Within each of us is an internal clock, or circadian rhythm, that sets the tone for our sleep cycle. If you consider yourself a night owl, your internal clock most likely runs longer than the typical 24 hours. And if you’re a morning person, it’s probably shorter. Yet while only a quarter of the population has the genetic disposition for being a morning person, for many of us, waking up early is necessary.
Becoming a morning person does have its perks. A study published in 2014 found that individuals who consider themselves morning people also perceive themselves as happier and healthier. Here are eight strategies to train yourself to become an early riser.
Stick to a Routine
Sleep, just like physical activity and quality nutrition, is essential for optimal health. Prioritize your sleep — even on weekends — by sticking to a schedule so you wake up at roughly the same time each day. Before going to bed, unwind with calming activities like reading, meditating, taking a bath or listening to relaxing music.
Notice how we didn’t include “look at your iPhone” or “get caught up on emails” above? That’s because light of any kind before going to sleep can disrupt the release of melatonin, a hormone secreted by the brain's pineal gland that helps maintain our body’s circadian rhythm.
Make a Plan the Night Before
Since you won’t be looking at your phone, you’ll have time to make breakfast in advance, pack a lunch, set out your clothes or write a list of things you need to do the next day. Completing all of these tasks the night before can help calm your nerves and prevent those middle-of-the-night-jolt-out-of-bed-I-forgot-something moments.
Use Caution with Caffeine and Alcohol
Stimulants like caffeine can stay in the body as long as 14 hours. And alcohol, while it may initially relax you, is metabolized and cleared from your system during your sleep cycle. Use caution with both as they can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Skip the Snooze
It may sound counterintuitive, but slamming that snooze button before you’re awake can actually make you more tired. Without the snooze button, our bodies start to naturally waken by increasing body temperature and releasing hormones like adrenaline an hour or so before our eyes actually open. The snooze button, however, jump starts this process, alarming our bodies and worsening the situation.
Study after study has shown the powerful effects of meditation, from improved creativity and calmness to literally rebuilding the brain’s grey matter, associated with memory, learning and self-awareness. The best part? There’s no need to sit cross-legged on the floor to practice meditation — you can do so on a morning walk, while eating your breakfast or while lying in bed. Practice mindfulness for a more restful sleep and happier day ahead.
Physical activity not only eases stress, it’s also linked to better rest. In the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, participants who participated in 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity for four days a week had improved sleep. Some individuals prefer morning workouts, some later in the day — listen to your body and adapt a workout pattern that best ensures good quality sleep.
Aside from appetite control, eating a balanced breakfast of fiber-rich foods, protein and healthy fats gives your body the fuel it needs to regulate its circadian rhythm. Below is a recipe that will do just that.
Breakfast Bread Pudding
Recipe developed by McKenzie Hall, RDN, and Lisa Samuel, MBA, RDN
Bake a batch of this recipe at the beginning of the week and then store the ramekins in your fridge, covered with plastic wrap. Simply warm a serving in the microwave each morning for a wholesome breakfast at your fingertips. You can also opt to bake each one individually in the morning for about 25-30 minutes while you’re getting ready for the day.
4 cups day-old crusty whole wheat bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 Fuji or Gala apple, diced
1 cup milk or milk alternative
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
⅓ cup soaked pureed dates*
½ tablespoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup raisins or nuts, optional
* Add 12 chopped dates to boiling water. Reduce the water to simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove and puree in a food processor or blender.
- Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease four 4-inch ramekins.
- In a large bowl thoroughly whisk eggs with dates and applesauce. Add spices, ground flax and vanilla. Gently whisk in milk.
- Fold into egg mixture the cubed bread, apples and nuts/raisins (if using).
- Let sit for about 30 minutes to allow bread to begin soaking up egg mixture. Re-stir and divide among ramekins.
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the top is golden and the pudding is set.