine. But if you’re ready to do the work, becoming a morning person can lead to better health benefits and outcomes. 

As a final sign-off, remember that sleep is only one part of the picture when it comes to better health. A healthy diet, stress management, and exercise are the other pillars of a healthy and quality life. For help in any of these areas, you can reach out to one of our qualified functional medicine practitioners, or check out my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
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