Sleep Adjustment: Why the Early Bird Gets the Worm
I may not have been an early bird since birth, but after years of training myself to jump-start my day, my body naturally wants to get a move on as soon as it’s light outside. In fact, I’m now almost incapable of sleeping past 8 a.m.
Some people may consider that a tragic flaw, but I enjoy getting up early. I like not being rushed as I prepare for work, and I enjoy the morning hour when I’m alone in the office. For some people, waking up early isn’t the easiest lifestyle to sustain, but for those who can stick it out, it offers a bevy of benefits.
- More “Me” Time
While my fiancé is hitting the snooze button repeatedly, I’m taking a leisurely shower, tidying up around the house, and catching up on last night’s Daily Show. When you wake up early, without phone calls, emails, or family members, the time is yours to spend as you please, whether you meditate, exercise, read, or simply watch that television show your spouse hates. Many parents of young children find that the early-morning hours provide their only chance to enjoy a cup of coffee or relax alone before the day begins.
- Regular Workouts
People’s motivation to exercise is high first thing in the morning. Many report that they are more likely to stick to a morning workout routine than to an afternoon or evening one, since distractions have a way of derailing later plans to get to the gym. Also, although it hasn’t been proven, some exercise physiologists believe that exercising in the morning on an empty stomach forces the body to burn stored fat, instead of other calories.
A study published in the November 2006 issue of the journal SLEEP found that exercising in the morning led to better sleep at night. The researchers theorized that the morning activity helped to properly align the body’s circadian rhythms. Test subjects who postponed exercise until the evening actually had a more difficult time falling asleep.
- An Easier Commute
In some cities, the difference between a breezy, quick commute and total gridlock can be as little as fifteen minutes. Getting up early to beat traffic makes commuting not only more relaxing and peaceful, but also safer. Stressed driving, either because of traffic conditions or because the driver is running late, can lead to aggressive behavior, speeding, and poor decision making, increasing the chance of accidents. For those who rely on public transportation to get to work, getting up early can mean the difference between grabbing a seat on a nearly empty train or bus and cramming in next to strangers, holding on to the strap for dear life.
- The Benefit of Breakfast
When you sleep in and hurry out the door, breakfast is often one of the first parts of the morning routine to go, and many people who sleep in very late end up skipping breakfast altogether and waiting until lunchtime to eat. Yet countless studies have demonstrated the positive effects of eating a healthy breakfast: people who do so tend to feel fuller, make better food choices throughout the day, and be a healthier weight than non–breakfast eaters. Waking up early gives us the benefit of time and energy to put together a healthy breakfast, instead of grabbing fast food or forgoing the meal entirely.
- Family Matters
When you have time in the morning to tidy up the house, start prepping for dinner, or do errands, you can use the extra evening hours to relax and have fun with your partner, your kids, or your friends. Most people would probably rather spend their evenings enjoying a movie or eating a leisurely family dinner than doing housework. Getting your chores done at the beginning of the day makes those activities more possible.
- High Productivity
In 2007, Yahoo! Finance surveyed twenty CEOs and high-powered executives at companies like Pepsi, Motorola, Avaya, and Xerox. One thing that all of them had in common was that they were all awake before 6 a.m. They used that time to get ahead on email, exercise, read the paper, or take care of family chores. All of the survey respondents said that getting up early was absolutely essential to their productivity.
- A Brainpower Boost
There’s also some evidence that our brains are at their peak performance in the morning hours. In a study conducted at the University of North Texas, college students who reported getting up early had higher GPAs than students who slept in regularly.
- Less Stress
When you get up early, you set a relaxed and comfortable pace for the whole day. Between getting yourself ready for work, getting your kids ready for school, commuting to work, and doing all the other things that have to happen before 9 a.m., things can get pretty stressful. Reducing stress has a big effect on health, since stress can result in headaches, stomach aches, hair loss, high blood pressure, and anxiety and can exacerbate other chronic ailments. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that stress-related conditions cost American businesses about $300 million every year. When you build extra time into your morning routine, you don’t feel like you’re rushing everywhere.
The biggest benefit of being a morning person is that the world operates on your schedule. Night owls may love sleeping till noon, but it’s a fact that most of life happens during the daytime, and if you’re not awake and ready, opportunity can pass you by. Waking up early isn’t the easiest thing to do, and even those of us who enjoy being early birds occasionally have days when we’re tempted to hit the snooze button (again). But it’s nice to know that once we’re out of bed, the world is ours for a few brief, shining moments … at least, until everyone else wakes up.