Modern Living: How to Sleep Train Yourself to be a Morning Person
Oh, the humanity!
A study published by LiveScience in June of 2012 has conclusively shown that morning people are just plain happier than those of us saddled with, um, alternative circadian rhythms. The world is just built for them - societal expectations like standard working hours, school times, etc. all mirror their sleep patterns and (ugh) punish others. Chronic sleep deprivation is not just accompanied by a precipitous drop in general sociability, alertness, and of course happiness, but also comes with a big ol' Surgeon General's Health Warning. Or it should. It's just. not. cool.
For heaven's sake, the world is just not fair! I suppose we already knew this, but seeing as we haven't had much luck instituting a more sane social world based on a duality of circadian rhythms, I guess we'll have to give that other famous maxim a go: if you can't beat them, join them.
How do you use your mornings?
Good Freaking Morning!
Maybe you're a recent graduate struggling to make the transition from the semi-nocturnal life of a student to the decidedly more structured schedule of a 9-5 intern or entrance-level employee. Or maybe you work from home or are a stay-at-home mother and you've just decided that your mental health requires an hour or two of calm in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up and your to-do list starts glowering. And even if you don't fall into any of the lives already described, I truly doubt there's a single person out there who wouldn't benefit from a more relaxed morning or the cool oasis of an extra hour or two to themselves, completely external to daily demands.
That said, it can be unbelievably hard to get up before you reallyreally have to. You're tired, you work hard, and dammit you want those ten extra minutes of sleep. And heaven help the righteous individual who suggests that you get up a whole HOUR earlier. And why? Because it'll make me less stressed out? GAH.
I remember, as a high schooler, doing everything conceivable to shorten my morning and let me set the alarm a harmless five or even a more daring twenty minutes later: I set out clothing the night before, made sure my bag was packed - sometimes I even slept in my clothes, although I learned quickly that that "shortcut" only worked with jeans or other unwrinklables, and that a night's sleep in jeans was somehow much less restful than one in nice soft pajamas. To this day I compulsively don pajamas as soon as I return home. But in my twenties I've come to appreciate a quiet morning routine, and have found that a well-spent 'morning buffer' makes for a calm, happy, and productive day.
I hope it does the same for you.
I Can't Get Up!
And why might that be? There are a few reasons, most physical, for why getting up early can be such an impossible chore.
My personal favorite is to do with sleep cycles and a chemical your body releases during deep sleep to make sure you don't act out your dreams (heh...what a life-saver). Why is this my favorite barrier? There are two reasons. First, I heard a hilarious story told by a man suffers from the sleep disorder in which his body does *not* produce these paralyzing chemicals. He very... effectively, I suppose, described waking up on the lawn of an motel after having jumped through a closed window because dream-terrorists were after him or something. Having to walk back into the lobby, all bloody and in his boxers, and tell the fellow at the front desk that he was staying there and he accidentally jumped through the window and could he please call for an ambulance?
Um. Sure thing, dude.
So now, when I'm woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle and find that I can't really move, I say a quiet thank you to my body for making bloody sure that my dreams stayed in my head.
But my second reason for liking sleep cycles is that they're pretty easy to understand, and, with a little forethought, can be regulated. How's that you say? Read on!
So How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Do you know why teenagers are known for sleeping like LOGS until noon? It's because their bodies (primarily their brains, at this point) demand it of them. Making high school start at 6:45 is about the cruelest and stupidest thing grown-ups ever did to their young.
Adults, however, snug in their fully-developed brains and bodies, need somewhat less sleep. How much less varies considerably, but everyone will nonetheless be free of the physical demands of puberty.
And of course the elderly sleep even less, for any number of reasons.
Suffice to say, your sleep needs will change quite a bit over the course of your lifetime so stay flexible!
How to Calculate and Manipulate Your Sleep Cycles
So the basic principle here is that what matters is not really how much sleep you're getting, but rather the quality of your sleep. The old familiar 'quality over quantity' maxim. In this case (as in most, I suppose) stressing out about getting quality sleep is completely counter-productive. What you'll learn here is how to identify and abide by your natural sleep cycles, and ultimately how to listen to your body's judgement of how much sleep you actually need.
Everyone's sleep cycles are a little bit different - so how do you get to know your own? Make a point of going to bed around the same time every night. If you can (over the course of a few weekends, or during a vacation, perhaps) the best way discover your natural sleep cycle rhythm is to chuck your alarm clock and see when you wake up naturally. And the second you wake up, baby, get your butt out of bed. That, admittedly, is the hardest part - it certainly does require some smidge of will power, and maybe some warm slippers, but it's also a habit that doesn't take long to form.
Which I like to think makes it worth those two or three painful mornings.
It's crucial, regardless of the hour, to get up whenever you wake up naturally. Don't lie around in bed and try to go back sleep after having woken up naturally.
To calculate your personal sleep cycle, look at the clock right as you're falling asleep, and again the second you wake up of your own accord and divide the total into periods of 90-110 minutes, which is the average time it takes to dream yourself through a full (restorative) cycle. By determining where you fall along that continuum (just see which number between 90 and 110 divides most cleanly into your sleep duration), you can start to manipulate your sleep time. At this point, if you want to continue using an alarm clock, you can set your alarm to coincide with the end of your sleep cycle, so when you wake up it will be as though you woke up naturally. For a less intrusive and arguably more effective approach, you can get yourself a sun light and put it on a timer. They're also very effective in the fight against seasonal affective disorder, if you want to feel super efficient in your consumerism.
Too Wired to Sleep at Night?
Sleep therapists recommend the following:
- avoid caffeine after 2pm, or, if possible, entirely
- make a point of getting 20+ minutes of exercise, but don't exercise right before bed. Give yourself at least 1 or 2 hours to wind down.
- have a light dinner a few hours before bed
- don't fall asleep in front of the television, and avoid action-packed programming for an hour or 2 before going to bed.
- keep your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. Point LED clocks etc. away from you. Apparently even the slightest light can disturb the quality of your sleep.
And Fare Thee Well
So, I leave you here. Hopefully full of grand ambitions to take back your mornings! It's the new last frontier, folks - a period of delightful selfishness, quiet, and calm. An unharried morning is a luxury more people should indulge in, if only because it's cheap (free?!) and because one cranky person in a room is enough to spoil it for those sharing the space, and once you get sucked into that chain of ick it can be hard to claw your way back out.
So take some time for yourself: nice, guilt-free, nothing-else-to-do time. And you'll be able to handle the little old man in front of you at lunch, painstakingly counting out exact change as the precious minutes of your lunch break slip by. You may even be able to stop yourself from muttering so forcefully that he loses track and has to start again, in which case you'll be both gaining new time and saving that old time you already had!
Further reading for those in search of calm:
Modern Living: The Fine Art of Creating Health and Calm: Are you really as stressed out or as busy as you think you are? Maybe you are, but it's more likely that you aren't. This article will present some ways to slow down and to change the way you think about time, and will hopefully help you live a more relaxed life. Stress headaches be gone!
And if you're having trouble getting to sleep, perhaps you will get something out of this: