Have you ever taken the time to ask yourself what you’d do if you could have one perfect day? Like, how would one perfect day unfold, from start to finish, in your life? By a show of hands, how many of you said that your perfect day would start with you sleeping in?
I can’t see your hands, but I’m willing to bet a pretty good chunk of change that a lot of you — probably the overwhelming majority — are raising your hands right now. But how did I know — am I some kind of psychic? Voodoo, perhaps?
Nah. The answer is that everybody knows sleep is the best. Outside of a good orgasm or watching couples fight in public (both of which would be included in this writer’s perfect day, by the way), there really isn’t anything more gratifying or satisfying than getting to sleep in and not have to wake up to an alarm.
Unfortunately, while sleeping in feels good, it’s really not that good for you. Like most things in life that are good for us (fuck you, Brussels sprouts), studies show time and time again that people who wake up earlier live better lives.
Yeah, it sucks, but the early bird really does get the worm.
The Benefits of Waking Early
There’s an entire field of study dedicated solely to sleep research, and that means decades upon decades of studies, experiments, research groups, etc., are available at our disposal. You’ve probably heard some of these things already — and these are only a few benefits, mind you; there are actually many benefits of rising early (ugh) — but I made sure to back these claims up with actual science (lest you read this and think of me more as a lecturing mother than a fellow snoozer).
Early Risers Are More Motivated People
This one isn’t exactly breaking news. It’s pretty much common sense that people who give a shit about waking up early probably also give a shit about being fit, getting work done, getting their taxes in on time, and all of life’s other boring missionary position-esque responsibilities. Woop-de-doo, nerd.
But there’s also some scientific proof here that’s valuable to everyone — even us night owls. In a study by Harvard biologist and researcher Christopher Randler on proactivity, Randler determined that people who are early to rise aren’t just better at the boring stuff, but they’re also more generally motivated, more confident and are better at setting (and attaining) personal goals.
Of course, correlation doesn’t necessarily prove causation, but it’s definitely some interesting food for thought.
Waking up Earlier Makes You More Attentive
When you wake up in the morning, your brain is in a physiological state of impairment called sleep inertia. It affects things like alertness and attention, as well as memory retention, reaction speeds, and overall brain function. In other words, it can be a real bitch.
In a lot of cases, sleep inertia can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour after we wake, but it’s also not uncommon for symptoms to take as long as two to four hours to go away.
While the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting are primary motivating factors in determining your susceptibility to sleep inertia, the fact is, the earlier you rise, the earlier you stop being affected by it. Whether it’s waking up an hour earlier every morning and starting your day with a hot cup of coffee, or making a drastic lifestyle change and waking up a few hours earlier every day to give your body the time it needs to “wake up” in the morning, waking up earlier is the only real answer to combatting sleep inertia and staying productive.
It Leads to Reduced Stress and Better Mental Health
There’s probably nothing in this article that makes less sense to me than to write that people who wake up earlier are happier and consistently demonstrate higher levels of mental health. But the science backs it up.
According to the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, they measured responses from over 730 adults aged 17-38 and 59-79 and found, across the board, that people who woke up earlier reported better moods and more positive affect. They also reported better overall health, having less stress and being happier.
It actually makes sense, because when I look back, all the annoyingly chipper Monday morning “Golly gee, good morning!” people I’ve ever met in my life were early morning people, and they were always smiling and happy and talking about boring shit.
You’ll Procrastinate Less and Get More Shit Done
Waking up earlier isn’t just about being able to set better personal goals for yourself to help you get ahead. There’s actually legitimate research that suggests early risers procrastinate less and get more shit done.
This 1997 study by Joseph R. Ferrari and colleagues examined the sleeping habits of procrastinators in order to determine when they’re most active, and how much they actually get done. The study was split into two parts; one that compared procrastinators to non-procrastinators in when they participated in social and individual activities, and another in which participants were asked to keep daily records for a period of time in order to determine who procrastinated more based on which type of sleep schedule they ascribed to.
The study concluded that procrastinators are late starters and people who prefer activities in the late afternoon, instead of the early morning.
