Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How a Night Owl Became an Early(er) Bird

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, 2008
I 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 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:


GZ said...

5. A quick, hot shower first thing in the am can really help wake you up.

And in a real pinch, the cold shower is 10x more effective.

Kevin said...

Great tips. With training for my first 70.3 I have definitely had to train in the AM. This morning I was up at 4:45 and it will be the same thing tommorow. Between the volum, the heat, and the smog, its just easier to get my rides and runs in the AM and swim at the gym in the PM

Ryan Denner said...

"I relished in the stillness of the early morning traffic, no people, just plenty of empty bike lanes to hammer down while everyone else slept off their late-night hangovers." Yes yes, and yes! aint it great?

"Did you know the temperature drops suddenly just before dawn breaks" I did not know that. is that for real?

also, getting up early allows you "sleep" in until like 700am one day out of week feeilng extremely refreshed!!

btw, if you are ever making excuses, check out this video:

Leah said...

I am SO not a morning person and that needs to change! The hot shower definitely helps me too.

bunnygirl said...

In my new job I've found it best to work out early and then go to work. A lot of things come up late in the day and if I've already gotten in my workout for the day, I don't stress over working an extra 30 minutes or so.

Having everything laid out and ready to go is a huge help.

Mon said...

unfortunatly i could sleep 15 hours and still not get up early. I hate it. I say all the time im gonna work out tomorrow morning. and i dont. i know id feel better, but cant do it. i am a night owl myself. i think thats gonna remain!

Wes said...

I've never been a morning person. Even when I was in the military. After PE I went back to take a nap before first formation :-)

Now, I've been getting up at 6 AM, and I NEED to get up earlier. We'll see. It takes time. I agree with you 100% though. Getting the workouts done early is a great thing...

Benson said...

Very good post.
I tend to jump in a lake for an early wake up.
it's all good.

Colleen said...

Great post... I too am not a morning person but this Ironman training is leading me to force myself into becoming one. I love the tips though and appreciate your views on what we miss by not being a.m. people!

teacherwoman said...

I am totally a morning person. I don't think I always have been though since I truly enjoyed sleeping plast 10am or even 11 on the weekends when I was in highschool. I feel so much better with an AM working rather than a PM workout that leaves me wide awake past 10pm which is not my preference. During the school year, when I am working out between 5 and 6 AM and to work by 715am, I am usually to be and asleep by 930! I have a really hard time sleeping in past 7 or 8am on weekends; it makes me feel lazy!

Great post, Rachel!

Shan said...

Love the post!! I also migrated from a night owl to morning person. It wasn't easy, but now I love it!