Not an early riser? Alarm clock buried under three pillows, a winter coat, and six blankets? Though catapulting out of bed with the sun at 5 a.m. (or earlier) for a four-mile run may not be high on your summer agenda, making the most of the season’s spectacular early sunrises–and the sun-and light-filled hours that follow–may require some adjustment. But experts say it can be done.
While those who study sleep patterns have been known to classify people as “larks,” or so-called morning people, and, you guessed it, “owls”–who function sublimely at the other end of the spectrum, rewiring the body clock is very often attainable, according to scientists, who reference airline pilots and travelers who traverse time zones. Though a little jet-lag may prevail for a day or two, the body eventually catches up with its reprogrammed local time, returning to full function, only to do it all over again for the return trip.
With “endogenous” (built-in)24-hour cycles known as circadian rhythms–dictating when we wake and sleep, among other things–observed in plants, animals, fungi and certain bacteria, not everyone (or every living thing) functions in the exact same way, allowing for differences in when some of us fall asleep and awake. Circadian comes from the Latin circa, or “around,” and diem, or “day.” Because circadian rhythms are also “entrainable,” or able to be reset by external factors such as light, many people find that reprogramming can be achieved with a little planning and a few strategic tricks and props in the process.
For starters, while the old adage about “early to bed and early to rise” making one healthy, wealthy and wise may apply to some, roaming the hallway, backyard and neighborhood like a zombie because you’ve tossed and turned all night in an effort to get to bed earlier, so you can wake up earlier, won’t produce the same results. Reprogramming the body takes time and deliberate action, such as eliminating caffeine and alcohol at night, turning off the computer, and not eating late or exercising strenuously in the hours before bed.
Also, an earlier bedtime is more attainable incrementally. If you typically turn in at 2 a.m., aim for a reduction of 15 or 20 minutes until your body adjusts to its new bedtime, and then continue to reduce it by the same amount of time until you find a point that allows you to awake rested and refreshed the next day at an earlier time. The same steps taken for awakening, this time subtracting 15 or 20 minutes from your typical rousing time, will gradually set you on the right course.
If you normally close blinds or curtains, try leaving them open and placing your bed closer to the window to use the sunrise as a gentle wake-up call.
For some, a pleasant, scheduled early morning activity such as coffee and newspaper on the deck, a fun walk with a neighbor or dog, a few minutes of yoga or meditation, or tending to the garden can help celebrate the extra gifts of light and warm weather, providing great incentive to awaken earlier. Though you may not have a country to run, bifocals to invent or a novel to write like some of the world’s most famous early risers, among them Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Ernest Hemingway, making use of the early light-filled hours of summer can bring a whole new perspective to your days.