Have you ever wondered how you can become a morning person? Do you glare enviously at people who seem to check 10 things off their to-do list before you’re even out of bed? Have you got an assortment of “but first, coffee” themed mugs? Do you seriously struggle with fitting in regular workouts, and know that it would be so much easier if you could just squeeze training into your am routine?
If so, keep reading!
Becoming a morning person might actually have some health benefits. Some sources suggest people who wake up early have better energy levels throughout the day, and enjoy a more positive outlook on life. “Morning people” may also experience lower stress levels and find it easier to be more organized.
Waking up early to fit in a workout can also dramatically improve your exercise consistency vs trying to squeeze fitness into your evening routine. For people who like to compete in live race events, they almost always start in the wee hours of the morning. Many competitors have to shift their training schedules leading up to an event to prepare for the time shift. Perhaps getting into the early-morning groove ahead of time would make the whole thing a little easier?
So, if you want to become a morning person and actually ENJOY waking up to train, follow these steps!
Step 1 to becoming a morning person: Commit.
You might be thinking “ok, I’m going to wake up early on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays to work out. Then, I’ll sleep in on Tuesdays, Thursdays and all weekend!”
While it sounds good in theory, it’s not your best bet.
If you want to become a morning person, consistency in your sleep routine is what you really need. This means having a consistent sleep and wake up time throughout the week so your body can adjust and adopt a regular pattern. Your circadian rhythm (the body’s natural sleep and wake cycle) needs consistency in order to function optimally. As your body adjusts you’ll find yourself going to sleep and waking up more easily, compared to if you changed these times each day.
Some of you may be thinking “but Steph, if I have to wake up early EVERY morning, I’m gonna be tired!”
Which brings me to the second step in becoming a morning person: Sleep hygiene!
Step 2 to becoming a morning person: Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene by definition is “habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis”.
These practices might include:
1. Setting a regular bedtime each night
This can be tough, but is key for success. Choose a time you want to be in bed by each night, and stick to it! A regular routine helps your circadian rhythm function optimally, which means you’ll find it easier to wake up in the morning. If waking up is less of a pain in the ass, you might actually start the enjoy it!
Getting enough good quality sleep is also critical if you want to become a morning exerciser. Lack of sleep for athletes means poor performance and increased risk of injuries. You’ll also find your exercise recovery suffers and you might be sore for days after your workouts. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal athletic performance!
2. Unplugging before bed
If you have difficulty falling asleep at night, consider unplugging from all electronic devices 1-2 hours before bed. This means no work, phone, TV, laptop, video games, TikTok, or anything else that might be keeping you stimulated late into the evening.
So, um what do you do with all that free time in the evening? Well, some people enjoy:
- Yoga/Stretching (no strenuous or intense workouts though!)
- Reading a book (set any electronic devices to night mode)
- Meditation/deep breathing exercises
- Taking a bubble bath
These are all things that can help you relax, calm down, and unwind before hitting the hay. The purpose is to slow down and help prepare your body and mind for sleeping!
Caffeine late in the day, or intense evening workouts can also keep you awake far later than is preferred. Limit caffeine to the morning only, and try to switch your workout schedule to the am if you can. Some people are more sensitive to these factors that others, so figure out what works best for you!
You’ll also want to set up your room for optimal sleep! This means keeping your bedroom relatively cool, and getting rid of unnecessary sources of light. Even a very bright clock can interfere with sleep quality, so place it somewhere you can’t see it. And no, you don’t need to see the time if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night. That’ll only stress you out and keep you awake longer than you need to be.
If you’ve ever woken up at 2am, only to spend the next 3 hours staring at the clock worrying about how tired you’re going to be the next day you know what I’m talking about.
3. Make 7-9 hours of sleep per night a priority
I cannot tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who struggle with poor energy levels. They feel sluggish, exhausted, and like napping all the time. They drink a pot of coffee per day just to function. They’re hoping I have a solution.
Maybe it’s that they’re eating too many carbs.
Perhaps they’re lacking some essential nutrient.
Or, it’s a simple dairy intolerance?
