How to use Daylight’s Savings Day to become happier, healthier and more productive

If there was ever a time to try and become a morning person, mark your calendars for November 6, 2016!  While most of us typically celebrate the Fall version of Daylight Savings as the day we get to “fall back” asleep for an extra glorious hour of slumber, with a bit of strategy, we can actually capitalize on this once-in-a-year-opportunity to “spring ahead” and proactively gain an extra hour in our daily routine.

The circumstances are perfect:  As we turn the clocks back an hour earlier, the sun sets earlier in the evening (making it easier to go to bed at a decent hour), and rises earlier in the day (making it easier to rise and shine!).  Double Bonus: this advantageous time shift in sunrise and sunset happens while simultaneously blessing you with an extra hour for the taking.  The stars are literally aligning in your favor!  

But even with the perfect set up circumstances, a shift in your daily routine still requires some thought and effort.  As a former “morning-phobe” and a specialist in habit formation and behavior change, I’m here to share a few simple life hacks that have proven to successfully transform night owls into morning larks - myself included!

How to Become the Morning Person You Always Envied

Pro Tip: Start implementing these strategies the week leading up to DLS.  After all, preparation is the key to success, and change doesn’t happen overnight!

Step 1: What is your “worm”?.  

Why do you want to be a morning person?  Whether it’s going for a morning run, hitting the yoga mat, starting that side business you always talk about, cooking up a healthy and wholesome breakfast, or simply having some time to yourself before the daily chaos takes over - everyone has a reason why they want to become a morning person.  Whatever it is, write it down, say it out loud, visualize it, attach passion to it, align it with your personal values, make it meaningful, and focus on the positivity that it will bring to your life.  This exercise may sound over the top, but having a crystal clear picture of what your “worm” is and why it’s so important to you will come in handy when your alarm goes off and you begin to wonder why you should get out of bed.

Step 2:  Identify roadblocks

When it comes to behavior change, we must reflect on why we’ve been unsuccessful in the past so that we can anticipate these roadblocks and strategize ways to prevail in the future.  Make a list of current reasons preventing you from getting up in the morning. The most common reason?  Feeling tired.  But dig a little bit deeper...Why do you feel tired?  When it comes down to it, we feel tired today because of the decisions we made yesterday.  With that in mind, becoming a morning person starts with making the right decisions the day before.  

Here are 5 daytime decisions that impact your sleep schedule, the quality of your sleep, and ultimately, how tired or well-rested you feel when that alarm goes off

  • Exercise - Studies on studies on studies have solidified the evidence supporting that regular physical activity promotes sleep quality.  This exercise-sleep connection is a perfect example of how healthy habits often share a bidirectional, reciprocal relationship: Exercise promotes better sleep, and the better you sleep, the more likely you’ll wake up and exercise.  Pro Tip:  Move your body. Do something you enjoy!  Include friends. Start small.  Any step forward is better than standing still.
  • Natural Light - Exposure to natural light actually helps calibrate your internal clock to sync up with sunrise and sunset.  Pro tip: Aim to get 15-30 minutes of sunlight, ideally first thing in the morning, as this kicks off your circadian rhythm to get into the groove of being alert at dawn, while winding down at dusk.
  • Caffeine - A morning caffeine fix is 100% fair game, but the afternoon pick-me-up is where we run into trouble.  Pro tip: Take a pledge to be caffeine-free at least 8 hours preceding bedtime.  Whether you believe it or not, it’s impacting your sleep.  
  • Screen time - Studies show that a whopping 95% of the population uses some type of electronic device within 1 hour before bed.  This pre-bed screen time is detrimental to your sleep in threefold: 1. It keeps you up past your bedtime, 2. It acts as a stimulant and increases alertness, making it more difficult to fall asleep, and 3. The light emitted disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm by suppressing the production of melatonin - the hormone that tells the body to go to sleep.  Pro tip: Download the app called f.lux which makes the display of your computer screen adapt to the time of day (brighter during the day, warmer/duller at night).  Iphone users can also enable Apple's “night shift” feature for a similar effect.  And most importantly schedule some digital downtime: go “screen-free” at least 1 hour before bed.
  • Bedtime -  If you’re going to bed at 1 am every night, it’s no wonder you reach for the snooze button as soon as the first beep sounds!  Becoming a morning person requires hitting the hay earlier.  Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night, though a few of us are “extra special” and require up to 10 hours of beauty sleep to truly thrive.  Pro tip: Consider shifting your bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night until you reach a time that sets you up for success in the morning.

Step 3: Create a nighttime ritual

Remember when you were a kid and you had a very structured night time regime?  At a certain time, you would get in your PJ’s, brush your teeth, read a story, and do the whole drill?  There’s a reason parents create so much structure and consistency around bedtime - it’s because it truly works!  Yet, most adults today have no routine at all.  It’s time to bring back the night time routine.  Here are a few tips and tricks:

  • Set a “Go to Bed” Alarm.  Start by identifying what time you have to wake up in the morning.  Then count 9 hours back.  This builds in a 1 hour cushion to “unwind”, plus 8 full hours to sleep.  Pro tip: When the “Go to Bed” alarm goes off, it’s also your cue for digital downtime.

