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Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Today’s Idea: Set your wake-up time and stick to it like glue…7 days a week. 

If you’re wondering if it’s possible to shift your sleep schedule, read on…

I so very desperately want to be a really early riser, and over the years, I’ve tried to convince myself that I am one.  After all, when I actually manage to crawl out of bed before the sun rises, I love it (see my previous post about pre-dawn workouts).  There’s something spectacular about the stillness of the pre-dawn hours, when everyone in the house is peacefully sleeping and the stars are still sparkling outside the window.  And NPR’s Morning Edition at 5am beats a screaming child any day of the week.

But when I’m really honest with myself, I don’t think I fit the “really early riser” bill.  I’ve been getting up super early (5/5:30am) a few times a week for years, and it’s still MASSIVELY PAINFUL every time the alarm goes off.  I want to press snooze every single time, without fail.  This time of year is the hardest, when the spring time change makes darkness persist until the clock strikes seven…which led me to google “is it possible to change your circadian rhythm?” last night.  This search first led me to a slew of articles differentiating early birds + night owls (supposedly early birds are happier and healthier, and night owls are more creative), which were interesting but not particularly helpful because they generally don’t address “really early” (in most studies I read, early birds wake at 7am and night owls wake at 11am, so by their definition, I’m an early bird…just not an early bird by “trying-to-fit-it-all-in” standards).

I did find a good article in the Washington Post, however, which gave me hope that it IS difficult, but definitely possible to change our circadian rhythms.  The article gives a few tips for how to do this, the most relevant one for me being “Set your wake-up time — and then stick to it like glue. Ideally you should get up at the same time every morning, including — gasp! — those precious weekends. If you sleep more than 90 minutes later on a Saturday or Sunday, you will affect your body clock, readjusting it to the later wake-up time just as you have to get up early again Monday morning.

Aha…I think I may have figured out my problem.  I have always been in a weird cycle of waking early some days and then rewarding myself with sleep on other days.  Thinking about it now, this is sort of like eating a vegan diet two days a week and then gobbling up burgers the other five.  The body’s response: What the F is happening here?!  I’m realizing my focus needs to shift to sustainability (not forever, but for longer than a day or a week).  This then becomes a question of “me time” versus sleep (sometimes the only time I can get me time is before the kids wake up and after they go to sleep)…which then plays into prioritization.  Hmmm…shorter workout, more sleep?  Longer workout, less work?

These are tough choices, but they’re made in service of the fact that sleep is one of my non-negotiables (within reason…I DO have little kids).  And according to The New York Times, if I don’t get at least six hours, I’m more likely to gain weight.  So my current quest is to find a rhythm that I can make a habit….even if it means a 5:30am wake up call every day of the week.  I’ll post again once I’ve actually nailed that rhythm (note: at my current rate, this might be 2020).

How do you make sure you get the sleep you need and get the things done you want and need to?  Have you successfully overcome an allergy to super early rising?  If so, please share your tips!

P.S. If you’re trying to get up earlier than your body wants to, you might want to lessen the blow by checking out this list of the Five Best Alarm Clocks


7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joan #

    I agree with the idea of setting your wake up time religiously. All you have to do is set your bed time in accordance. You will still get the same amount of “me” time. Just at a different time. We have always tried to go to bed around 10:00 and we’re refreshed by 6:00 AM. It’s like you’re at a different time zone and you have to get used to it!!

    March 21, 2013
    • Thanks for the comment, Joan! It’s easier said than done for us…something we’re working on!

      March 21, 2013
    • ebriceno #

      I totally agree, Joan – for me the key is early bed time. I actually don’t set an alarm, but I wake up every day, including weekends, at around 6am. I used to be a night owl and mornings used to be painful, but now I treasure early mornings. I’ve learned that for me the key is bed time. Check out this graph showing my total sleep as a function of the time I go to bed:

      March 21, 2013
      • Thanks for the comment, Ed. You are a quantified self machine. What device do you use to track sleep, and does it measure sleep quality?

        March 21, 2013
      • ebriceno #

        Hi Brynn. I use Zeo Mobile. I like it a lot. It’s a headband, that’s it (it connects to your mobile phone via bluetooth.) It does measure sleep quality and you can see a chart of your sleep cycles throughout the night (example: ). It also gives a bunch ’cause and effect’ charts like the one on bed time, which is cool as one learns more about what affects sleep. I like it.

        March 21, 2013
  2. Joanne Bernhardt #

    I’ve always liked to work (write, create) during the night, and looked forward to the blue hues p
    receding the sunrise. Then I would feel I had accomplished my mission and go joyfully to bed and to sleep. Now, I am going to try to rearrange myself, as the sleep apnea machine is coming in 12 hours … and maybe, finally, I will discover if I am a true night owl or just a misguided species!

    March 22, 2013

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