While putting this article together, I was asked about several other topics. Here are my thoughts and responses to some questions:
1. Getting up is hard to do. What's the biology behind it?
Believe it or not, your body has an internal clock closely linked to the earth's 24 hour day. Various hormone systems, blood pressure, and even brain waves rise and fall throughout the day in this cycle, called a “Circadian Rhythm.” Waking up from sleep depends on these rhythms all pointing to an awakening state, and the morning light is one of the more powerful triggers of this. While there are clearly people who rise in the afternoon or evening to work during the night, they have been able to reset their body clock to support this mode of behavior. As evidenced by the strange feeling most of us have on the first day that Daylight Savings Time starts or ends, short term disruptions in sleep timing can be quite jarring.
2. If you had to offer two tips for rising early, what would they be?
If you need to awaken earlier than normal, say to leave for a trip, you need to be sure that your body is ready to awaken at the prescribed time. So, first, be sure to have enough sleep. If you will need to wake at 4 a.m., and you normally wake at 6 a.m., you should retire two hours earlier than usual. But, if you do that only on the night before you leave you likely will not fall asleep two hours earlier, but lie there, tossing and turning, and wake up a wreck. So, for several nights before the event, start retiring about 30 minutes early, and wake up 30 minutes early. Push this over several days to adjust to the new time. A similar technique can be used when travelling across time zones, to be sure sure you are functional at the new destination. Another neat device works on the principle of light awakening you. There are lights that come on very dim at first, and gradually brighten, simulating sunrise. This triggers a natural waking response. Together, these two techniques can substantially help you wake early and function normally.
3. Most people are either larks or night owls, depending on their genetics and age. So, in theory, it would be difficult to change how one's body works. Is it really worth getting up early then? If it's worth it, what's the best way to do it!
Getting a good night's sleep is worth it, no matter what your genes. Many studies have shown significant medical issues from sleeping too little or too much. Getting your sleep patterns into order would begin with getting your environment in order. A comfortable bed, the right temperature, covers that are neither too heavy or flimsy, and bedclothes as much or little as you feel you need are all important. The room should be dark and quiet, although some seem to benefit from some “white noise” to cover up ambient sounds. Count back some nine hours from your anticipated awakening and prepare for bed. Engage in some quiet activity, like reading or a peaceful television program. Snuggle down and let yourself fall asleep. Use a gentle alarm, or the wake light, to waken you, and then get out of bed. Setting it in your mind that you will accomplish this helps to motivate you to the task. Don't try to change too much too fast; if you have been sleeping until 8 a.m. for years, changing to 6 a.m. likely cannot be done in one night, for most people. All of this applies as well for those who find themselves in a situation where being awake at night is required. Take a few days, shift the times, and it can often be accomplished without too much trauma. Light blocking curtains and cooperative family members may also be required.
It should be noted that all of these bits of advice presume normal sleep physiology. If you have sleep apnea, or other medical conditions which affect sleep, you really should seek the close guidance and monitoring of your physician for any issues regarding your sleep or sleep habits.