Morning Glory: How to Become an Early Bird

Most of us can manage the rise. The shine, on the other hand, is a little harder to pull off.

But there’s good news for those of us who wish we could get out of unhealthy relationships with our snooze buttons: It is possible to rewire our body clocks and become, if not one of those people who spring from bed already in song and full makeup, then a near approximation thereof.

Some of what determines whether we’re night owls or larks is genetic. In 2003, researchers at the University of Surrey isolated a gene that appears to regulate our internal clocks, determining our preference for morning or night. But experts — like those at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine — also say that changing behavior can transform almost anyone into a morning person.

Yes, anyone. So put down that double espresso and read on for some tips on squeezing more precious time out of your AM schedule. After all, other research has revealed that morning people are more proactive throughout the day than people who like the night life, baby.

Start the night before.

There’s no way you can emulate Julie Andrews in the morning if you’re up all night watching reruns of The Golden Girls. Help ensure a good night’s sleep with some time-tested tricks: avoid alcohol and caffeine after 3 PM; keep the lights low; don’t exercise right before bed; drink a cup of chamomile tea or try one of these other natural sleep aids; don’t eat large meals late at night; and go to bed at the same time every night.

Invest in a kinder, gentler alarm clock.

Forget seizing the day, if the sound of your alarm clock rivals a nails-on-chalkboard situation, the only thing you’ll be seizing is the cord out of the wall. Not an ideal way to start your new role as Official Morning Person. Consider, instead, an alarm clock that simulates dawn — or one that vibrates you awake. There’s even one that rouses you with yummy smells! Waking up to your favorite music is another way to ease the transition; we like “The Littlest Birds” by The Be Good Tanyas or “5 Years Time” by Noah and the Whale. Or queue up chirping birds or ocean surf, if that’s more your thing.

Step away from the snooze button!

One thing your lovely new alarm clock could do without: a snooze button. You’re better off setting your alarm for the time you really need to get up — you’ll get higher quality sleep that way, say scientists at the Sleep Disorders Centre at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Don’t trust yourself? Put the alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off, increasing your chances of remaining upright.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

We all know that drinking a cup of coffee can wake you up, but research suggests that even just a whiff of the fresh-brewed dark roast may reverse the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain. Most coffeemakers come with timers these days; set yours the night before and wake yourself with some early-morning aromatherapy. Even better: give yourself something to really look forward to and treat yourself to some gourmet coffee.

Decorate with daisies.

Researchers at Harvard University found that “non-morning people” felt happier and more energetic after looking at flowers first thing in the morning. Yes, that’s right: buying some gorgeous fresh flowers for your bedside table is the right thing to do for your health and wellbeing. Harvard said so.

Up, sunnyside.

Daylight tells your body to stop secreting melatonin — the hormone that makes you sleepy — so stop closing your curtains or blinds at night. The morning sun will help promote wakefulness. Don’t have eastern exposure? Enjoy your coffee and newspaper on your front steps, or go for a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood. Do it every day for a couple of weeks, and you’ll train your body clock to shift its wake-up time.

Give yourself enough time.

Grouchiness is guaranteed if you only give yourself 15 minutes to shower, dress, eat, pack your bag and get out of the house. Set your alarm early enough to allow you to get ready at a leisurely pace — and even do a couple of things you’d look forward to, like read the paper, check in on your favorite blogs or savor a delicious breakfast.

Be consistent.

Choose a wake-up time — but no more than two hours earlier than usual, say experts at Kettering Sleep Disorders Center at Kettering Memorial Hospital in Dayton, Ohio — and honor it seven days a week. That’s right: Saturday and Sunday, too. The consistency will change your body’s rhythm, and it may take two or three weeks to reprogram your system.

Already there? (Perhaps you’re reading this at, say, 6 AM?) We’d love to know your secrets: What helps you shine in the morning?

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