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'Extreme owls': Why 1 in 5 people struggle to wake up early

·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·5-min read

If the task for day 23 of the Yahoo News What's Up? mental health challenge — 'Get up to watch the sunrise' — seems utterly overwhelming, there's no need to despair.

High Angle View Of Woman Sleeping On Bed
Are you an early bird or an 'extreme owl'? Photo: Getty Images.

Good mornings

The key is to start small and build from there. Dr. Carmel Harrington, Managing Director of Sleep for Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Children's Hospital Westmead, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that waking up just 30 minutes earlier than usual is a great place to start.

"It doesn't have be super early, just early enough to give you that little extra time in the morning to set a happy tone for the day," she says.

Instead of seeing it as 30 minutes less spent under the covers, try thinking about it as gifting yourself some time every day to do something that makes you happy. Maybe that's cooking a yummy breakfast, going for a walk and calling a friend or journaling intentions for the day.

Whatever it is you choose to do, giving yourself more incentive to wake up early in the morning will help you achieve your goals.

Go easy on yourself, as your sleeping habits won't change overnight, if you excuse the pun. Plus, as Dr. Harrington explains, your tendency to hit the snooze button might be in your genes.

"Don't worry if you struggle to wake up early – about one in five of us are extreme owls, so this will be hard for you.

"This is due to your chronotype — your genetic disposition to the time of day you prefer to sleep or when you are most alert or energetic — and it means that your active time in the 24-hour period is later in the day and into the night."

The takeaway? "If you don't have to, don't force yourself to be an early bird!" Dr. Harrington says.

Lockdown sleep

Going in (and out of) lockdowns, spending more time than ever indoors and having our routines thrown off-kilter can make it increasingly difficult to avoid the snooze button in the morning.

"Without routine our sleep can become increasingly problematic, making it difficult to initiate sleep and to stay asleep," Dr. Harrington says.

So, it's important to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. In fact, the most important thing is to maintain a regular get-up time as this is when we set our body clock and determines what time we will be able to go to sleep that night.

Having something to look forward to every morning will help give you the willpower to get out of bed, especially when it's cold — and when your home doubles up as your office.

Yahoo Australia's 30-day mental health challenge. Source: Yahoo Australia.
Yahoo Australia's 30-day mental health challenge. Source: Yahoo Australia.

Changing our bedtime routine (even by just half an hour) can be difficult. Here are four simple tips from the experts at Aussie mattress and sleep tech company A.H. Beard on how to wake up earlier in the morning, easily and naturally, even when working remotely:

1. Go to bed earlier

When you start getting up 30 minutes earlier you will notice that over the next few days that you will be wanting to go to sleep about 30 minutes earlier. When you start noticing this it is important to listen to your body and take the initiative and go to sleep.

The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and a lack of quality sleep will leave you tired and at risk of damaging both your physical and mental health.

To get to bed early, try and keep your bedtime regular, even on weekends. This will encourage your circadian rhythm, or inner body clock, to fall asleep and awaken naturally.

Avoid screen time in the hour before bedtime, as the blue light emitted from tech suppresses the production of melatonin, the brain’s sleep hormone, making it hard for us to go to sleep. Try swapping for a book or some yoga stretches before bed.

Asian young woman lying on the white bed and playing smartphones during night time. She is chatting with her friend. Using phone in low light is impact to eyes. Health and social Concept
Ditch the smartphone before bed for a better night's sleep. Photo: Getty Images.

2. Resist the snooze button

Did you know that hitting the snooze button actually makes us more tired and has negative consequences for our health?

This is because snoozing for 10 or 15 minutes results in fragmented light sleep and prevents us from continuing our normal cycle of sleep. Far better to have the alarm sound at the time you actually need to get up, because that way you maximise your opportunity for good sleep.

3. Create the ideal environment for sleep

Your bedroom should be your sleep sanctuary, reserved only for sleeping and intimacy. The ideal sleep environment is cool, dark and quiet.

Try these simple steps to create the ideal sleep environment: 

  • Invest in block-out curtains or an eye mask to keep out unwanted light

  • Listen to white noise or wear earplugs to prevent any unfamiliar noises from disturbing your sleep

  • Our body likes to sleep in a cool environment so try to keep your room temperature around 18-22 degrees Celsius 

  • Invest in a comfortable, supportive mattress and high-quality bed linen and pillows

  • While the world of lockdown has forced some of us to work from home, where possible, avoid turning your bedroom into an office. This can make sleep more difficult as your brain will start to associate the bedroom with work. 

Mark Tuckey Organic Cotton Chambray Oatmeal Sheet Set, $199.99 (queen) from Adairs. Photo: Adairs.
Mark Tuckey Organic Cotton Chambray Oatmeal Sheet Set, $199.99 (queen) from Adairs. Photo: Adairs.

4. Let the sunshine in to help wake you up

We recommend getting out of bed as soon as possible after waking and getting a dose of bright light – sunlight is best, but if it is a grey wintry morning then bright indoor lighting works well.

When we expose our brain to natural light first thing in the morning, the sunlight helps us to wake up and become alert. So, as soon as your alarm goes off, open the curtains and let the light in.

A.H. Beard’s Nox Smart Sleep Light uses intelligent technology to help you get your sleep schedule on track by emitting a soft yellow light in the morning that simulating a natural sunrise, to help you wake up. The Nox also emits red light at night, encouraging the production of melatonin, contrary to the blue light emitted from smartphones.

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