From "set your alarm on the other side of the room" to "invest in a coffee pot with a timer," you’ve probably heard a million don’t-hit-snooze tips before. But, unless you're a true morning person, getting up even one hour earlier than usual can feel impossible. That’s largely because early birds and night owls (what is it with birds and circadian clocks, anyway?) have inherently different time settings, says Michael Terman, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and co-author of Reset Your Inner Clock. A clump of neurons located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) region of your brain’s hypothalamus functions as your body’s timepiece, telling it when to be awake or asleep. And, while your default settings are believed to be largely genetic, you can reset them with a little effort—which is far easier than going through life on a half-empty sleep tank.
So, if you are trying to wake up earlier without making your entire day miserable, you need to move your get-to-bed and wake-up times by 15-minute increments, says Stephanie Silberman, Ph.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and author of The Insomnia Workbook. Most people forget that to wake up earlier, you also need to go to bed earlier. It’s about shifting your circadian clock, not learning to manage on less sleep.
How long it will take you to adjust to each 15-minute tweak largely depends on your individual circadian clock and how flexible it is. FYI, night owls are actually better at adapting to sleep changes, says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., medical director at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center. Winter works with professional sports teams to optimize their sleep performance.
It’s important to remember, though, that no matter your body's settings—or the time you wake up—it’s completely normal to hate life for the first 20 minutes to half hour after prying open your sleep-crusted eyes. Researchers call that period of time the “sleep lag,” says Silberman. Basically, it’s the time in which your body goes, "Ugh, okay, I guess I really should be awake." So, if you curse the world when your alarm goes off, it doesn’t necessarily mean your bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed efforts have failed you.
Ready to become a morning person? Since your circadian clock is largely set by exposure to light, body temperature, exercise, and food, the following science-backed tips will help you log quality sleep while adjusting to those 15-minute-increment shifts to earlier sleeping and waking times. Your better morning awaits.
[Read the full story on Refinery 29!]