I’ve never been a morning person, no matter how hard I tried or however many early rising habits I tried to adopt.
Yes, I can get out of bed while the sun is still below its apex, but no, I’m not at my most alert or productive. My full-firing mind often doesn’t kick in until the evening, no matter how early I get up. This has been a major source of frustration for many years. The idea of rising with the sun and enjoying the best of the early morning has always sounded so idyllic.
Friends frequently invite me to go with them for an early morning walk or swim. I’ve even been known to accept their offers occasionally, but experience has shown that it impacts negatively on the rest of my day.
After an early morning dip in the lap pool I feel lethargic, rather than energised and ready for the day ahead, and tempted to crawl back into bed. Ask me, however, to join you for a swim in the evening, when most other folk are just beginning to wind down from their day, and it’s a whole different story.
I knew this wasn’t just down to a lack of willpower, or even slovenliness. Trying to become an early riser is as hard for me as it is to ask my multipotentialite self to choose to specialise in just one thing.
I decided it was time to find out if there was a scientific explanation behind my love-hate relationship with mornings, and was surprised and vindicated by what I found.
Are you a lark or an owl?
Scientific research has shown that on average each of us has a cycle lasting 24 hours and 11 minutes. The thing I find the most intriguing though, is that whilst almost everyone has a cycle length of around 24 hours (like the rotation of the earth), not all of our circadian rhythms follow the same pattern of when we’re active and when we’re restful.
At the two extremes are the early risers (who get up with the larks) and the late night folk (who stay up with the owls), with most people having a preference towards one or other end of the scale to a greater or lesser extent.
If you love to get up early and are at your most alert in the first part of the day, then it’s likely you’re a lark. You may well think of yourself as being a morning person and enjoy scheduling the bulk of your productive tasks early in the day.
Owls on the other hand are evening (or night) people. If you’re an owl, you probably like to rise later and are at your best in the late afternoon or evening.
There’s a even a scientific term for these time preferences – they’re called chronotypes. Your chronotype is not about whether you CAN get up early or stay up late, it’s more about which you naturally PREFER to do.
The morning/eveningness questionnaire
What time of day would you choose to be creative (or productive) if you had no other commitments and were left completely to your own devices?
The self-assessment Morningness/Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ) was developed by Drs Horne and Ostberg. It’s been regularly used by a wide range of professionals: from clinicians conducting research into sleep patterns, through to the military determining optimum shift-work patterns.
It’s just 19 multiple choice questions long and can help you to see where you fall on the lark/owl scale. If you’d like to take the test, you can download it here.
Got your result? Was it what you expected?
It can be a bit of a surprise for some people. Many owls, for example, have gotten into the routine of getting up early through necessities like work or looking after young children. It’s an example of how circumstances and need can overshadow your natural pattern.
There are some really practical take-aways you can gain from this test too:
1) No more time-based guilt
If you happen to be an owl, you’ve probably become tired of being labelled as lazy or slovenly for sleeping late. Similarly if you’re a lark, you may well be bored of being told you have no stamina as you headed home early from a night out. If that sounds like you, it’s time to abandon the guilt.
We now know it’s all down to our circadian rhythms running on different timetables, with varying peaks of alertness during the day. We’re not lazy, nor without stamina, we’re just running to our own cycles.
2) Make your schedule more you-friendly
I’ve found having this information provides a really good reference point when you’re looking at scheduling time to do your creative work.
If you’re definitely a morning person, there may not be much point trying to free up time in the evenings after work if it’s not going to be ‘quality’ time for you.
The exact opposite of course goes for the owls. Although the idea of getting up an hour earlier seems a practical way to fit more into your day, it’ll be pretty fruitless if it’s going to take you that long just to feel like you’re awake.
More coffee anyone?
Have you struggled with trying to adapt to early or late activities or work patterns? What changes have you made to embrace your optimum creative time period?