All this in an effort to be among the most successful people on the planet. According to new research, early risers aren’t just nicer to be around in the morning, they’re also happier, healthier and more self-satisfied than the rest of us.
Which doesn’t really surprise me. “Natural” morning people—those who wake without the help of an alarm clock—are more in tune with the rhythm of the social timetable of the world. From preschool to employment, we’re expected to be up early (whether we like it or not), report to a place where we spend hours doing stuff (whether we like it or not) and then go to bed at a decent hour so we can do it all again the next day (but I don’t wanna go to bed yet!). By that standard, night owls are social pariahs, attempting to buck a system that just won’t budge. As a result, they’re unhappier, unhealthier, and far less productive.
But according to author Laura Vanderkam, author of the e-book, “What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” there’s hope for us yet. Vanderkam, who became fascinated by time management while penning her last book, “168 Hours,” says that in the course of researching dozens of people on how they spend their precious minutes, the most successful people were those who devoted chunks of time in the morning to things (or people) that they loved. From Ursula Burns to Anna Wintour to Al Sharpton, a common thread of successful people is their commitment to early morning activities.
Night owls often wake up for work or school with a scowl on their faces and wishing for an IV drip of coffee, while morning people come skipping in 15 minutes early. However, morning people aren't chipper just as the sun is coming up; they are happier and more satisfied with life overall, a new study suggests.
Teenagers' night owl tendencies fade as they age, and the study says this switch to a morning-focused schedule could be why older adults are happier than younger ones.
"Past research has suggested that morning-type people report feeling happier than evening-type people, and this research was only on young adults," study researcher Renee Biss, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, told LiveScience.
The new study looked across the lifespan to see if the morning habits of older individuals contributed to their overall life outlook.
The researchers studied two populations: a group of 435 adults ages 17 to 38, and a group of 297 older adults, ages 59 to 79. Both groups filled out questionnaires about their emotional state, how healthy they feel and their preferred "time of day."
"We found that older adults reported greater positive emotion than younger adults, and older adults were more likely to be morning-type people than younger adults," Biss said. "The 'morningness' was associated with greater happiness emotions in both age groups."
Social jet lag
Morning-type people also tended to say they felt healthier than did night owls. The researchers said this could be because they are getting better sleep since they are naturally morning people. It could not only make them feel more alert, but actually impact their immune system.
"We don’t know why this is, but there are a few potential explanations. Evening people may be more prone to social jet lag; this means that their biological clock is out of sync with the social clock," Biss said. "Society's expectations are far more organized around a morning-type person's schedule."
For instance, most people rise early for work or school, even if they don't like it. "An evening person may go through their week feeling unhappy because they have to get up earlier than they would like to," Biss said.
One easy happiness booster? Hack your sleep schedule to turn yourself into a morning person. "One way to do it is to increase your natural light exposure early in the morning, and to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier," Biss said. "It's easiest if you have a consistent schedule, to make sure you are waking up at the same time every day."
The study was published in the May issue of the journal Emotion.
“These are busy people, productive people,” she says. “But mostly they are people who had figured out that if you wanted something to happen, it was important to have it happen first thing.” Not all of them would call themselves morning people, either, but they knew that the hours before their phones started ringing and the emails came pouring in were the few hours of each day over which they had complete control. And with that in mind, they set about creating new habits.
Vanderkam concedes that there very well may be “morning larks” and “night owls,” people who are more naturally attuned to waking up early or staying up late. But the rest of us she says, are somewhere in the middle. And we can quite easily reset our clocks, or, as she jokes “Cross over to the lark side” and become the happier, healthier and more successful people we want to be.
It all starts by tracking your minutes the way a dieter would calories. Do you spend this morning rushing around, one eye on the clock? Do you return home from work, cook dinner, tuck the kids into bed and disappear onto the Internet for four hours before bed? Do you talk to your husband for a paltry (but statistically correct) 12 minutes a day? Write it down. “A big part of the morning problem is our evening hours,” says Vanderkam. “We straggle our way into bed over the course of several rambling hours puttering around, reading, surfing the web, watching Jon Stewart or cleaning the house.” It’s time, she says, to give ourselves a bed time.
Once you know how your time is spent, you’ll be better able to see what needs to change—but more importantly, what’s missing. Would you like to up those 12 minutes chatting with your partner to an hour a day? Morning’s best, before either of you become stressed out by colleagues, deadlines and a million emails. Would you like to run three miles a day? You’ll never be tempted to go to happy hour with colleagues before seven, but come the end of the workday there will always be a good excuse. Or maybe you’ve been trying to start that novel that’s been collecting dust in your imagination. Morning’s best. Same song and dance. “The best morning activities aren’t things you have to do,” says Vanderkam, “But things that you want to do but just never seem to get around to.”
Step three, Vanderkam says, is often the toughest one: figuring out the logistics. “Put your workout gear at the foot of your bed so you literally can’t get up without seeing them,” she says. (I did it, following her instructions down to the ponytail holder). “If there are kids to be accounted for, make arrangements. Think about whatever it might take to make that morning routine happen.,” she says. Buy the equipment, download the software and convince your partner to get on board.
“And then it’s just a matter of habit building,” she says, although I say that’s easier said than done. “One run isn’t going to help you in any way,” Vanderkam chides. “Running every day for several weeks will.” She says to bribe yourself if you must (I chose Starbucks), but to do whatever it takes to make your morning routine the norm, and above all make only one small change at a time. Asking yourself to run and write and spend time with your loved ones is simply too much too soon.
“Creating habits can take enormous willpower and energy,” she says, “But maintaining habits actually conserves it. If you just know ‘mornings are when I run,’ it’s not a question of fighting yourself every day, it’s simply what happens.”