How to transform from a late night owl into an early bird

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Photo by Alex Wigan on Unsplash

Did you find this article while yawning at work?

Are you telling yourself that you’ll go to bed early tonight, just like you did yesterday?

You might have heard that lack of sleep is a modern day issue, with it sometimes leading to health problems. You’ve also heard that waking up early has tons of benefits.

But you just can’t bring yourself to go to bed that early. Or worse, you try but just can’t fall asleep.

I was there before. I used to go to bed around 1 AM every day for the last decade or so. Now I wake up at 4:30 AM every day and enjoy it.

So how did I change my sleep schedule to be a morning person?

I could quote tons of articles about helpful tips that you’ve seen before.

There are countless articles online about chronotypes, circadian rhythms, and various tips on how to actually do it. But I did something much simpler.

I changed my mental model.

The power of a mental model

Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash

A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. More importantly, mental models are not based on facts: they’re based on beliefs.

To elaborate on this, let me give you an example.

Imagine that hackers have taken control of all your financial accounts, and that they blackmailed you into running in the sweltering hot sun, on a path surrounded by noisy people for 26.2 miles.

How does that feel?

Now imagine that you decided you wanted to do the marathon this year. You’ve trained with a running group, and then on that day, your extended family comes to cheer you on. You run 26.2 miles with your running group and family cheering you on.

That feels different, doesn’t it? But what really changed?

You’re still running 26.2 miles. On the same path, in the same weather. Sure, you might have others around you in the second example, but for the part you’re still running it alone.

But you’re perceiving it as something different. The first is about someone forcing you to do something. The second is about you being empowered to make a choice.

And that makes all the difference.

How do you perceive late night and early morning?

Penn Jillette, in his book Presto! How I made 100 pounds disappear, talks about how one of the most important things for his weight loss was to separate food from the emotional memory that it provided.

For example, if your mom always took you out for donuts after a stressful situation as a kid, then you’ll crave donuts when you’re stressed as an adult because your have a memory tied to that particular food.

And he’s not alone in that thinking: the science of comfort food, for example, draws connections between taste and memory and can reinforce nostalgia.

So how do you perceive late night and early morning?

If you’re like most people out of college, you’ll perceive late night as more positive.

Late night memories might be filled with positive experiences. Amazing parties, awesome nights out with friends, working together on hard assignments, or being so tired that everything begins to be super hilarious.

Early morning, on the other hand, might be filled with negative emotions. 8 AM classes, sleepless nights, the last few hours before an assignment is due, loneliness, or super serious conversations that have lasted the night.

Is it a surprise that an 8 AM workday brings dread rather than joy?

Why do you stay up late at night?

So how do you change your perception of the morning?

First and foremost, it begins with you. 4 AM is 4 AM, regardless of whether you’ve slept already or not.

And you should begin by asking yourself why you stay up late at night right now.

When I asked myself this question, the response I had for myself was quite surprising. Growing up, I had seen my parents go to bed around 9–10 PM, and I told myself that I’d never turn into an adult like that.

For me, staying up late meant being young, while going to bed early meant being an old man.

It sounds silly saying it like that, but when you look at pop culture, that idea is often reinforced. It’s young people in clubs partying, drinking, and having a great time at night. The only early morning ads I’ve seen are for coffee, and they’re definitely older.

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http://thebeanstalker.com/2011/300-vintage-coffee-ads-and-the-lessons-they-teach-us

Are you having drinks late into the night every night with friends?

Are you accidentally binging on a TV show/game/etc., not realizing what time it is until way too late?

Or are you just lying in bed awake, because you’re not tired?

Recognize that you have a reason for staying up late at night, and write it down.

Changing your perception of early morning

After writing down your reason for staying up, ask yourself if there isn’t a way to incorporate that into your morning.

If you have nothing but bad memories of early morning, then you won’t want to get up. But if you have something to look forward to, then it will be easier.

Traditionally, there are two reasons people talk about waking up earlier: work or meditation. If those work for you, great. But they don’t have to be the only reasons.

Are you staying up late to party? Look at early morning raves.

Are you staying up late to drink with friends? Early morning coffee with them might work just as well.

Binging on TV shows? How about watching the show while eating breakfast, and having a hard time limit?

And if you’re weird like me, early mornings don’t meant that you’re becoming an old man.

It just means that your free time is when the world sleeps.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning: https://tinyurl.com/y5m2j42v

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