Written by: Lana Adler
Updated February 26, 2021
Talk about being a "morning person" or "night owl" isn't just talk — research backs it up. Most people have a natural tendency to wake up early, stay up late at night, or keep a schedule that falls somewhere in-between. These tendencies are due to what scientists call a chronotype (1), which appears to have a genetic component (2) and also affects what time of day you're most alert. A majority of people feel their best early in the day, but that figure changes depending on age (3).
Many people with late chronotypes — casually called "night owls" — might wish they could live like an early chronotype person. Since common work and social schedules favor early chronotype people, late chronotype folks can find themselves sleep-deprived and suffering from a form of chronic jet lag, complete with sleep disturbances and a greater risk of depression.
Fortunately, you can manipulate your chronotype. If you have a late chronotype and wonder if you can make yourself a morning person, the answer is yes — to an extent.
Researchers have been able to change the sleep schedules of people with late chronotypes by two hours (4), which positively impacted mental health and performance. These science-based lifestyle changes can help you become more of a morning person, so your daily schedule feels easier and better fits with the schedule predominant in society.
Receive Sunlight Exposure in the Morning
If you're wondering how to become a morning person, start with light exposure. Shifting from a later sleep schedule to an earlier one requires you to modify your circadian rhythm (5), or internal sleep clock. Your circadian rhythm impacts your sleep drive and largely determines when you need sleep. Light has a major effect on your circadian rhythm, and the prevalence of artificial light could be why many people's circadian rhythms aren't synced with sunlight.
Receiving sunlight exposure in the morning can shift your circadian rhythm, helping you naturally feel more alert in the morning. To receive the benefits of sunlight exposure, try taking a walk first thing in the morning or opening the blinds and sitting near a window.
After an extended period of receiving sunlight exposure immediately after waking up, you might find yourself feeling less groggy in the morning. You might even be able to wake up without an alarm!
Avoid Blue Light Exposure in the Evening
Another component of entraining your circadian rhythm so it better aligns with daylight hours is avoiding light exposure near your bedtime. Blue light exposure, in particular, keeps people more alert at night by suppressing the production of melatonin (6), a hormone that promotes sleepiness.
LED screens — such as those found on smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions — emit more blue light than most other artificial light sources. If you can't avoid screens in the hours before bed, wearing orange-tinted blue-light-blocking glasses (7) while viewing them will reduce your blue light exposure. If you can't stop looking at your phone at night, consider switching it to "night mode," a setting in which the phone emits less blue light (8).
Eat at Scheduled Times
Eating at scheduled times can help as you work on becoming a morning person. Like light exposure, eating food also regulates circadian rhythm (9). If you want to change your circadian rhythm, prioritize eating on a set schedule. Try to time your meals so you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day around the same time, even on weekends.
Scheduling meals, so you eat earlier rather than later, is ideal. Skipping breakfast or eating your first meal of the day late could delay your circadian rhythm (10). Eating dinner too late can increase your chance of experiencing acid reflux at night, which interferes with sleep (11).
Exercise is yet another action you can take to regulate your circadian rhythm (12), allowing you to wake up and fall asleep at times more aligned with the daylight schedule. Research shows that exercise can entrain a circadian rhythm in people experiencing circadian disruption due to illness (13).
Although experts disagree on what time of day is best for exercising, virtually everyone agrees that regular exercise positively impacts health, sleep, and circadian rhythm stability. If you notice that exercising later in the afternoon or evening makes you feel too energized to fall asleep by your ideal bedtime, try exercising in the morning. The Centers for Disease Control recommend exercising at least 150 minutes a week, which comes out to 30 minutes a day, five days each week (14).
Limit and Carefully Schedule Caffeine Intake
Although caffeine doesn't directly affect circadian rhythm, its stimulant effect can majorly impact your sleep duration and quality (15). As a result, being intentional about your caffeine intake can help your quest to become a morning person. If you're having trouble falling asleep when you'd like to, or experiencing sleep disturbances throughout the night, consider reducing your caffeine intake or limiting it to morning hours.
Sometimes people don't want to believe that their caffeine habit is impacting their sleep. Even if you could handle large quantities of caffeine or could drink coffee later in the day at one point in life, caffeine consumption could still affect your sleep now. People tend to become more sensitive to caffeine's effects as they age and might need to reduce consumption as a result.
Keep a Consistent Bedtime, Even on Weekends
If you're a night owl who enjoys staying up late, you might be tempted to believe you can become a morning person on weekdays, but continue your old habits on weekends when you're able to sleep in. Not so fast. Instead of using weekends to pay down your sleep debt, focus on receiving enough sleep every night of the week.
In adolescents, sleeping more on weekends compared to weeknights is associated with worse academic performance, increased depression, a higher risk of substance abuse, and a higher risk of obesity (16). Sleeping in on weekends is also a missed opportunity. Weekends are the perfect time to obtain more daytime sunlight exposure, which is documented to shift your sleep schedule to one with earlier sleep and wake times (17).
Upgrade Your Bedroom to Improve Sleep
Falling asleep quickly and sleeping well throughout the night can help you avoid feeling tired or wanting to sleep in late the next morning. For this reason, upgrading your bedroom to improve sleep could make your transition from night owl to morning lark easier.
To upgrade your bedroom, first make sure you have the best mattress for your needs. People of different body weights and with different sleep position preferences sleep better on different mattresses. You may also want to consider upgrading your bedroom with sleep-supporting accessories, such as blackout curtains and a white noise machine.
Try Energizing Sights, Sounds, and Smells
In the beginning, shifting your sleep schedule might make mornings difficult because you aren't yet waking up well-rested. Help ease the pain of waking up by surrounding yourself with energizing stimuli to snap you out of grogginess, so you feel more alert. For example, you may want to use scents that help wake you up, listen to energizing music, or surround yourself with energizing colors.
Putting on a pot of coffee could increase your alertness before you even take a sip. The smell of coffee alone is known to promote alertness (18). Not a coffee fan? Keep essential oils near your bed and take a whiff when you wake up. Certain essential oils, such as peppermint, also increase alertness (19).
Enjoy Your New Sleep Schedule
After you've successfully shifted your sleep schedule and become a morning person, enjoy your new routine. If you feel tempted to revert to your past ways, remind yourself of the many benefits you're receiving. People who successfully shift from a late to early chronotype may experience less depression, less stress, improved cognition, and improved physical performance.
If you can't successfully shift your sleep schedule after weeks or months of trying, consider seeing your doctor to determine if you have a sleep disorder. Trouble falling or staying asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, snoring, waking up with a headache, and other symptoms could indicate that you're dealing with an underlying disorder.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S105381191300921X Accessed February 17, 2021.
- https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10448 Accessed February 17, 2021.
- https://news.gallup.com/poll/101866/majority-americans-personal-best-morning.aspx Accessed February 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31202686/ Accessed February 17, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23910656/ Accessed February 17, 2021.
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- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32354038/ Accessed February 19, 2021.
- https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm Accessed February 19, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26899133/ Accessed February 19, 2021.
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