Can You Make Yourself a Morning Person — and Do You Need To?
Not everyone is hard-wired to wake up at 6 a.m. every day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change your habits.
You already know whether or not you’re a morning person. Some people are able to get out of bed at 6 a.m. and get a few things done before the world gears up for the day. Other people, for whatever reason, just aren’t fully alert until later hours of the morning. You likely fall into the latter category — if you’re already a morning person, why are you reading this?! — and maybe you’ve wondered if it’s possible to train yourself not to hit the snooze button until the last possible moment.
We reached out to Ioannis Koutsourelakis, a physician, sleep researcher, and the associate medical director at Goodpath, for more information on why some people easily wake up early while others struggle. Turns out, it’s not all in your head. Here’s what you need to know about what it means to be a morning person (or not), whether or not it’s something you should aim for and how to gently shift your wake-up habits if you want to.
Your sleep chronotype determines when you feel most awake.
Not being a morning person is nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, it’s not entirely up to you. “You may have noticed that there are certain times of the day when you feel more alert or more tired,” Koutsourelakis says. “That is because you have a personal circadian rhythm called your chronotype.” Circadian rhythm is essentially an internal 24-hour clock that tells your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. It’s driven in part by light and darkness, but it also varies depending on your chronotype, which is genetically determined. “There are two sleep chronotypes: early birds and night owls. It means people function differently throughout the day,” he explains. The chronotypes exist on a spectrum, so while some people fall at the extreme end of one or the other, most fall somewhere in between. People close to the middle often have no preference for morning or evening hours.
Yes, you can become more of a morning person if you want to.
You can’t actually change your chronotype. But, as with other genetic traits, your lifestyle and behaviors can alter how your chronotype expresses itself. Just because you’re hard-wired to be a night owl, doesn’t mean you can’t train yourself to wake up earlier.
To become more of a morning person, you need to shift your circadian rhythm. Simply put, you need to start falling asleep earlier so that you can wake up earlier. Of course, this isn’t as easy as just changing your bedtime. You need to slowly push that bedtime earlier and earlier, all while practicing good sleep hygiene (a.k.a. good sleep habits) to help you fall asleep.
Koutsourelakis recommends first implementing basic sleep hygiene practices if you don’t already. Keep your room comfortably cool, which for most people means between 60 and 67 degrees. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime. Don’t use your computer or your phone in bed, and keep televisions out of your bedroom. Give yourself time to wind down before bedtime, which means powering down as many electronics as possible and doing something quiet like reading a book or writing in a journal. Finally — and, we know, this one can be the most challenging — try to fall asleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day, even on weekends. Letting yourself sleep until noon on Sundays can create "social jet lag, which can make Mondays harder,” Koutsourelakis says.
Once you have all of this down pat, you can start slowly shifting your sleep hours. Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier for a few days. Once that feels comfortable, push that bedtime another 15 minutes earlier. Adjust your morning alarm along with your bedtime, shifting in the same 15-minute increments. Koutsourelakis says that it’s essential to shift both bedtime and wake-up time — you’re trying to adjust your sleep timing, not shorten your hours of sleep. Be patient with yourself in this process, and listen to your body. It may be that you’re able to shift your sleep schedule a little bit, but not a lot.
You don’t need to become a morning person.
Being a morning person has its benefits, particularly if you work traditional nine-to-five hours. You can check things off your to-do list before work, like exercising or picking up dry-cleaning and you arrive at the office fully alert. But there’s no health benefit in being a morning person.
“We all function differently,” he says. “The key thing is to listen to your body and to support sleep health.” It’s more important to get adequate sleep — roughly seven to eight hours, but this varies from person to person — than to wake up or go to bed at a certain time. It’s fine to wake up later and get things done later in the day or in the evening instead, if your schedule allows for that.
If you want to become a morning person, focus on improving your sleep quality with good sleep hygiene, then slowly shift the time you go to bed and the time you wake up. If you don’t think it would serve you to wake up any earlier than you already do, don’t sweat it. There’s no inherent benefit to being a morning person, as long as your sleep schedule supports your day-to-day responsibilities.