How I Became a Morning Person and What Night Owls May Be Missing
I have never been a morning person. You can even ask my Mom. (Mom, I know you're reading. Thanks for your support, and I'm sorry for being so cranky in the mornings when I lived at home.) But in all seriousness, for as long as I can remember, my natural sleep set point was to stay up late and sleep in. So what in the world made a night owl even remotely entertain the idea of becoming a morning person?
In my unending quest to heal my gut post gall bladder removal (read more about My Journey here), recently I've been deep diving into the gut-brain connection, specifically honing in on how high stress levels are linked to gut health issues. Because I've made a lot of other lifestyle modifications over the years (changes to diet, exercise, sleep, etc. which are also factors that heavily influence gut health) improving my stress management feels a little bit like the final frontier. It's a big one too, because our culture of busyness, urgency, hustle, FOMO and constant distractions from 24-hour news and social media can quickly send our nervous systems into overdrive if we're not conscious about it. Through my research, I'm learning that the antidote to chronic stress and burnout is signaling safety to the nervous system, and one of the best ways to do this is by slowing down.
Slowing down these days can feel a lot like swimming upstream. Depending on our circumstances, it may not even seem realistic or accessible. We may also have fears about falling behind or missing out, and these obstacles can make slowing down feel overwhelming or less than appealing.
When something feels overwhelming, a strategy I find effective is to break it down into smaller more manageable pieces. For example, I started by asking myself when and where in my day I felt most stressed as a way to determine where I needed to slow down the most. For me, it was 100% the mornings. For years, morning routine looked like:
The alarm startling me awake
My brain immediately switching on and flooding with all of my to do's for the day. This often led to instant overwhelm especially because I knew it would be an hour or more before I could get to any to-do's.
Jumping directly into rushing to get myself, my daughter and two dogs ready for the day
Carrying this energy directly into my work day
Feeling frustrated knowing that it would probably be 10pm at night until I got some time to myself
Next, I brainstormed and researched morning routines. I made a short list of options that appealed to me, and then got real with myself about how much earlier I was willing to wake up to make it happen. Turns out, it was 48 minutes. If I woke up at 6:12am, I could hit the snooze button once, get up at 6:20am and be ready to start my new routine at 6:30am. I would have 30 minutes from 6:30-7am all to myself, and then I could start getting ready for my day by 7am to be out the door just before 8am, starting work at 8:30am. That seemed very doable. I also made a deal with myself to "just try it, and if I hated it after two weeks, I gave myself permission to stop. I also made a deal with myself that if I needed the extra 30 minutes of sleep, I would give myself two "sleep in" passes each week.
Once I figured out the when and where I moved on to the what. In my morning routine research I had read a lot about the benefits of engaging in a mind-body practice like yoga. It's a great way to move your body gently, match your breath to your movement, improve flexibility and strength and signal safety to your nervous system. I also wanted to add something that would continue to occupy my mind after the yoga, and truly, keep it off of my to-do list which spurred the feelings of daily overwhelm. For this, I decided to listen to podcasts or books on Audible while I showered and got ready for the day.
Finally, I picked my start date, and I haven't looked back since. While trying out this new morning routine, here's what I found:
Doing the yoga and stretching my body in this new and different way felt really good. I was so used to working out in certain ways, and this highlighted for me that I really needed to work on my flexibility. I particularly looked forward to the sav asana at the end of the flow where I could just let everything in my mind and my body go. I felt refreshed and energized after my practice.
Very quickly, within the first week and a half, I noticed my brain had already stopped the tendency to wake up and immediately focus on my to-do list and a sense of overwhelm.
I started looking forward to waking up and "stealing" this time just for me/to take care of and tend to myself before everyone else was awake. I could start my day with time for me instead of waiting until the very end of my day to get it.
I went into my workdays with more focus and creativity.
My sleep quality started to improve! I started waking up just a few minutes before my alarm would go off, and I naturally wanted to go to bed earlier. I would fall asleep and stay asleep. Fewer 3-5am wake up's and struggles to fall back to sleep.
I felt a reduction in my night time anxiety/restlessness.
Quite frankly, I was surprised at the ease of shifting into this new routine and how quickly I had adopted it as my new normal. Could it be that there was a morning person dying to get out this whole time? Either way, I'm glad I tried it.
If you'd like to meet your inner morning person but aren't sure where to start:
Think about your why. For me, I was willing to try this in an attempt to improve my gut symptoms, reduce anxiety and stress and get better sleep. Ultimately, I'm trying to feel better. If you tap into your intrinsic motivation, you're more likely to make a new habit stick.
Figure out how much time you have to work with in the mornings
Set a game plan for how you'll spend that time the night before. I pick my yoga class and my podcast/audible book I'm going to listen to the night before.
Need morning routine ideas and don't have 30 minutes? Try a 5-min. idea from my 30 days of 5-min. self-care calendar.
Need more inspiration? Listen to my friend Paula and her producer Ali talk about how to become a morning person.
If you don't enjoy the activity you picked, ditch it and try a new one until you find what works for you. Remember that it's the feeling and not the doing that we're after here. Don't let your morning routine become another "have to do".
If your routine goes stale, it's ok to switch it up. It's your morning, so make it what you want it to be.
Give yourself grace. If your body needs extra sleep, give it what it needs. Remember that getting enough sleep is a form of self-care.
Talk to me in the comments. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Somewhere in between? If you try becoming a morning person, I would love to hear how it went and what you learned about yourself in the process!