As the proverb says, the early bird gets the worm, but what if you’re not an early bird. What if you’re more like a night owl. While some people jump from the bed as soon as their eyes pop open, others are quite content to fall back into blissful slumber for several minutes and even hours.
Are You an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
Waking early or staying up late seems to be hereditary based on a study involving twins and sleep preference. Your body has a biological clock that determines when it wants to sleep, referred to as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour rhythm that controls functions such as the immune system, gastrointestinal system and liver. It allows these systems to synchronize various biological processes to respond to daily habits, such as daylight exposure or meal times.
The circadian rhythm is generated by the molecular circadian clock, found in almost every cell of mammals. The molecular clock is expressed by the cycle of circadian genes throughout a 24-hour period. The circadian clock itself is located in the hypothalamus in the brain and is regulated by factors such as light and eating.
Delayed sleeping — another term for night owl syndrome — is more common among late adolescents and studies show that sleep times can shift two to three hours during the teens to early adulthood years. Universities have found improvement in delaying class schedules even a few hours to accommodate this trend.
But if you stay up too late, it becomes harder to get up in the morning. And too much sleeping in can be bad for you, not to mention those late-to-work issues. One study discovered a distinct correlation between depression and those with the “eveningness” trait.
Looking at the research, perhaps it’s time to switch to “morningness.” But is it even possible to train yourself into becoming a morning person — that’s assuming you’re willing to try?
According to scientists, it’s more important to work on a consistent sleep schedule. Then you can gradually make a shift in your routine. Up to one-third of U.S. adults report that they consistently sleep less than the recommended seven to eight hours per night. A consistent sleep schedule may help you to maintain or correct your body’s clock so that you can regularly achieve high-quality sleep.
What are the Benefits of a Consistent Sleep Schedule?
The body responds to habits and patterns in signals. Choosing to stay up a little longer is the same kind of behavioral signal as choosing to go to bed. An active effort to repair or maintain your sleep schedule can help to reinforce better routines. Once you achieve higher quality sleep through a consistent sleep schedule, you may notice these health benefits:
- Better immunity (you may experience illness less frequently)
- Maintenance of healthy body weight
- Reduced risk for chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease
- Improved psychological wellness
- Better focus, memory, and other cognition
- Sharper critical thinking and decision-making skills
- Improved social wellness
How can you tell if you need to improve your sleep schedule? You may notice symptoms like daytime sleepiness, trouble falling or staying asleep, and struggling to get up in the morning. You may also notice that you have issues with daily motor skills tasks or cognitive problems related to focus and memory. Even if you don’t experience these symptoms, it’s always a good idea to optimize your sleep schedule and keep your body clock on track.
Factors That Impact Sleep Schedules
Many elements of our daily environments can contribute to the disruption of the circadian rhythm. This, in turn, may lead to acute or chronic sleep-related conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Here are some of the factors that can negatively affect your sleep schedule:
- Shift work. People who work evening or graveyard shifts may experience difficulty staying awake during their shifts and struggle to sleep during the day.
- Jet lag. When you travel rapidly to different time zones, your body clock will not yet be adapted to the day and night cycle of the new location.
- Psychological stress. Many people experience sleep issues that are related to stress or other emotional difficulties.
- Physiological pain. Pain can prevent you from relaxing and getting comfortable for sleep.
- Caffeine or other stimulants. Consuming caffeine or stimulants too late in the day can cause you to feel artificially more alert when your body should be naturally shifting towards sleepiness.
- Alcohol and drugs. Alcohol is known to cause circadian disruption similar to jet lag by affecting clock genes.
- Sleep Disorders. Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea may make it difficult to establish consistent sleep schedules.
- Some medications have the side effect of increased alertness, which can cause issues in the evening when your body should start to signal sleep.
- Partners with different sleep schedules. If you share a bed with a partner, their schedule or sleep behaviors (such as snoring or tossing and turning) may disrupt your sleep.
Changing Your Sleep Schedule to Become a Morning Person
If you are struggling with sleep-related issues and want to improve your sleep schedule or ease the morning wake-up call, you can do so by creating routines. Routines train your body to respond to certain behaviors in a way that supports better sleep schedules. Once you’re getting quality sleep, you can gradually shift your sleep and wake times to become more of an early riser. Try these tips to help you set a better sleep schedule:
- Exercise. Exercise can help you sleep but try to do your workouts earlier in the day so that you’re not too alert before bedtime.
- Sleep hygiene. Make sure that your sleeping space is dark and quiet. You can use light-blocking curtains or earplugs. Try to keep blue light-emitting devices away from the bedroom as they can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
- Spend time outdoors. Spending more time outdoors may help your body recognize natural changes in light and adapt to a better rhythm.
- Reduce caffeine intake. If you use caffeine or other stimulants, try to avoid taking them later in the day. Increased alertness can make it difficult to sleep.
- Avoid naps. If you struggle to sleep in the evening, daytime naps can make this worse. Try not to nap during the day, even if you do feel sleepy.
Are you working on shifting your lifestyle to start your day earlier? What other tips or tricks can you share with night owls to help ease the transition to a morning schedule? Let us know in the comments below.