Early risers have a more positive outlook on life and are more likely to succeed in their careers because they tend to be more proactive, university studies have found. However, night owls may be more alert 10 hours after awakening, compared to early birds, whose energy fades.
Science aside, it stands to reason that for early birds and night owls alike, sleeping in until the last possible minute can cause stress and reduce productivity. So why not resolve to get an earlier start?
For motivation, think about what you will gain and how you’ll use the extra time. You can avoid rush hour traffic, for example, and not work as late in the evening. You can exercise, keep up with the news or simply enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
“I get to the office at 6:30, about two hours before official opening time. Among the many benefits are much less traffic, fewer interruptions at the office and it gives me some padding to be able to take a long enough lunch break to go to the gym,” says Jack Dare, IT director for a Chicago-based industry association.
There’s only one way to wake up earlier on a consistent basis, and that’s going to bed earlier, says Dare: “Have a dark and quiet bedroom, don’t try to work or do anything to get your stress level up just before bed, and save a little time to unwind before bedtime.”
Start slowly, by waking up just 15 minutes earlier than usual. Get used to this for a few days and then move your wake-up time back in 10- or 15-minute increments over the course of time to acclimate to the change.
Think through the reasons you might hit snooze and address them. For example, if you dread leaving the warmth of your covers, keep a fuzzy robe and slippers at the side of the bed. If it helps to have coffee made, use a programmable automatic or speedy single-cup maker.
Light can be a friend or an enemy. It may be tempting to check email one last time at bedtime or watch TV to unwind, but light-emitting screens have been shown to affect melatonin levels and trick our brains into staying wakeful. Avoid lit screens within an hour of bedtime. In the morning, though, it may help to turn on a bright light right away to simulate daylight. There are sunrise-simulating alarm clocks that start filling the room with a gradually brightening light before the alarm goes off. Manufacturers claim the sunrise effect is a natural cue for the body to awaken, so by the time the alarm sounds, you are ready to get up.
Establish a morning routine that sets you up for success throughout the day. This differs from person to person. Some people like to ease into the day while others like to hit the ground running.
“Don’t race to the computer. Rather than checking email or reading the news the moment you wake up, designate the first 20 minutes for reflection, reading, exercising or journaling to stimulate your brain,” suggests Randy Hain, managing partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search in Atlanta. “Then, have a cup of coffee, sit down and think about your day. Whatever it is, make it your time – it’s the one part of the day when clients and family aren't making requests.”
Hain gets up at 4 am, and by the time his first scheduled meeting rolls around, as early as seven, he is “energized and engaged” because he’s taken care of his “mental, spiritual and physical health first,” he says.
Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, of Beverly Hills, Calif., ritualistically looks at her vision boards when she awakes at 5 or 6 am. That way, “I have my goals in mind from the outset,” she explains. “I have two vision boards: One is a bulletin board that I use thumbtacks to stick pictures on and one is my screensaver. So, as soon as I sit down at my computer, I’m looking at it and have it in the background all day.”
While it’s possible to change a late sleeper’s habits, a special alarm clock or morning ritual may be less instrumental than sheer determination, says Dare’s co-worker Chris Stark, the association’s CFO. “I don’t think it’s naturally any easier for me to get up earlier than for anyone else,” he says. “Perhaps a possible trait of high performers is the ability to muster the willpower to simply rise when the alarm goes off.”
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