When I ask about how much sleep they get, the answer is often the same: 4,5, or maybe 6 hours per night on average. Yikes!
Unfortunately in our society, we prize being busy. Sleep is for the weak, and it’s a bit of a bragging point for some folks to share how little sleep they routinely function on. You should ignore those people, and go to bed. Trust me, you will feel SO much better when you get enough rest!
Better sleep hygiene pays dividends
The benefits of better sleep hygiene also extend far beyond being able to wake up earlier without needing an entire pot of coffee. Our circadian rhythm influences a variety of body functions including the release of hormones like cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin.
Cortisol is our body’s primary stress hormone. It’s responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response. While we need cortisol when we’re put in dangerous situations, chronically elevated cortisol levels can start to cause health problems. Chronically elevated cortisol can be caused by several factors, one of which is lack of sleep. High cortisol is associated with
- sugar and carbohydrate cravings
- increase in total calorie intake throughout the day
- increased storage of viceral fat (fat inside the abdomen)
- immune system suppression (meaning you might get sick more easily)
Leptin is our body’s primary ‘fullness’ hormone. It is excreted after a meal and is what tells our brain we’re full and to stop eating. People who are sleep-deprived have lower levels of leptin. This means their appetite is increased, and the ‘shut off’ signal to stop eating after a meal isn’t as strong compared to people who are well-rested.
Ghrelin on the other hand, is our body’s primary ‘hunger’ hormone. It increases our appetite and drives us to eat more. When we’re lacking sleep, ghrelin levels increase which contribute to an increase in calorie intake.
Sleep is also key for allowing our bodies to recover from exercise. In fact, the most important thing athletes can do to improve their recovery and reduce their risk of injuries is get enough sleep each night!
Step 3 to becoming a morning person: Set realistic goals
If you currently dread the idea of waking up before noon, take things slow. This might mean going to sleep and waking up just 15 minutes earlier than usual. Give yourself a few weeks to get into this new routine. Before you know it, you’ll have a full extra hour in the morning to get that workout in!
I know some of you have jobs that require you to work various shifts. This is also a place where setting realistic goals is key. Getting enough, high quality sleep is far more important than simply exercising in the mornings.
For example, if you finish work late in the evening, don’t try to set your alarm for 5am the next day to exercise. Find another time of day to train that still allows you to get a full night of sleep. Trying to train without enough rest and recovery is really an exercise in futility. You’ll make less progress and have a higher risk of injury. Prioritizing getting enough sleep is critical!
Do you really need to exercise in the mornings?
Absolutely not! Interestingly, if we look just at optimal exercise times based on a typical Circadian Rhythm, for many people the best time to exercise is between 5 and 7pm. This is when muscle contraction strength, coordination, and reaction times are highest.
That being said, 5-7pm is a pretty busy time of day for a lot of folks. Your overall workout consistency might suffer when you’re busy with other obligations. Kid’s activities, getting dinner on the table, etc might take priority over your workouts more often than you’d like. Committing to early morning workouts can increase your exercise consistency, which over time will give you more results that 1 or 2 evening workouts per week. Even if your physical performance isn’t at it’s peak during those early morning hours.
The bottom line
Becoming a morning person can benefit your overall health and fitness by improving your workout consistency, along with other potential psychological benefits. But, it’s important to prioritize sleep hygiene and adequate rest so you can actually reap the benefits of early morning workouts.
Simply cutting back on your sleep time to squeeze in a morning workout just won’t pay off. You’ll likely struggle with exercise quality, recovery, and might find yourself getting more injuries. Additionally, the hormone changes associated with lack of sleep with make healthy eating much more challenging.
Set realistic goals for your exercise routine that allows you to get 7-9 hours of sleep consistently per night. This will improve your energy levels, get you better training results, and help you perform your best!
About the Author: Hi! I’m Stephanie Hnatiuk, a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba who specializes in helping athletes reach their peak potential with nutrition! Whether you’re getting ready for your first 10k or are a lifelong athlete, I would love to help YOU perform your best with a personalized nutrition strategy.