Morning people get all the press. ("Morning routine" are words found in countless article headlines; a phrase like "start your day at 8:30 a.m." is not.)

After all: My best friend Richard Branson (granted, a likely one-sided relationship sentiment) gets up at 5:30 a.m. And so does Jack Dorsey. Compared with Tim Cook, though, they're up-and-at-'em slackers, since the Apple CEO gets up at 3:45.

On the one hand, that makes sense. Getting an early start not only sounds more productive, science says it can be: Studies show that morning people tend to be more persistent, more self-directed, and better planners.


Except research also shows night owls tend to perform better on tests that measure memory, processing speed and cognitive ability, tend to be more creative, and tend to be more financially successful.

Granted, those results involve correlation, not causation. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. won't automatically make you a better planner. Nor will sleeping in automatically make you more creative. In fact, trying to change your chronotype will likely have adverse effects.

Your chronotype is your internal body clock. On average, your biological clock runs on a 24.2-hour cycle. (Instead of having a periodic "leap day" to reset ourselves, we tend to adjust a little every day to account for the 12-minute difference.)

If you're a night owl, though, your body clock runs longer than 24.2 hours -- and as a result, over time you naturally fall asleep later and therefore wake up later.

If you're a night owl who has tried to become a morning person, that finding makes intuitive sense. No matter how hard you try, you find your bedtime slowly creeps later and later into the evening.

But that's not because you lack the willpower to be an early riser. Research shows your chronotype is predominately biological. You inherited your predisposition toward being a night owl or morning person. It's not a choice.

It's how you're built.

But What If You Need to Become a Morning Person?

Some jobs require starting your day early. You may have employees or clients in other time zones. You may run a business that requires you to start your day early. You may have little or no control over your start time. (Much less your stop time.)

In that case, you might assume you can "get by" on less sleep than most people. While you might think you need only four to five hours of sleep a night -- because it's definitely possible to muddle through on that little sleep -- only a tiny fraction of the population is actually built that way

I'm not. You're probably not, either.

So then what happens? A 2018 study published in Sleep found that people who sleep for five to six hours are 19 percent less productive than people who regularly sleep for seven to eight hours per night. People who sleep for less than five hours are nearly 30 percent less productive. Other research shows that sleep deprivation makes completing any activity that requires multiple steps (yep: pretty much everything important you need to do) much more difficult.

Then there are the health repercussions. Chronic sleep deprivation results in an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.

And then there's this: A study of 433,000 people recently published in Chronobiology International -- proving there's a journal for just about everything -- found that night owls are 10 percent more likely to live a shorter life than morning people.

Not because of their chronotype, but because of fighting their chronotype: Not getting enough sleep, not exercising enough, eating less healthily, etc.

In short, you can't have it both ways. You can't act like a night owl at night and also pretend to be a morning person. To paraphrase Marlo from The Wire, "You might want it to be one way, but it's the other way."

Actually, You Can

Just don't think about trying to shift your body clock. Don't think about trying to change your chronotype. Don't think about becoming a morning person.

Just focus on getting enough sleep to perform at your best and stay healthy.


1. Start by going to bed when you normally do. 

Forcing yourself to fall asleep -- especially to fall asleep early -- is almost impossible. 

So don't try to go to bed early tonight. Just go to bed when you normally do. Sure, you'll be tired tomorrow, but that's OK. Natural fatigue will help you get to bed a little earlier tomorrow night, and the next night.

In time, your body will adapt -- as long as you don't shift back to your night owl ways on the weekends. Shifting back and forth results in an endless cycle of sleep schedule resets, ones you probably already experience at least to some degree.

2. Exercise when you wake up.

I know: The last thing you want to do when you wake up tired is exercise.

But it should be the first thing you want to do, research shows that as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise boosts your mood for the next 12 hours

Twenty minutes of aerobic training of "moderate intensity," with an average heart rate of around 112 beats a minute -- for most people, that's a light jog or relatively easy spin on an exercise bike -- improved mood for up to 12 hours after exercise.

And there's a bonus: Exercise can make you smarter, creating new brain cells and making those new cells more effective. You'll also burn more fat since your body will still be in a fasting state, if burning more fat is your thing.

So while the thought of waking up early and having to exercise might seem sucky, it will make the rest of your day a lot better. And help you be a little healthier. And make it a little easier for you to fall asleep that night.

3. Eat a breakfast with fewer carbs and more protein.

Protein naturally increases your dopamine levels, a chemical that research shows helps regulate motivation, which helps you "initiate and persevere."

And that's exactly what we all need to do when we wake up: Initiate -- get rolling -- and persevere.

4. Open the shades or turn on the lights.

Bright light sucks when you're still sleepy.

But it doesn't suck for your body. The presence of light tells your body to stop producing melatonin, the chemical that makes you feel sleepy.

5. Don't take a nap.

Yep, you'll be tired. Yep, you'll want a nap.

Don't. Taking a nap while make it harder to fall asleep tonight.

And make it harder for you to slowly shift your sleep schedule.

6. Start your workday with a bang. 

Sitting down to answer email first thing isn't particularly exciting. Nor is reviewing last night's problem log. It's hard to wake up feeling perky when you dread getting started.

Instead, plan to accomplish something you really want to accomplish. Or knock off a really important task. Do something you're eager to do.

That way you'll look forward to starting your day. When you finish that task, you'll feel good about how you started your day. That will motivate you to accomplish whatever is next on your list, and next, and next, and will leave you feeling really good about yourself at the end of the day.

The more accomplished you feel -- the more progress you feel you've made toward achieving your goals -- the less stressed, and more fulfilled and satisfied, you will feel.

All of which makes it easier to fall asleep at night, no matter what your chronotype.