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Tracey Marks, M.D.

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How To Become A Morning Person

Posted: 05/20/11 08:25 AM ET

Are you one who rises early, but is slow to get started? Even though you may be physically awake and standing, you're not much use to anyone? You need a few hours to kick into gear and always feel like you're ten steps from diving back into bed.

The problem is, with this routine, several hours of your day have passed with little productivity. This may be fine if the only thing you have to do for the day is check your trust fund balance. But if you're like most people with an unrealistic to-do list, you have to fit the tasks in sometime. Where do you get the time? In the evening, of course.

Another problem with that late night "productivity" is that it makes it harder to fall asleep early, so you wake with an alarm to start another busy day. When you start your day rushed because you hit the snooze one too many times, you create a mindset of constant angst. This kind of lifestyle shaves years off your life.

If only you could gain a productive hour or two in the morning, you could help to put yourself on a healthier course and, ultimately, be a happier person.

You can train your body to snap to attention and be ready to rock-and-roll first thing in the morning. This objective is attainable for most everyone.

Here are some suggestions.

Light Exposure

Light is a powerful trigger for regulating our sleep/wake cycle. As such, exposure to bright light, like what you get with the sun, controls when we are alert and when it's time to wind down. Timed exposure to bright light can work to shift your body clock to start earlier in the mornings.

Likewise, have you noticed that in the summer, you tend to feel more energetic later in the day? The evening exposure to sunlight helps keep you perked up longer into your day. This can work against you, though, making it harder to settle down for sleep later.

How do you get early morning sunlight? Yes, you can stand in front of your shadeless window for 15 minutes as soon as you roll out of bed. But a much easier solution is to use a light box.

I'm a big fan of light boxes because they're easy to use and effective for many purposes. Today's version can fit in your hand and be carried with you from room to room as you get dressed in the morning. Try it for 15 to 30 minutes as soon as you get out of bed in the morning, and, after a few days, you should notice that it is easier and easier to pop out of bed. In fact, you will probably start waking up earlier in the morning with repeated use.

Morning Exercise

Who wants to be scraped out of bed to face vigorous exercise? Nobody. But morning exercise doesn't have to mean meeting your personal trainer at the gym at 5 a.m. This can be as simple as walking your dog for 20 minutes or getting on a treadmill at home for 30 minutes.

Also, early morning exercise can really boost your energy levels during the day and, in addition, help your body shut down later in the day so that it's easier to fall asleep in the evenings.

Healthy Breakfast

Your body needs fuel in the mornings, but watch the sugar levels in the food you consume. We've become conditioned to have sugary breakfasts, like pancakes and donuts. But the heavy sugar load can produce a drop in alertness an hour or two after you eat.

Instead of consuming foods high in sugar levels, try eating oatmeal in the morning. Better yet, cook whole oats. Rolled oats are whole oats that are flattened with a machine to make them cook faster. This process destroys many of the nutrients, such as the bran and the germ found in the natural grain covering. So cooking whole oats yourself has its nutritional pay-offs.

If you don't want to have stand over a stove top for 30 minutes watching them cook in the morning, consider buying a programmable rice cooker -- you can have warm oatmeal waiting for you when you get out of bed in the morning.

This high-fiber meal can help to prevent heart disease, stabilize your blood sugar (so you don't have the post-meal sleepiness) and give you truckloads of energy for the day. In fact, researchers from the University of Leeds in the U.K. found that a diet high in fiber and grains appreciably reduced the risk of breast cancer.

Regular Sleep Times

How you feel in the morning is a spillover from what happens at night. Going to bed at random times each night wreaks havoc on your circadian rhythm.

Normally, you should enter a light phase of sleep just before awakening so that your eyes can open and you're ready to rise. But if you interrupt a deeper stage of sleep, you awaken feeling foggy-headed and tired. You're more likely to feel you need a little more sleep before you can function.

If you need an alarm clock on a regular basis to wake in the mornings, then you have a sleeping problem. Under these circumstances, it's going to be difficult to regularly awaken in the morning feeling rested and energetic.

This doesn't have to mean going to bed at 9:25 p.m. each night or else you're doomed to face a woeful sleep-deprived state for the next day. We can adjust to 30 minutes or so of sleep variation. So set a general bedtime and stick to it. If you follow the previous guidelines, you'll find yourself feeling tired around the same time each night, which will help you wake around the same time each morning -- ready to start your day with a bang.

Dr. Marks obtained her undergraduate degree from Duke and her medical degree from the Univ. of Florida. She completed her residency at The New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell Medical Center where she served as Chief Resident. She is also the founder of the Beyond Burnout Blog (www.BeyondBurnoutBlog.com), where she features videos and articles that help people deal with stress, anxiety, sleep problems, and other life-balance issues. Her website is www.masteryoursleepbook.com.

 
 
 

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