Time flies, we say. But does it? If you really think about it, time doesn’t just drift away or wing off into the sunset without us. Each and every day, we choose how we spend our time, and our choices help to define who we are.
In addition to making choices about how we spend our time, each person has an internal clock or natural rhythm. Some people gravitate to the evening, becoming more productive after sundown. Others easily wake at dawn and turn in just after dark. Most of us have a good idea of where in this spectrum we fall.
For night people, waking up early to accomplish tasks requires an effort of gargantuan proportions. In this day and age, night people have it tough because so much of adult life requires them to be morning people. How can night people begin to reset their internal clocks so that mornings can be the bright, refreshing, orange-juice-colored time of day they only see on TV commercials? How can a night person not find a morning-person (who asks if they’d like to meet up at the gym at 7am for a workout) completely preposterous?
Does a night person need to get up earlier to lead a healthier, happier, more productive life? If so, try these five steps to help make mornings more productive.
Step 1: Bedtime
Most people function best on at least eight hours of sleep. Working on 5-7 hours of sleep day-after-day is likely to make one moody, lethargic, absent-minded and inefficient, not to mention what it can do to one’s appearance – causing dull skin and dark circles under the eyes. Sleep deprivation also reduces the body’s ability to repair itself and makes one more susceptible to colds and other ailments. Giving yourself a bedtime is the first step toward having more productive mornings. Set your bedtime based on the time you would ideally like to wake up. If you want to wake up at 6am and get a full eight hours of sleep, you need to be asleep in bed by 10pm. Resolve to be in bed no later than this time and stick to it.
Step 2: Quiet your mind
If falling asleep were just about your body being tired, you would likely be passed out for large parts of the day and night. It’s the mind that often keeps us up – the busy mind with its plans and concerns. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep at your new bedtime, don’t give up. Instead, give yourself at least half-an-hour before your regular bedtime to wind down. Try something relaxing just before bed like reading, a 10-minute meditation, a cup of chamomile or peppermint tea, warm milk or a hot bath. If you persist, night after night, the mind’s rebellion against this new bedtime will weaken, and eventually it will recognize that falling asleep at the new hour is the natural thing to do.
Step 3: Eat dinner earlier
Your new bedtime will help determine when you should eat dinner. It’s recommended that you finish eating 2-3 hours before hitting the hay. So if your bedtime is 10pm., you should finish eating around 7:30pm. Nutritionists often say that eating drives up insulin levels which decrease melatonin (a sleep hormone) and our growth hormone. Falling asleep too soon after eating can actually speed aging and contribute to weight gain. So if you plan and time your meals right, you’ll be more likely to stick to your new bedtime, get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed!
Step 4: Skip mind stimulation
If your favorite TV shows are keeping you up late, ask yourself: Are you willing to trade in glowing skin for Desperate Housewives or morning quiet time with a cup of tea for Conan O’Brien? It may not be worth it to you, especially since there are ways for you to watch your shows and get a full night’s sleep. Can you say TiVo? In addition to TV, we often try to do too much before bedtime. If it’s 9:30pm and your bedtime is an hour later, it may not be the best time to start balancing your checkbook or doing your taxes. Be reasonable. There is always tomorrow morning, when you will be well-rested.
Step 5: Awaken
Morning has arrived and your alarm sounds. Only you know what kind of waker you are. Do you spring right out of bed or hit the snooze button until the very last second? If you still have trouble getting out of bed even after a full night’s sleep, try setting yourself a snooze quota. You might even try getting one of those alarm clocks that wake you up gently or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, one that makes no bones about what time it is. If someone in your household is already up at that hour, ask them to wake you. Make sure you allow yourself time for whatever your morning waking ritual is. For some, taking a shower first thing helps them greet the day. For others, it’s a cup of tea or coffee.
It’s only after practicing these five steps that you can really begin to make the most out of your mornings. Whether that means getting to the gym before work or doing some writing before your household wakes up depends on you. Waking refreshed will not only help give you the energy to do the things you love and to do them well, but also help you to live fully in the present.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully each moment.
And to look at beings with the eye of compassion.
– Thich Nhat Hahn, “Waking”
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