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4 Benefits to Waking Early and How to Make the Transition

Posted September 18, 2023 by Ketan Deoras, M.D.

Person stretching in bed

Are you an early bird or night owl? A person’s sleep schedule preference is closely tied to their circadian rhythms, the natural physical process that follows a similar cycle every 24 hours. But, either sleep-wake cycle can promote a healthy lifestyle, right? Not so fast. 


Several studies have associated later sleep times with many health issues. That’s because people who stay up late tend to accumulate sleep debt if they’re forced to wake early. Work and school, which commonly begin early, create a mismatch with night owls’ sleep-wake schedules—and can negatively affect their health and performance.


In fact, people who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression, even accidents and injuries.


In this scenario, the early bird really does catch the worm. Summa Health discusses 4 proven benefits of waking early and steps night owls can take to make the switch. It’s not impossible. So, ditch the snooze button and start waking up earlier. Hey, it’s a matter of your health!


Mental health boost


Many studies show people who wake earlier are far less likely to develop depression, anxiety or other mood disorders. Researchers believe one reason could be those who wake up earlier have more access to daylight, which is a natural mood booster.


Plus, you have more time for you in the morning, whether that’s exercising, planning your day ahead or relaxing with a cup of joe—all of which are key to reducing stress.


Time for a healthy breakfast


When you wake up early, you have more time to eat a healthy breakfast. But if you wake up late, chances are you’ll grab something quick—and typically unhealthy—or skip breakfast altogether.


Breakfast is an important meal because it replenishes your body after overnight fasting to boost your energy levels and alertness, and start burning calories.


Improved performance


Your brain doesn’t wake up the second you do. That’s why we tend to feel groggy when we first get up. Studies prove this sleep inertia, or sleep-induced brain fog, can last anywhere from two to four hours.


Waking up earlier gives your body time to reach peak wakefulness naturally (without depending on coffee) to do your best work at the start of your workday. Your energy levels, mental clarity and concentration will be better from the very start.


Quality sleep—and its associated health benefits


As the saying goes, early to bed, early to rise. If you wake up earlier, chances are you’re ready for bed earlier, setting you up for a good night’s rest. And, the health benefits of good sleep are abundant. People who get enough sleep enjoy improved mental health, sharper brain function, stronger immune systems and a reduced risk for chronic health problems.


How to shift your sleep schedule to wake up earlier


Now that you know the benefits of waking earlier, you’re probably thinking how do I do that? Earlier bedtimes and waking up earlier may seem foreign to night owls, but it is possible to make the transition with these 5 tips.


  • Make changes gradually. Abruptly trying a new sleep schedule can set you up for failure. Instead, ease into an earlier wake time over a few days by moving up your bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night. Do this until you reach your desired bedtime, so you can wake up earlier and still get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Once you establish your bedtime and wake time, stick to it to keep your circadian rhythm in check.
  • Get outside daylight. Natural light affects circadian rhythms by suppressing melatonin. Bright light exposure in the early morning can help you wake up earlier so you can go to sleep earlier. Taking a morning walk, for example, will help reinforce your new sleep schedule.
  • Exercise earlier in the day. Exercise in the morning can help you shift to an earlier sleep schedule, plus it gives you more energy and boosts your mood for the day. However, if you exercise late in the day, it can have the opposite affect and shift your sleep schedule later.
  • Time your meals. Eat lunch and dinner earlier. A full belly is uncomfortable and can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Also, limit your caffeine intake during the day. Caffeine can negatively affect your ability to fall asleep.
  • Limit devices at night. It’s best to shut off electronics, such as TVs, smart phones and other devices, about 60 minutes before bedtime. The blue light that electronics emit stimulates the brain and can suppress production of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep.


Why not follow these tips to transition to an early bird? Waking up earlier can help you develop healthier habits and improve your productivity and performance for the day—and may make you think twice about hitting that snooze button.


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