While it’s not guaranteed that being an early riser will make you healthy, wealthy or wise, the classic proverb holds a lot of truth. Being an early riser is a wiser choice for your health and helps regulate our natural sleep-wake cycle. Digging into some of the science on how sleep affects health might just surprise you!
What is the Sleep-Wake Cycle?
The sleep-wake cycle, also known as a Circadian Rhythm, is your body’s internal alarm clock. This is what allows you to feel sleepy at certain times and alert or awake at others. Humans are naturally diurnal creatures which mean we tend to feel active during the day and tend to feel sleepy at night.
Our bodies prefer to stick to a pattern, producing hormones at set times to induce either sleepiness or wakefulness. Your Circadian Rhythm is formed during the early stages of development as a child and is mostly regulated by light, hormones and your schedule. This cycle is important to maintain, as it helps all our biological processes to run smoothly.
Adjusting the Sleep-Wake Cycle
The average person adjusts their Circadian Rhythm rather frequently, particularly if doing shift work. When you deviate from your circadian rhythm, it interferes with the quality of your sleep, and it also begins to change your natural cycle. Night Shift workers who sleep during the day often have fragmented sleep—meaning they don’t get the full recovery from sleep they need (R).
Many people wake up early during the week and sleep in on weekends too, which makes it difficult to get out of bed early again on Monday morning. This is likely part of the reason the “I hate Mondays” meme was born! It can take 3-7 days to reset your sleep cycle, especially if you have jet lag due to travel. Your internal clock still functions the same until it is newly adjusted, even if the external clock says a different time. Melatonin, a natural sleep aid, is often used to help reset our internal clocks in such cases (R).
Sleep Duration & Bedtime for Early Risers
Many people believe that skimping on a little sleep is fine, attempting to go to bed late and wake up early the next day for work. The truth is that even missing a precious hour of sleep can have a negative impact on your ability to function, especially if you want to rise early with ease.
Optimizing Sleep Duration
We need different amounts of sleep depending on where we are biologically in life. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Children and teens on average need more sleep than adults because during sleep is largely when growth hormone gets released, helping them to develop.
You also need more sleep when ill or detoxing, as sleep is the only time that the brain can remove toxins or waste products as well as other organs (R). Modern science doesn’t fully understand what our bodies do while we sleep but its well-agreed that there’s a lot of recovery processes going on.
For adults, the best time to fall asleep is generally between 10-11pm, which usually means going to bed between 9-10pm to ease into sleep. The reason for this is because sleep, such as metabolism regulate many biological processes.
These processes require deep restorative sleep, which predominantly occurs within the first half of the night, while dream-filled REM sleep mostly occurs closer to sunrise in the second half of the night (R). If we stay up beyond 10-11pm, we tend to get less restful sleep.
Levels of stress hormones also appear to rise in the middle of the night when we would normally have been asleep for a couple of hours (R). These hormones keep us awake and, if one doesn’t fall asleep before they kick in, can lead to sleep deprivation.
Benefits of Waking Up Early
Waking up around sunrise is more in tune with the rhythms of nature as well as our biological clocks. Bright light starts to signal for us to wake up and doing so naturally has many surprising perks.
Some benefits of sleeping and waking up early (R):
- Better quality of sleep
- Increased cognition
- Improved short-term memory
- Enhanced athletic performance
- Quicker reaction time
- Increased productivity
- Higher energy levels
- Improved mood
- Reduced stress levels
- More quiet time
- Safer commutes to work
- Better grades at school
Tips for Waking Up Early
The following tips will help you to rise with ease in the mornings!
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
As you may have gathered, it’s important to get enough hours of quality sleep throughout the night to wake up early and benefit. Good sleep hygiene is essentially ‘grooming’ yourself and optimizing your environment for deeper sleep.
Things you can do to ensure good sleep hygiene:
- Wind down an hour before sleeping with a relaxing activity, such as reading. Only use dim light during this hour to encourage Melatonin production.
- Avoid exercise after sunset and stimulants like caffeine after 4 pm.
- Reserve your bedroom for sleeping and intimacy.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool.
- Stick to your sleep-wake schedule every day, including weekends.
- Don’t drink too many fluids or eat right before sleeping.
- Make sure you have a quality mattress to avoid unnecessary back pain.
Create A Morning Routine You Love
Many people agree that it’s much easier to jump out of bed, alive with energy, if you have something to look forward to.
The best part about waking up early is that you get more time to yourself in a state where you have more energy and one in which you can spend it doing whatever you want. Design a morning routine that you love waking up to, whether that is walking the dog, doing yoga, learning a new skill or simply having more time to breathe.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress is one of the biggest underlying problems in society today, and it affects sleep from two avenues: central nervous system stimulation and inflammation.
When one is stressed, it is difficult to fall asleep, and when you finally do, it tends to be disrupted (R). It also interferes with hormonal balance, all of which amounts to waking up feeling sluggish in the morning.
Morning exercise, meditation, keeping a journal to release some steam and drinking enough water are great ways to keep your stress levels in check.
Herbals teas rich in antioxidants are renowned for their ability to improve sleep and reduce stress levels. Chamomile tea is one that has especially relaxing properties and is popular for improving sleep quality (R).
Getting a good night’s sleep also reduces stress levels, which in turn promotes better sleep quality and the ease with rising early. Natural antioxidant supplements such as Vitamin D3 are great ways to counter inflammation, enhance sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Coffee stimulates the central nervous system and stresses your body out, which results in fake energy on top of a catch 22 caffeine addiction. It’s also much easier to get up early without relying on something that depletes energy in the long run.
Instead focus on healthier ways to boost your energy levels, such as herbal teas, superfood powders and mineral supplements which are rich in energizing nutrients. A few good examples include green tea, Rhodiola Rosea, maca root powder, and any fulvic mineral complex.
Consuming a healthy nutritious diet is also definitely the way to go for heightened energy levels. Eat more organic fruits and vegetables with complimentary fats like coconut or olive oil, and you’ll be well on your way.
These all promote optimal functioning of the body as a whole, including a more stable sleep-wake cycle.
At the end of the day, getting to bed on time, rising early, eating well and maintaining a stable routine are important aspects of a healthy lifestyle which everyone deserves. Cut down on stimulants like coffee and quit stressing so much. You will accomplish more in your waking hours and have more available energy, resulting in a tremendous improvement in the quality of your life!