How To Become An Early Bird (If You Want To…)

How To Become An Early Bird (If You Want To…)

early birdHealth

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on some desert island, you’re well aware of the ‘early bird’ and ‘night owl’ thing.  Some of us strongly prefer “early to bed, early to rise” while the rest of us say “Screw that!” and stay up late and wake up late.

Supposedly, all of us have an innate preference. Apparently, it is complicated to change this preference. The ‘morning lark/night owl’ continuum is pretty short, supposedly.

In this article, we’re going to talk about becoming an early bird. If you’re a night owl (like this writer), the notion of getting to like the (*shiver*) early morning is one that you’ll fight to the death.

But we’re going to make things interesting.

We’ll also discuss the science behind the early bird and night-owl thing; the challenges of switching from one to the other, and the importance of proper sleep hygiene.

Let’s do this!

First, An Offer You Can’t Refuse…

For the remainder of this article, we’ll be conducting a hypothetical experiment. Let’s say that you’ve been working some midnight shift somewhere for the last decade-plus. It’s your night owlish dream-come-true.

Then, some company called ‘Made In Heaven’ discovers your fantastic talent and wants to hire you for twice the salary with full benefits (hey, why not have fun with the hypothetical?). You get two months of paid vacation, too. And, hey, why not a company vehicle of your choice? You got it. Here are the keys.

There’s only one catch.

Your new employers want you there at 7 a.m. sharp. Every morning. *GULP*. Your stomach hits the floor. Your mind screams, “What? What?! Oh, hell, n-…”

Now, you’re a realist. You have bills to pay and mouths to feed. So, you’re not going to abandon all reason and turn this job down. Besides, you’re already packed for that open-date two-month vacation to Tahiti. And that car

But still.

7 a.m.? Who in their mothereverlovin’ mind would go to a job at 7 in the morning? On purpose?

It’s going to be a tough transition.

The Circadian Rhythm

“It is estimated that nearly 70 million individuals in the United States alone suffer from … disturbance to the self/wake (cycle) … (impeding) normal functioning and has potentially damaging effects on health and well-being.”

~ Facer-Childs, R., et al. (source)

In our hypothetical scenario, a dream job is just enough for a night owl to try and recondition their habits. And make no mistake: it is that hard. Even if they don’t realize it at the time.

Why? Because we’re talking about uprooting deeply ingrained brain pathways that control the sleep/wake cycle – also known as the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is not just about sleep/wake cycles, either. If it were, things wouldn’t be so bad. One’s circadian rhythm influences mental and physical functioning, behavior, and temperament. Circadian rhythms also affect body temperature, digestion, eating habits, and other bodily functions.

Abnormal rhythms link to many physical severe diseases and disorders, including diabetes, obesity, and sleep disorders. Mental problems related to irregular circadian rhythms include bipolar disorder, depression, and seasonal affective disorder.

All of the abovementioned functions are different in eearly birds than they are in night owls. Why? It’s all in the brain.

The Brains of Morning Larks and Night Owls

“This mismatch between a person’s biological time and social time — which most of us have experienced in the form of jet lag — is a common issue for night owls trying to follow a normal working day.”

~ Elise Facer-Childs (source)

Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. undertook a study to investigate the functional connectivity (‘FC’) in the default mode network (‘DMN’) of the brain. The study consisted of 38 “Early and Late circadian phenotypes,” 16 ‘morning larks,’ and 22 ‘night owls,’ respectively.

The DMN consists of “an interconnected group of brain structures” posited to operate as part of some neurological system. These areas of the brain were so named after researchers found “surprising” amounts of brain activity in people supposed to be at rest; that is, not engaging in any sort of mental exercise.

Brain activities associated with DMN activity include “daydreaming, recalling memories, envisioning the future, monitoring the environment, thinking about the intentions of others, and so on.” Importantly, research has detected associations between DMN activity and “mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.” More about this later.

The research team discovered differences in the brain regions linked to attention and cognitive performance between night owls and morning larks, as well. Concerning functional connectivity, morning larks tested higher in these regions of the brain. These differences, the research team says, account for the higher performance of morning larks in “task performance” tests.

In other words, the brain acts differently in both groups. More importantly, the research shows that morning larks, on average, perform better than night owls. Combine this finding with the increased health risks of being a night owl, and you have two good reasons for converting into a morning lark.

Maybe you don’t need that dream job to convince you, after all.

How To Become An Early Bird

Without further ado, here’s a quick self-guide to becoming an early bird.

Know Your Purpose

Why do you want to wake up earlier? Are you trying to get healthier? Be more productive? Or is it because of the benefits mentioned above?

It’s not easy to get up before everyone else. This is particularly the case if you don’t clarify your purpose for doing so. If your idea of a goal is “I need to get up earlier. Guess I’ll do that” – well, good luck.

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