You’d probably love to be one of those people who consistently exercise after work. But life gets in the way – studying, work, social commitments – and your daily fitness routine goes out the window.
A morning workout routine seem like an obvious answer, but how do you actually, you know, do it?
Yes, you can turn yourself into an early riser. But not overnight.
“It’s possible, but you have to adjust gradually,” says Dianne Augelli, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
“The body can take an hour or less of [sleep schedule] change,” Augelli says. If you normally go to sleep at midnight and get up at 8 a.m., you will not feel rested if you suddenly switch your bedtime to 9 p.m. and get up at 5 a.m. (The American Sleep Association recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults.)
You probably won’t be able to make yourself go to sleep that early anyway, Augelli says. “You can’t force yourself to fall asleep. Sleep doesn’t work that way. But you can begrudgingly force yourself to wake up,” she says.
That would mean you might fall asleep at midnight and get up at 5 a.m., and that’s no good. In fact, mortality increases when we habitually get less than six hours a night, Augelli says.
Instead, change your sleep schedule by 30 minutes at a time, Augelli says. Start going to sleep at 11:30 p.m. and getting up at 7:30 a.m. Do that for about a week and then roll back another 30 minutes. Do that for about a week and then roll back yet another 30 minutes. Repeat until you land at your desired wake-up time without needing an afternoon nap that day.
Weekend cycles should stay fairly close – within an hour or two – to the weekday cycle: “Our bodies don’t know what a weekend is. It’s social construct, not a biological one,” Augelli says.
She has some advice for getting to bed earlier – and sleeping better:
1. Keep the bedroom cool and dark.
2. No coffee within eight hours of bedtime.
3. No alcohol within a couple of hours of bedtime. Alcohol puts us to sleep faster but then messes with our “sleep architecture,” reducing or even preventing the deepest, most restorative types of sleep. It also may increase the need to use the bathroom throughout the night.
4. No large meals within two or three hours of bedtime.
5. Shower before bed to cool the body.
6. No screen time of any kind within one or two hours of bedtime.
7. No working, reading or emailing within an hour of bedtime.
8. Turn on bright lights in the morning right as you wake up.
[Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer.]