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How to Trick Yourself into Becoming a Morning Person

October 1, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228591

The early bird apparently does get the worm. Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany, found that morning people are often more successful than evening people because, as a group, they tend to be proactive. A recent survey conducted by The Guardian confirms this idea, reporting that many CEOs of successful companies are up by 5 a.m.

But what if you’re more of a night owl than a morning lark – is it possible to change your ways?

Yes, but it will take work, says Dr. W. Christopher Winter, Medical Director for the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va. and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

"Your genes determine what we call your 'chronotype,' which is if you are a morning or evening person," says Winter. "It's often similar within families, but it can be influenced to a certain degree."

Changing your chronotype takes about two weeks, but you have to stick with it. If you slack off, you’ll drift back to your natural tendencies, Winter cautions. He offers six simple tips for adjusting your internal clock:

1. Put yourself on a morning schedule, but don't sweat bed time.
Wake up, exercise and eat at the same time every day, says Winter. The body likes to anticipate what’s happening, and will settle into a routine. But don’t worry about your bedtime: "People get hung up on setting a bedtime, but that’s a mistake because it can cause stress," he says. "The bedtime will sort itself out because you'll be tired. The most important piece is to not slack off on the wakeup time."

Winter says the problem occurs when you drift back to older patterns during weekends and vacations. Sleeping in on weekends tells your body that your early morning routine is just an arbitrary schedule and that it should stick to its chronotype. To become a morning person, it’s important to get up early on weekends, even if you are out late the night before.

Related: The Power of Mornings: Why Successful Entrepreneurs Get up Early

2. Use a smart alarm.
The snooze button was designed to allow people to go back to sleep for a few minutes without reentering a deep sleep cycle, but it can hinder your transformation into an early riser, says Winter.

“There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but if you want to wake up at a certain time you’re not in a cognitive state of mind to make a decision about whether or not to add nine more minutes of sleep,” he says.

Instead, Winter likes to use a smartphone alarm app, such as Smart Alarm or Math Alarm, that requires him to solve a math problem to turn it off or set it to snooze. “Solving a problem makes your brain awake enough to make an informed decision,” he says.

He also likes to use his music library to play a random song as an alarm. “You can become callous to the same song or sound on your alarm,” he says. “Different songs will be a novel stimulus and that can be helpful.”

3. Let in the light.
Whether it’s natural or artificial, light is significant because it tells the brain that the day has begun and sends signals to the body to stop making melatonin, the hormone that helps regular sleep, says Winter.

“If it’s dark when you want to wake up – say 5 a.m., for example – you can fool your brain into thinking the sun is up by using bright indoor lights,” he says.

4. Get some exercise.
Winter says exercising first thing in the morning helps wake up the body. Researchers at Appalachian State University found that morning exercise lowers your blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, and helps you sleep better at night. 

Winter says exercising in bright light is best. He suggests going for a morning bike ride or jog, or taking the dog for a walk.

5. Have a protein-heavy meal.
Skip the bagel and go for eggs or yogurt, says Winter. Protein facilitates wakefulness, he says, while carbohydrates promote sleep. "Protein increases your dopamine levels, which help make you ready for the day.”

6. Avoid the urge to nap.
Winter says falling asleep earlier may be difficult in the first few days, and you may have a strong urge to nap, but you should fight it.

"Capitalize on sleepiness as a way to go to bed earlier," he says. "If you nap, you'll destroy your natural stimulus for sleep."

Related: 4 Habits That Are Keeping You Up at Night