You’re More Creative in the Morning
Some of the world’s best writers and creative thinkers were night owls, but that doesn’t change what science knows: your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain responsible for your creative direction, logic, and reasoning skills) is most active in the morning.
That kind of brainpower translates into everything; whether you’re a teacher thinking up lesson plans, a financial analyst spotting good portfolio moves, or more traditional creative-types like musicians, writers, artists, etc. Writing at night may be a little more peaceful, but that doesn’t mean it’s more ideal.
How You Can Make it Happen
Of course, what kind of person would I be if I told you why you need to wake up earlier without delving into how you can make the transition as seamlessly and painlessly as possible. Luckily, decades of sleep research have lead to some really interesting innovations in sleep-related products. Today, there are machines, apps, alarms, lamps, vibrators (no, not those kinds) and all types of other gadgets to help you dial in your sleep. These are some of the tried and true ways to help get your ass up earlier:
Put Down the Phone Before Bed
You obviously can’t sleep if you’re ranting on Facebook, but the benefits of putting your phone — and other electronic devices — down before bed are less obvious.
There are plenty of studies that conclude the blue-and-white lights from our phones and electronic devices inhibit our body’s ability to release melatonin — the hormone that regulates our sleep.
Putting your phone down an hour before bed helps your body wind down, do its natural thing and release melatonin.
Leave Your Curtains Open
The non-scientific rationale here is this: the sun is annoying. If you can sleep with direct sunlight pouring into your room and onto your face, you might be blind and should probably see a doctor. Like, how are you even reading the words I’ve written right now?
The scientific rationale is this: for hundreds of thousands of years, human beings would rest while the sun was down, and rise when the sun came up. Rising early with the sun helps synchronize your body’s internal clock, eventually normalizing the idea of waking up at sunrise (read: super early). According to a study from a team at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a week’s worth of camping outdoors is enough to synchronize your internal clock to wake up at sunrise. All you gotta do is sleep outside for a week — or with the curtains open, whatever you’re into.
Timing Is Everything
When it comes to getting proper rest, so much of it is about timing, not just duration. Your body goes through different stages of sleep: sleepiness, light sleep, deep sleep (there are two stages of deep sleep), and REM sleep. Decades of research have determined that it’s always best to wake up while in a stage of light sleep or sleepiness, and the worst to wake up when in an REM stage.
The weirdest thing about our sleep cycles is that they repeat over and over again throughout the evening, from the time we go to bed to the time we get up in the morning. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes from start to finish. If timed properly, you can wake up during your lightest stage of sleep and usually feel energized, even if you didn’t get a full 8 hours. It’s tough to calculate exactly when you enter each stage, but there are a ton of apps out there (like Sleep Cycle) that use motion sensors to monitor your sleep and determine your sleep cycles.
It sounds creepy. It is creepy. But they work. Knowing your sleep cycle will make it easier for you to get your ass in gear and actually get out of bed when you need to.
Gradually Wake up Earlier
If you’re working on a terrible sleeping pattern, it might be difficult for you to shock your body by just jumping into a new routine and waking up drastically earlier. An earlier wakeup schedule is a hell of a lot easier if it’s something your body can comfortably acclimate to.
Try waking up 5, 10 or 15 minutes earlier every day until you hit your goal wakeup time. If you’re waking up at noon every day, it might take you a little while to hit the 8 a.m. or 7 a.m. mark, and that’s totally okay. Progress takes time, baby!
Don’t Fucking Snooze. Ever.
It’s not at all uncommon for people to set their alarm (or, if you’re me, set several alarms) a few minutes before they actually have to get up. As it turns out, this is a terrible idea.
Hitting the snooze button is one of the worst things you can do to wake up earlier because it actually winds up making your body reset its sleep cycle clock, making you more tired and groggy. That 5 or 10-minute snooze session isn’t enough time to allow your body to cycle back into deep sleep, and you’ll definitely feel the difference.
Do whatever you have to do to make sure you wake up the first time. Whether that means getting a loud-ass alarm clock, placing your phone across the room on your desk, etc. Just don’t touch that damn snooze button.
Next up, here’s how to get more money out of your boss.
- Illustrations: Stephen Cheetham