There are two types of students in this world: those who pop out of bed ready for the day at the crack of dawn, and those who stay up until 2 a.m. studying (or going down the rabbit hole of cat videos—pick your poison).
In a recent Student Health 101 survey, 40 percent of respondents said they’re naturally “night owls.” At the same time, 83 percent noted having responsibilities at 9:00 a.m. or earlier on weekdays.
As the proverb goes, “The early bird gets the worm.” And so does the research. According to a 2009 study of university students published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, morning people were more proactive than night people.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being a night owl. But your academic programs and jobs likely have morning hours. Some sports may even hold practice before dawn.
There are also many other reasons to get up early, such as:
- Enjoying some peace and quiet
- Having time for breakfast, reflection, and even a nap later on
- Increased productivity
- Time to yourself for whatever you’d like to start your day right, whether it’s meditation, a cup of coffee, homework, or journaling
According to the respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey, here are some a.m. benefits:
- Less traffic
- Time to get errands done
- A calm, relaxed pace
- More sunshine
- More time to relax at night (since you were productive earlier in the day)
- Time for physical activity
- Getting to sleep earlier
Shift your schedule
Almost 25 percent of the respondents to the Student Health 101 survey said it’s “always” or “usually” difficult to wake up before 9:00 a.m., even when absolutely necessary. Another 51 percent said it’s “sometimes” hard.
Many people believe you’re either wired to be bright-eyed in the morning or you’re not. In reality, adopting specific habits will make it easier for you to wake early. Here’s how:
Adjust your schedule in increments. For example, try going to bed 10 minutes earlier tonight and waking up 10 minutes earlier tomorrow. Raise it another 10 minutes the next day, and so on.
Prepare ahead of time
Set out clothing, review your schedule, and make your lunch the night before. “If you plan the night before what you’re going to do in the morning, it helps to get you going,” says Ewan C., a second-year undergraduate student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia.
“I go to the gym in the morning, which energizes me for the rest of the day,” says Maria T., a third-year undergraduate at Saint Louis University in Missouri.
Get consistent sleep
Students 17 and older need about seven to nine hours of sleep every night. “A regimented schedule, especially on weekends, [is essential],” says Dr. Michael Decker, a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine.
Set an alarm
Try using your favorite song for motivation or setting two alarms—15 minutes apart—to ease yourself out of bed. There are also many smartphone apps that track your sleep cycle and aim to wake you at an optimal time, though some students prefer the old-school way, such as Elizabeth R., a fourth-year undergraduate at Northern Illinois University, who says, “Get a real alarm clock instead of using your phone—a real alarm clock is more obnoxious and annoying than your phone alarms. When I use my phone, I sleep right through it, but when I use my alarm clock, it’s almost impossible to ignore.”
A healthy meal will help energize you. Prepare something that combines protein, whole grains, and some fruit and/or vegetables. “I wake up an hour before I have to leave the house, so I have time to eat before work or school,” says Sarah R., a second-year student at Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina.
How you can become a morning person in only two weeks
Making a shift in sleep habits requires not only a change in thinking but also a physical adjustment. Your body can’t make a big leap all at once. Instead, set yourself up for success by taking a gradual approach.
Here’s a sample schedule to follow over the course of two weeks. Adjust as necessary based on your commitments. This plan allows you to get up earlier but actually increases the amount of sleep you’ll be getting.
If your usual weekday habit is to go to bed at 1:30 a.m. and wake up at 8:30 a.m., that means you get seven hours of sleep.
On Saturday night, try going to bed at 12:45 a.m. and waking at 9:45 a.m., resulting in nine hours of sleep.
On Sunday night, go to bed at 12:30 a.m. and wake at 8:30 a.m., for eight hours of sleep.
On Monday night, go to bed at 12:15 a.m. and wake up at 8:15 a.m., for eight hours of sleep.
On Tuesday night, go to bed at midnight and wake up at 8:15 a.m., for eight and a quarter hours of sleep.
On Wednesday night, go to bed at 11:45 p.m. and wake up at 8:15 a.m., for eight and a half hours of sleep.
On Thursday night, go to bed at 11:15 p.m. and wake up at 8:00 a.m., for eight and three quarter hours of sleep.
On Friday and Saturday night, go to bed at midnight and wake up at 9:00 a.m., for nine hours of sleep.
On Sunday night, go to bed at 11:15 p.m. and wake up at 8:00 a.m., for eight and three quarter hours of sleep.
On Monday night, go to bed at 11:00 p.m. and wake up at 7:45 a.m., for eight and three quarter hours of sleep.
On Tuesday night, go to bed at 10:45 p.m. and wake up at 7:30 a.m., for eight and three quarter hours of sleep.
On Wednesday night, go to bed at 10:30 p.m. and wake up at 7:15 a.m., for eight and three quarter hours of sleep.
Finally, on Thursday night, go to bed at 10:15 p.m. and wake up at 7:00 a.m., for eight and three quarter hours of sleep. You’ve now shifted your sleep schedule.
Continue with this sort of pattern until you reach your goal sleep-wake schedule.
What are the components of a “full night’s rest”
There are two kinds of sleep, and each benefits your body in distinct ways. Over the course of a night, a person cycles through both phases. Depriving your body and brain of necessary sleep significantly affects your overall health, mood, and academic performance.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
REM sleep is lighter and more active, and supports daytime performance. Here’s how:
- Energy is restored to the brain and body.
- The brain is active; dreams occur.
- Muscles are turned off, so the body is relaxed and immobile.
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM)
NREM sleep is deeper and heavier. During this phase, energy is restored in the following ways:
- Tissue grows and is repaired.
- Muscles relax and the blood supply to them increases.
- The body releases the growth hormones essential for development.
- The hormone ghrelin is regulated. It’s directly related to hunger and weight maintenance.
Over the course of a night, 25 percent of sleep is REM and 75 percent is NREM. A full night’s sleep allows you to complete cycles of REM and NREM sleep without interruption.
Dr. Michael Decker, associate professor, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, and diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine.
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Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine and WGBH Educational Foundation. (2007, December 18). Natural patterns of sleep. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/what/sleep-patterns-rem-nrem
Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine and WGBH Educational Foundation. (2008, December 16). Sleep and memory. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/memory
National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Myths and facts about sleep. Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/myths-and-facts-about-sleep
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