by Michael Terman, PhD
If you decide you want to be more of an early bird, here are ten concrete steps you can take. They do not involve giving up your favorite activities so much as doing them at a time that will help you become an early bird.
- Stay away from coffee and other caffeinated drinks from mid-afternoon on.
- Eat a protein-loaded breakfast soon after waking up, even if you are not hungry. Emphasize carbs at dinner for their easy digestion and calming effect.
- Get your digestive rhythms into sync with your sleep-wake cycle, and you’ll feel more alert and energetic in the first half of the day. One simple way is a protein shake, store-bought in single-serving containers, or prepared in the blender the night before, so it is ready to grab from the fridge.
- Move dinner earlier, so that you have three hours for digestion before going to sleep. It will make it easier to get to sleep and will also help align your circadian rhythms so that you can begin to shift from owl to hummingbird chronotype.
- Schedule exercise sessions for midday or before dinner, not in late evening. Evenings are for calming down, not for getting the energy going.
- Turn off your cellphone ringer and email and text alerts at least one hour before bedtime. Since owls’ friends are often owls themselves, tell them why you’re doing this, so they don’t feel neglected or ignored.
- Install dimmers on room lights and set low but comfortable levels in the evening. (If you are using bright high-efficiency compact fluorescent bulbs that can’t be dimmed, switch over to the newer, dimmable types.)
- Dim your TV screen in the evening to a comfortable level that is no brighter than needed for comfortable viewing.
- Install the f.lux application on your home computer (available for free from justgetflux.com). This software cuts down on the amount of blue light that is emitted as part of the white light your monitor gives off. Specifically, it alters the amount of blue light your computer screen gives off, depending on the time of day. If you’re still at your workplace in the evenings, ask if you can install the app there, too. (Some, but not all, employers allow this.)
- Choose evening activities that don’t get you excited or uncontrollably engrossed the way some TV programs and Internet activities are likely to do.
- Leave the shades up in the bedroom during the fall, winter and spring, so you benefit from the natural dawn signal. (Depending on where you live, you should be careful in summer, because dawn may be too early to do you any good, and might in fact turn you into more of an owl by delaying your internal clock.)