The New York Times Magazine wants to help you become a morning person

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been soaking up advice on how to become a morning person, even though, as you may remember from a recent blog post written from a hotel room, my feeling on mornings dovetails with Neil Gaiman‘s line:

Right. I was up at 6:00am this morning, and I have to be up at 5:00am tomorrow, and I am not a morning person (in much the same way that the stars are not fruit-bats) so I think it best if I simply stop writing just like

(yep, Gaiman’s 2004 blot post just ends there).

But I seeing as how it’s nearly 11 p.m. as I start this post, I better start getting to the point. Today’s New York Times Magazine features an article in the “Well” column called “So you think you can be a morning person?”

Like most creatures on earth, humans come equipped with a circadian clock, a roughly 24-hour internal timer that keeps our sleep patterns in sync with our planet. At least until genetics, age and our personal habits get in the way. Even though the average adult needs eight hours of sleep per night, there are ‘shortsleepers,’ who need far less, and morning people, who, research shows, often come from families of other morning people. Then there’s the rest of us, who rely on alarm clocks.

For those who fantasize about greeting the dawn, there is hope. Sleep experts say that with a little discipline (well, actually, a lot of discipline), most people can reset their circadian clocks. But it’s not as simple as forcing yourself to go to bed earlier (you can’t make a wide-awake brain sleep). It requires inducing a sort of jet lag without leaving your time zone. And sticking it out until your body clock resets itself. And then not resetting it again.

Shortsleeper, huh? In my book, that’s someone who can get by on seven hours of sleep — maybe six and a half. Left to my own devices — as in, how long I will sleep if I don’t have to be up for anything — I will get up after nine or 10 hours of sleep. I am not kidding. (I might average something like six or seven hours of sleep a night during non-crazy periods of my life, less if my schedule is seriously jammed.)

 

The article even comes with a quiz. Here’s the sixth question:

 

If there is a specific time at which you have to get up in the morning, to what extent are you dependent on being woken up by an alarm clock?

 

Again, I kid you not, I set three alarms to get up any given morning. Three. I think that makes me “very dependent.”

Perhaps the part I found most interesting was the part about light:

…you can facilitate the transition [of getting up incrementally earlier every day] by avoiding extra light exposure from computers or televisions as you near bedtime. (The light from a computer screen or an iPad has roughly the same effect as the sun.) ‘Light has a very privileged relationship with our brain,’ says Dr. Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, chief of sleep medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. While most sensory information is ‘processed’ by the thalamus before being sent on its way, Ellenbogen says, light goes directly to the circadian system.

It’s still pitch dark outside when I wake up for a morning Ashtanga practice. Does this mean I can stare into my iPad as soon as I slam the alarm clock one last time in order to simulate throwing open the curtains to see the glow of a rising sun? I’m willing to try it.

As I referenced in a recent blog post, this AY:A2 post also has some good advice for getting up, including jumping into a hot shower. In the coldest months of our Michigan winters, I will surely rely on this.

That said, I’ve been managing, for the past few weeks anyway, to stick to a 6:30 a.m. practice on workdays. Ashtanga — the elixir for all ailments, including that genetic one of being born a night owl.

(Photo credit: “World Alarm Clock – Grove Passage, London” via bobaliciouslondon’s Flickr stream.)

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