The age old proverb, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” may just be true, according to an upcoming book The Morning Mind. In the book, author Robert Carter, PhD, says there’s a biological reason the early bird gets the worm.
Our brains are actually physically bigger when we first wake up, according to Carter. “Your inner-cranial volume is greater in the morning,” he says. Because the head and body are level during sleep, your brain receives more body fluid, making your brain optimal for performing in the hours immediately following waking up. This conclusion is based on studies on patients suffering from Parkinson’s. The patients, Carter says, were better able to perform complex tasks in the morning, but throughout the day, as the amount of fluid in the brain decreased, the patients experienced an associated decline in cognitive ability.
We are all “morning people”
While some of us claim to be our most creative at night and don’t hit the pillow until the early morning hours, Carter says less than 1% of the population are actually genetically programmed to be night owls.
He argues that those who consider themselves night owls most likely suffer from sleep deprivation or sleep restriction, and this, he says, results in a reduction in cognitive performance, emotional regulation, and productivity.
Early birds are more productive
One reason early risers may be more productive is that they are more proactive and persistent, the results of a well-rested mind. “The killer of persistence is fatigue and frustration. Early risers are less fatigued, less irritable, and have less frustration (than their night owl counterparts),” says Carter. Night owls who have gone to bed beyond their biological clock and receive less than adequate sleep tend to spend more time in the morning hanging around the coffee machine or engaging in conversation with coworkers. “They do this as a means to warm up their brain,” says Carter.
But there’s another reason night owls may underperform in comparison to morning people. The late bedtime favored by night owls doesn’t match up well with our societal norms of the nine-to-five workday. Because evening people tend to not get the desired seven to eight hours of sleep, they tend to not perform as well, thanks to chronic sleep deprivation.
Adjusting their sleep schedule can help these night owls to be able to reap those early-morning benefits after a quality sleep, but that may mean waking up at 9 or 10 a.m. This works well for people who are able to work from home, or those who work in an office with adjustable start times, but that’s far from the norm.
So, for those of us who have to be in the office by 9 a.m. and ready to take on the day, here are three ways you can become more of a morning person.
Prepare your sleep environment. Getting adequate sleep starts with preparing your sleep environment and your body for rest. Make the room as dark as possible, and turn off blue light from cell phones and alarm clocks. Practice mindful meditation and deep, relaxing breathing. “Slow breathing has been shown to put the nervous system in a position to help promote sleep,” says Carter.
Plan it out. “Planning will play a critical role in improving your productivity,” says Carter. Plan your day in your mind, starting with what you are going to wear, to what you will make for breakfast. Keeping yourself organized in the morning will help to reduce the performance impact of less than adequate sleep. “Being in a hurry in the morning causes a sense of anxiety and will drive down your productivity,” says Carter.
Avoid hitting the snooze. While you may think you’re doing yourself a favor by giving yourself an extra 10 or 15 minutes of sleep, hitting the snooze will only serve to increase your frustration and reduce the calm state needed in order to be productive.