  • Prep for the Morning:  Do as much ahead of time as possible, so that very little action or decision-making needs to take place in the morning.  If working out is your “worm”, lay out your workout clothes and pack a gym bag the night before.  Eliminate as many morning time barriers as possible.  Remove all excuses from the equation.  Make the “right” choice, more convenient than the wrong choice.  

  • Set Some Bait:  Plant something special to lure you out of bed in the morning!  What will you look forward to?  Perhaps you set the coffee on a timer so that you can literally “wake up and smell the coffee.”  Prepare a bowl of overnight oats so that it’s waiting for your in the fridge.  Hang a cozy robe just out of arm’s reach to pull you out of bed.

  • Keep Calm:  Do something relaxing.  Take a bath or shower, light some candles, change into some cozy PJ’s, dim the lights, sip on chamomile tea, mist lavender essential oil over your pillowcase, read a book, write in a journal, listen to a podcast or audiobook, practice yoga, meditate, or stretch.  Find what works for you and spoil yourself rotten.  Soon enough, your nighttime routine will start to feel like the most luxurious time of the day!

  • Try a Sleep App:  The Sleep cycle alarm clock tracks your sleep patterns so that the alarm goes off while you are in a light sleep.  (I use this app everyday, it makes a huge difference -- no more deep sleep wake up calls that leave me feeling groggy and grumpy!)

  • Wake up on a "Positive Note":  Set your alarm “name” to display a positive affirmation or personal mantra.  Make it simple, positive, and meaningful: “Today is the day”, “Do Work”, “Positive Vibes”, “Attitude is Everything”, “Hard Work Pays off”, “Act the way you want to feel”, “Happiness is a Choice”, “Get those endorphins” “Just do it” (thanks Nike), or my personal favorite: “In 10 minutes I’ll be happy I decided to get out of bed”.

Step 4: Get in the Right Mindset

Before you doze off, be sure to tune into your headspace.  Habits are difficult to change, and sometimes our brains can interfere with our best intentions.  In order to prevent your thoughts from sabotaging your morning routine, take a moment to mentally prepare yourself for the morning.  

  • Remember your worm: As you’re laying in bed, visualize your “worm” and reconnect with why you are doing this in the first place.  

  • Lower the bar:  Whatever you plan to do in the morning, take it easy and start small.  The more simple your goal, the more likely you will actually take action.  For example, if you want to start running in the morning, start by saying you are just going to run for 5 minutes.  If working on your book is your “worm”, start by saying you are just going to write 1 paragraph.  Whatever your goal is, downsize it so that it becomes so stupidly simple that you’d feel ashamed and silly to not follow through.  

  • Decide & Commit:  It’s much easier to make the right decision when in a clear, objective, and rational state of mind.  It’s the times when we are tired, sad, weak, hungry, or vulnerable that our rational decision making falls victim to short-sighted shortcuts that bring a quick hit of instant gratification followed by a wave of guilt and shame.  To combat this, a great strategy is to decide not to decide in the heat of the moment.  No good decision is made during those times.  Instead, make the decision before you encounter the heat of the moment.  Don’t wait to “see how you feel” in the morning.  Decide to get up the night before.  This way, when the alarm goes off and you’re still in a morning fog, your decision making isn’t compromised by emotions, fatigue, and vulnerability.  If you make the decision at night, come morning, there is no decision to make.  You made it last night, and the decision was to get up.

  • Anticipate loopholes:  We are masters at finding loopholes and free passes.  “Oh I didn’t sleep well last night”, “It’s too dark outside”, “I’ll start tomorrow”, “I’ll just sleep for 10 more minutes”, “today doesn’t count”.  Take a minute to play through all of these loopholes in your head the night before, so that these lame and distracting fabrications don’t sabotage your morning goals.

Step 5: Create a morning ritual

With all of the planning and preparation executed the day before, your morning ritual should happen automatically.  You just have to get up, and the rest is on autopilot.  Here’s how it will play out...

The alarm goes off...and you wake up to a positive affirmation that reminds you of your “worm”, which immediately prompts you to reflect on why your goal is so important to you, and how great you’ll feel once you get after it.  You won’t dare hit snooze because you already made the decision to get up last night, and you’ve already anticipated all of those bogus loop holes.  Plus, you know that any sleep you get in between snoozes is just going to leave you feeling groggy and regretful. Remember that “bait” you planted last night? It’s all yours!  You launch out of bed and play some upbeat music to get your blood pumping with positive energy, and suddenly, you’re up!  Now it’s time to get after it. Good thing you’ve already prepared everything last night, and the task you set for yourself is so small, of course, you can do it!  You chase your worm, and while doing so, you feel great!  So great in fact, that you surpass that low bar you set!  You crush it, you feel amazing, and it’s only 7:00 am.  Congratulations.  You are officially a morning badass.

Step 6: Reap the Benefits

It’s amazing what happens when you start your day by putting yourself first and doing something that is important to you before any life distractions had a chance to interfere.  Your entire outlook of the day is transformed from “meh” to awesome.  You feel empowered, accomplished, and hungry for more.  This “goal getter” mentality born from a bright start to the day is exactly why studies have found morning people to be happier, healthier, more productive, more energized, and more successful.  I hope this jazzed you to rethink how you spend your morning on November 6th and every morning thereafter.

Remember, each morning you have two choices to make: Continue to sleep with your dreams, or wake up and chase them.