It's a Monday afternoon and you slept through your 8 a.m. lecture. You jolt up from bed with lightheadedness, frantically looking for your vibrating phone between the bed sheets and realize what time it is: 12 p.m.
Not all students find themselves repeatedly snoozing their alarm after a Sunday night bender. Early risers do, in fact, exist and these rare breeds have some advice to offer.
Shelby Ward, a first-year Ivey Business School student, says that she’s always known that she’s a morning person. It wasn’t until she went away to university, when she finally started to use this trait to her advantage.
“I find that I have my clearest mind in the morning,” says Ward. “So as my workload has kind of grown throughout time, I relied on it more to make sure I get everything done that I need to get done in the day.”
Ward prefers to start her day with simple tasks. Doing a quick textbook reading or watching a lecture as opposed to jumping into more involved, taxing work.
But finding the motivation to set your alarm before 10 p.m. and jump into school work is easier said than done. Throughout Ward’s individual journey in keeping a consistent routine, she has found various ways to trick her body into waking up. The secret to Ward’s consistency has been the formation of sustainable habits.
“If I’m in my pajamas, I don't feel like I’m getting into my day,” she says. “If I don't engage in any part of what would be my traditional morning routine — like washing my face, brushing my teeth and braiding my hair— I find it’s really hard for me to understand that I’m going to be productive.”
Christopher Casale, a public administration master's student and fellow morning person, has found a similar comfort in persistence and regularity. Casale likes to prepare his clothes, food and coffee in the evening so when he wakes up, everything is ready for him to head out the door.
“I think it is sort of like a mind over matter thing,” he says. “I think the most important thing is developing into a routine, because after your body gets acclimated to getting up early and you’ve been doing it consistently, that's going to be normal for you.”
As long as they are committed to the practice, Casale believes that any student can become a morning person.
Graham Reid, an associate professor in the faculty of psychology, helps to clarify this narrative with a psychological perspective.
In the shift from childhood to adolescence, the tendency to stay up and wake up later is extremely common. This phenomena is due to both one’s biological growth and social activities, but it is something that can be changed.
Reid explains that every kind of cell in our bodies has a circadian rhythm which functions around a 24-hour time period, regulating our sleep-wake cycle.
“Our bodies function very well when all of our circadian rhythms are in alignment. But when they start to get out of alignment, we start to feel really lousy,” he says. “We also know from intervention studies that you can get people to shift their tendency. The key part of this intervention is the morning routine.”
A regular routine can result in a biological shift in one’s circadian cycle — one that can push these rhythms naturally towards an earlier rise time.
Reid suggests something he calls a R.I.S.E U.P. routine. This acronym stands for refrain from snoozing, increase activity, shower and wash with cold water, expose yourself to sunlight, upbeat music and phone a friend. A routine which incorporates all of these elements can help one feel more energized in the morning time.
In addition to having an effective morning routine, good sleep hygiene is vital.
“If you have a great morning routine, and then the rest of the day is a mess, you’re not going to be able to shift your biological rhythm or your ability to get up very well,” says Reid.
Avoiding things like naps and caffeine in the late afternoon are imperative to one’s ability to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. As long as one goes to bed and wakes up at the same time within a 15-minute window, your body should adjust just fine and become in sync with the new routine.
Becoming a morning person doesn't happen overnight. It’s a process which takes persistent effort and figuring out what works for you as an individual.
If you were ever considering adjusting your sleep cycle, here’s your sign. Perhaps becoming a morning person no longer seems so daunting.