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Life Kit: How to become a morning person

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Waking up can be hard, but waking up early is near impossible for some of us. Sleep doctors tell us that some of our natural wake-up preferences are hardwired into us, but there are ways to make waking up early more tolerable. With NPR's Life Kit, Alaska Public Media's morning news host Kavitha George spoke to experts to get some tips for aspiring early risers.

KAVITHA GEORGE, BYLINE: There are a lot of reasons why all of us have to get up early. Maybe it's for work, maybe to get your kids ready for school or take care of a family member. But if you're not naturally a morning person, how much room do you have to change your wake-up schedule?

KATIE SHARKEY: I think that we have a fair amount of wiggle room, and it's - but it's behavioral.

GEORGE: Dr. Katie Sharkey is an associate professor of medicine and psychiatry and human behavior at the Brown University Alpert Medical School. And here's our first takeaway. Your biological clock is baked in to an extent, but certain habits can help make waking up earlier less of a chore. Sharkey says the most potent way to get your body feeling awake earlier is to expose yourself to light.

SHARKEY: Trying to make sure that there's some bright light exposure, either from outdoor light or from a light box - if that's not available, telling your brain, yes, it's really daytime.

GEORGE: Exercise or just getting your body moving in the morning is another way to tell your body clock it's time to be awake. And lastly, Sharkey says, it's really important to keep a relatively consistent schedule with your sleep times. That means if you're waking up early for work during the week, try to wake up, at most, a couple hours later on the weekends.

SHARKEY: You just don't want to have the shift that you're making between days off and days on so wide that it's basically like you're flying over six time zones every weekend because we know that that's probably not good for the body clock.

GEORGE: The next takeaway - naps and melatonin supplements can be useful to help game your internal clock to make waking up less of a chore, but be cautious with how you use them. Naps are a great way to squeeze in some extra shuteye, but try to keep them under an hour.

AFIFA SHAMIM-UZZAMAN: What you've got to be careful of with napping is if we nap too late, too close to bedtime, then it'll make it hard for us to go to sleep.

GEORGE: Dr. Afifa Shamim-Uzzaman is an associate professor at the University of Michigan and the director of the Ann Arbor VA Sleep Disorders Center. She also says melatonin in small doses can help make it easier to fall asleep early so you're well-rested for an early wake-up call.

SHAMIM-UZZAMAN: Usually, we produce melatonin naturally when it gets dark, but then also it starts to, you know, increase to the levels we want it to before sleep, about two to three hours before we actually fall asleep. So, you know, you want to take the melatonin two to three hours before the desired bedtime.

GEORGE: Finally, remember that training yourself to wake up early is a process. And that's our last takeaway. Be patient with yourself. Some mornings might be rough at the outset, but Sharkey says if you're doing a decent job keeping your habits in check, most of the time you'll be able to handle an occasional bad night of sleep here and there.

SHARKEY: It would be a terrible system if, like, every night had to be perfect for us to function - right? - because every night isn't perfect to function, and we still function. So it's unrealistic for us to think that our sleep has to be perfect for it to be optimal.

GEORGE: A couple more pro tips - create an incentive to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe that's a mindfulness exercise to remind yourself who or what you're waking up early for. Think about waking up early like a skill you're practicing, and start incrementally. Try to go to bed 20 minutes earlier tonight or hold off from hitting snooze tomorrow morning. You'll get the hang of it soon enough. For NPR News, I'm Kavitha George.

MARTIN: For more sleep tips, go to npr.org/lifekit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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