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Will You Be Happier If You Wake Up Earlier?

Understanding your patterns can help you pinpoint your most productive times.

Key points

  • People who rise early tend to report greater happiness and well-being.
  • Knowing one's chronotype can help identify peak hours of productivity.
  • People's chronotypes change throughout their lives, but quality sleep is always important to well-being.
Joshua Earle/Unsplash
Source: Joshua Earle/Unsplash

This morning, I had a hard time waking up. I turned off the alarm, rolled up on the edge of the bed, and sat there in a stupor for about five minutes before lurching toward my first cup of coffee. Even then, my mind was fuzzy.

I feel groggy in the early mornings, but by 10 a.m. my mind is buzzing with creative energy, my body feels strong and ready for a workout. I feel like I’m just waking up around then and I’m raring to go. Up until around 2 p.m.-ish.

Understanding Our Chronotypes

Some would say I have an intermediate chronotype. A chronotype is a way of describing or labeling the circadian rhythms that affect our internal clocks and influence the body’s response to daylight and darkness. Natural light halts the body’s production of melatonin, helping us to awaken. Melatonin, which is released during darkness causes drowsiness, helping us to sleep.

Most of us are really a blend of chronotypes, but understanding our rhythms can help us identify our waking and sleeping patterns, but also the times we are most productive during the day.

And that might affect our happiness and well-being.

Research shows that rising early can boost mood, lead to greater life satisfaction, and minimize mental health problems. There is also a link between greater well-being in older people who get up early.

So how would you label your patterns? Are you an early bird? Someone who wakes up early, often without an alarm, ready to roll? Most productive in the a.m. hours? My husband is.

Or a night owl? A person like my teen daughter, who could sleep until noon and stay awake and busy into morning hours?

I’ve been all of those chronotypes at one time or another. As we become older, and our physiology, families, and responsibilities change, it’s common for our sleep habits to change too.

I feel my absolute best when I’m asleep by 11 p.m. and up by 7 a.m. I feel most focused and productive between 9 a.m. and noon, often doing my best writing during those hours. In the fall, when I need to drive my daughter to school, my schedule will shift to an earlier-morning alarm.

But, when our schedules change, can we tweak our chronotype and reap the same benefits as the early birds?

It might depend on how well you sleep and how you feel about what you are doing in your life, to begin with, say researchers. If you are rested and excited about what you’ve got going on, it’s easier to pop out of bed and sleep better at night.

I have not been getting restorative sleep, so it's no surprise that I’m having a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the morning.

Guess the question then is how can we get a better sleep when we do finally go to bed?

Tips for Better Sleep

Experts suggest turning off your digital devices a few hours before bedtime. As I started shifting my schedule to get up earlier in the morning, I’ve begun going to sleep earlier too.

I also have a couple of practices that get me fired up for the day ahead, so that I have something to look forward to when I do wake up.

One is called Tomorrow Optimism. Before I close my eyes at night, I give some thought to one thing I’m looking forward to the following day. I spend time imagining it.

And, my morning ritual helps me get out of bed and get focused and excited for the day. That ritual includes quiet time enjoying a good, strong cup of coffee, and a short meditation. I write Morning Pages and then take a few minutes to read something that piques my curiosity or inspires me. This all takes less than an hour.

Sometimes I even go outside in those early morning hours or sit in a sunny window and soak up the natural light.

Will all of this help me change my chronotype by fall? Who knows? But I do know if I get quality sleep and do things during my times of peak productivity each day that feel meaningful and satisfying, I’m bound to feel better anyhow.

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