Just because you’re currently operating as a night owl doesn’t mean you are destined to burn the midnight oil. It’s possible you stay up past your optimal bedtime because of distractions. Many people who might naturally fall asleep around 10 p.m., for example, end up staying up until midnight to work, surf the web or binge on Netflix. That makes it harder to wake up in the morning. But you can become more of a morning person by focusing on your morning routine.
First, decide what time you’d like to wake up. Then, get out of bed at exactly that time each day — regardless of how tired you are — and get some sunlight. Sunlight tells your brain that it’s time to be awake. Studies have found that morning light can advance your circadian rhythm, which will help your body adjust to an earlier schedule. As your body gets used to starting the day earlier, you’ll naturally begin to fall asleep earlier in the evenings as well. Ideally, you should step outside in the morning and engage in exercise or some other activity that makes you alert. “A brisk walk outside in the morning is a pretty good way to start telling your internal clock that it’s time to do this,” Dr. Rosen said.
If it’s dark out when you’re aiming to wake up or you can’t quite make it outside, then consider trying bright light therapy, which involves turning on a special lamp for about 30 minutes each morning as you go about getting ready for the day. In this scenario a regular table lamp or overhead light will not do the trick. You want to use a light therapy lamp because they’re designed to mimic outdoor light. A typical light therapy lamp will cost you between $70 and $160.
While sunlight exposure first thing in the morning is critical, you should try to get plenty of sunlight during the day as well, as this will also help to shift your clock in the right direction. Then, in the evening, try to minimize your exposure to artificial light. It’s fine to use dim lights, lamps and reading lights, but you should try to avoid exposure to devices that emit blue light — computers, fluorescent lights, television screens, smartphones — within two to three hours of the time you’d like to fall asleep. Studies have shown that blue light exposure at night can disrupt your sleep and suppress melatonin, the hormone that helps to regulate sleep. Researchers have found that blue light can throw off your circadian clock, making it harder for you to become a morning person.
Another thing that can help is taking a very low dose of melatonin, which you can find at most pharmacies, said Dr. Sabra Abbott, an assistant professor of neurology in sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago. Dr. Abbott recommends taking no more than a half milligram about one hour before bed. It’s important to keep the dose low so that it clears your system quickly. “We’re trying to provide a little signal that it’s the beginning of nighttime,” Dr. Abbott said. “But we want it out of your system by the end of the night because melatonin at the end of the night can push your clock later and will make the problem worse.”