I love being awake early in the morning. I love how bright and quiet it is: no crowded streets or loud noises.
It’s the “waking up” part of being awake that I’m not such a fan of.
While sleeping and waking up might seem like polar opposites, the two are deeply interconnected and healthy sleeping habits typically translate to easier mornings.
That being said, there are still things you can do to be a good waker-upper.
Let the light in
It may sound obvious, but bright light in the mornings helps wake your brain up. Opening up the blinds early in the morning, letting in natural, outdoor light, can be very beneficial.
“Getting bright light soon after you wake up on a consistent basis moves your [internal] clock back,” Dr. Vishesh Kapur, UW’s director of sleep medicine, said.
Melatonin works to reset the circadian rhythm in people with insomnia; bright light functions in a similar way.
Exercise (if you’re a freak like that)
Another great way to wake your brain up in the morning and get energized is — stay with me here — exercise.
Understandably, this isn’t the most appealing of life changes to make.
But exercise can be whatever you make of it. Whether you’re feeling up to a three-mile jog or just stretching in your room, the sheer act of getting up and moving wakes your brain.
Working out in the morning also gets your energy up and can help you stay energized throughout the day.
Watch your caffeine intake
I admit that I’m not willing to put in the work and actually exercise in the morning since getting out of bed is hard enough, so I’ve turned to caffeine. But, as it turns out, it isn’t quite the miracle drug I’d considered it to be.
“Caffeine antagonizes the chemicals that help you get to sleep,” Kapur said. “[Ingesting caffeine] later in the day if you have insomnia is not a good idea”
However, that doesn’t mean you need to cut caffeine out entirely. Usually, drinking it before noon in moderate amounts will not affect your sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 250 milligrams of caffeine per day is a moderate amount. For reference, a single fluid ounce shot of espresso has about 64 milligrams.
However, slow metabolizers of caffeine should avoid it in higher quantities and stick to drinking it earlier in the day.
While most of these habits involve getting up and doing something, there are also changes you can make in bed.
Don’t hit that snooze button
Let’s talk about snoozing.
I have always been a firm believer in getting every last second of sleep you possibly can.
Sometimes, you just need those extra seven minutes. Or, if you’re me, you set decoy alarms starting a full hour before you actually need to wake up to prepare your brain for what’s coming.
Shockingly, this is not good for you.
It turns out that the continuous snoozing of the alarm for short periods of time results in our sleep cycles being constantly interrupted. The short eight-minute naps that you’re getting in between alarms are too short of a time period to actually be beneficial; all they succeed in doing is interrupting REM sleep.
Sleep in (when you can)
Sleeping in on weekends isn’t necessarily bad — for the most part, it’s paying off some of the sleep debt that you’ve built up over the course of the week — but this isn’t the case for everyone.
Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is a sleep disorder in which, as the name suggests, a person’s sleep cycle is delayed. They are unable to fall asleep at a conventional bedtime, and this results in difficulty waking up in the morning.
For people with DSPS, sleeping in on weekends counteracts previous efforts. In this case, establishing a consistent wake time makes it easier for you to wake up earlier on days you actually need to.
The more I read about people’s sleep struggles, the more I realized I related to almost all of them. So, I decided to test everything I had learned, on myself, over the course of two weeks.
Because — not to brag or anything — I have a truly horrific sleep schedule.
I primarily struggle with falling asleep. I have 9 a.m. classes every day, so waking up in the morning is a necessity, but even so, I typically don’t get tired until 3 a.m.
And every night, I would stay up just a little later and it would be that much more difficult for me to wake up in the morning.
So, I decided to make some changes.
I started taking melatonin, in a low dose, at around 9:30 p.m. every night. I switched my desk lamp to warm lights in the evenings. With the IMA so far from civilization, going to the gym has been infrequent, so I switched to at-home workouts later in the day.
Three simple changes.
I found maintaining a perfectly consistent schedule to be close to impossible. Sometimes you just have to stay awake a little longer to cram for that midterm (or finish the article that you should have turned in hours ago). To top it off, class registration had no respect for my sleep schedule. The fact that my bed is extremely comfortable also did not help.
Despite this, I tried to stick to my new schedule as best as I could: working out in the late afternoons, sticking to coffee in the morning hours, and taking melatonin as needed.
I began to fall asleep around 1 a.m., which is not great but was still a drastic improvement from my 3:30 a.m. days. I was able to wake up at 8:30 a.m. and actually make coffee in the morning as opposed to waking up 22 minutes before class started and just booking it out the door without a second thought.
So, while it wasn’t magic, it worked.
Of everything I changed, the most helpful thing for me was to make a mental list of everything I had to do the next day. It helped me formulate my racing thoughts into an achievable set.
So, rise and shine. You’ve got work to do.
Reach Science Editor Ash Shah at email@example.com. Twitter: @itsashshah
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