No doubt about it, the perks of being a morning person are abundant: studies have shown that early risers and more proactive, more productive, and just plain happier than those of us who would give anything to sleep in until 9 (or later!). Perhaps you're blessed with a circadian rhythm that has you rising before the sun, but if you're naturally a night owl, this type of "morning people win" news can be discouraging.
In contrast, night owls are linked to higher creativity and intelligence, which is all well and good, except that most of them are forced into a homogenized office environment with 9-5 business hours that don't allow them to tap their nocturnal greatness while on the clock.
The good news is that night owls may actually be able to swing their circadian rhythms towards morning hours with the help of another productivity powerhouse: exercise.
A recent study in the Journal of Physiology tested the impact of morning cardio exercise on various biometric markers related to sleep cycles. Regardless of age or gender, the research demonstrated a swing towards active morning circadian cycles for certain groups exercising during early morning hours. The research needs further testing but supports some interesting early findings related to the impact of exercise on natural circadian rhythms.
Add in the fact that a regular exercise routine in and of itself can boost your productivity and cognitive abilities to make this early morning exercising routine one worth considering.
Fellow night owls, I can practically see your eyes rolling. "There's no way my mind can get up that early, even if my body can eventually get used to it. I'm nocturnal, period." You can get up that early, of course. You do when you have to catch an early flight or make an early meeting at the office. It's a matter of preparing for it, making it routine, and building a habit. It takes time to adjust to a new schedule, so give it a fair shot and commit to six to eight weeks of experimentation to see what happens with your body, energy, and productivity when you commit to working out in the morning.
Here are a few tips to get your mind right about rising early to exercise:
Focus on Purpose
You'll get up early to take the kids to school, or to catch that flight, or to swing by your favorite restaurant for breakfast, but not to move your body. We sometimes see exercise as a punishment rather than an investment in our own bodies and well-being. Taking the time to think about your own wellness goals and their associated benefits (or the consequences of neglecting your health on you and your loved ones) is an important part of committing to any exercise routine.
Find a phrase that captures this purpose, and make it your mantra when you are tempted to skip exercise. "Live long and prosper." "Tall and strong." "Strong body, strong mind." "Ready for anything." "Healthy for my family." Pick something that reminds you why you're exercising and inspires you. Lean on it when you're feeling weak.
Do What You Love
From group class trends like CrossFit or OrangeTheory to good old-fashioned running or dancing, there are hundreds of ways to get your heart rate up. Try ClassPass to sample different local facilities and programs to find what works for you. Classes bring the extra benefit of community support and accountability, since you're generally paying for a certain level of attendance per month.
You are selling yourself on getting up early, so the night before, you need to minimize all of the objections that may come from your cranky morning self. Pack your gym bag, mix your protein drink, program the coffeemaker, and put your morning workout on your calendar. Don't give your morning brain any excuse to not get out of bed.
Speaking of not getting out of bed in the morning--you're going to need to commit to an earlier bedtime if you will be getting up early to exercise. Initially, you'll probably stare at the ceiling for a few frustrating hours at night as your body wonders why you're in bed so early. Eventually, you'll acclimate to the new cycle and will naturally fall asleep earlier. If exercise in general is new to your routine, it's even more important to recognize and commit to the role sleep plays in your body's recovery and health so that you avoid excessive fatigue or injury.
Pro tip on waking up early: do not hit snooze. Set your alarm for a time that doesn't allow the cushion for snooze. When the alarm goes off, you're up with no room for second thoughts or self-debate.
If you're firmly in the late-night owl domain (i.e., you're doing brilliant work and/or are most verbose and energetic at midnight), there's little chance of you swinging over to a morning person routine. But if your circadian rhythms fall just slightly towards the evening, consider a short-term experiment to see how morning exercise impacts your productivity, health, and happiness.