I hate the phrase, "The early bird gets the worm." I'm not an early bird. I'm a night owl. My sister's an owl. My father's an owl. My mother's an owl. It's in my blood, hard-wired into my genes. Unfortunately, we live in a diurnal society that operates in a tyrannically oblivious manner to alternative circadian rhythms. Night owls are frowned upon in our 9-5, workaholic world, where co-workers compete to see who can arrive at the office the earliest. Night owls are considered lazy, undisciplined, low-achievers.
"Night people are stuck with psychopaths like Adolf Hitler and Juan Arreola, the guy in Pennsylvania who nearly killed his girlfriend's 2-year-old last year, explaining to a judge, 'I'm not a morning person.'"
--Deepa Ranganathan, Slate, June 13, 2008I have battled this preconceived prejudice for years. How many early birds have painted prolifically or written a short story on a creative burst at 3 a.m.? How many early birds have pulled a lounge chair on the lawn to watch a late summer meteor shower or catch a rare total lunar eclipse? There is nothing more soothing than the peaceful solace of the dead quiet of night, an hour before the first rays of sunlight break the thick blackness.
However, contrary to how it may seem, I've long harbored a secret envy for the early bird and a deep-seeded desire to come over and join the "light" side. The early birds, admittedly, seem to get a lot done before noon and are annoyingly cheerful first thing in the morning (without coffee--sacrilegious!). Perhaps I find them irritating because I'm secretly seething with jealousy?
Once I started becoming more active, my daylight hours suddenly became a precious commodity. For years, I lived in denial, believing that I could work out just as well at night. I would spend many hours inside a gym...alone, unable to bike after dark (or run because of the high crime-rate in St. Louis). However, let's face it, the best group workouts, the best gym classes, masters workouts, and bike rides--they're all held at the crack of dawn. I was missing out. I used to use every excuse in the book: I'm tired. I don't feel good in the morning. I don't have time. I'm just not a morning person. I've heard them all; I've used them all.
After I signed up for Ironman Arizona, one workout a day just wasn't going to cut it anymore. The hard, cold reality was staring me straight in the face. I couldn't avoid it anymore; I would have to start doing morning workouts. It only took a few morning workouts to appreciate the benefits of fitting in a 12-mile run and luxurious brunch with my girlfriends, all before 11 am. On those mornings, I felt less rushed and more relaxed. It seemed I was getting more out of my day. After my long run, I still had time for a nap, errands, and the rest of the afternoon to lounge on the beach. I could have my cake and eat it too--my life motto. Words to live by. Plus, I was able to enjoy the quiet of the morning just before sunrise. I relished in the stillness of the early morning streets...no traffic, no people, just plenty of empty bike lanes to hammer down while everyone else slept off their late-night hangovers. Did you know the temperature drops suddenly just before dawn breaks? Did you know songbirds actually do start singing at first light? All things I had never experienced.
I was also finding it easier to fall asleep earlier in the evening, exhausted from my busy day. Maybe I was onto something. I was hooked. I had joined the other side of those annoying, cheerful "early birds" (don't worry--I'm still far from cheerful when I first stumble out of bed at 5:15 am). Slowly, gradually, I started waking up early. 6 am swims, 7:30 am runs, 6:45 am bikes. I saw 5:30 many mornings, in the dark, damp, cold days of winter where the only thing to get me out of bed was a steaming hot shower, coffee and the promise of a nap later on. It has taken years to reach this place.
It has gotten easier. My stomach feels better in the morning; I can actually eat a small breakfast now before my workout. It's easier to jump in the cold water of the pool or take that first pedal stroke. Over the last 6 months, I have become a morning person. I can't keep my eyes open past 10:30 (I prefer to be asleep by 9:30), and it's easy to hop out of bed at 6:30. This, from a person who used to stay up routinely until 2 am and sleep soundly until 11 on weekends.
I'm still far from perfect. The other day, I was beating myself up for sleeping in until 7:00 am and missing my 6:00 am masters swim class. I went to the 7:30 am class instead. Halfway through the workout, I did a mental check. I felt good. More than good. Awesome. I reflected back 1 year ago when making a 7:30 am swim workout was pretty much impossible. Progress. I am making progress.
Tips for Waking Up Early:
1. Go to bed early (seems simple but it actually works).
2. Make small, incremental changes (Try moving back your bedtime and wake-up time by 10 minutes at a time. A 30 minute change takes several months).
3. Lay all your stuff out the night before.
4. If you're a coffee drinker, set up the pot the night before.
5. A quick, hot shower first thing in the am can really help wake you up.
Night Owl vs Early Bird Links: