HOW TO BE A MORNING PERSON
Want the benefits of a morning workout, but struggle to get out of bed? You can train yourself to rise and shine. By Kimberly Gillan
Your alarm screeches and it’s still pitch black. Do you switch it off and drift back to sleep or bounce out of bed and pull on your workout gear?
The fittest people will get moving, says Emily Brabon, director of Original Boot Camp Australia. “We find the people who come to our 5.45am and 6am classes are a lot fitter than those in our later sessions,” she says. “They are driven enough to get themselves out of bed and to training because they want to look and feel a certain way.
“We lead such busy lifestyles now that if you don’t fit exercise into your schedule, it’s probably not going to happen later in the day when other things come up.”
Morning exercise has more benefits than simply getting it out of the way – it actually kick-starts your metabolism.
“When you do a vigorous session in the morning, your metabolism is raised post-exercise for up to 12 hours, which is going to make you more efficient at utilising stored fat,” says exercise physiologist Dr Jarrod Meerkin.
“At night your metabolism drops, so you are not going to gain the same benefits you would expect to achieve exercising at night as you would in the morning.”
That logic is hard to argue with, but if you’re not a morning person, how do you convince your bleary-eyed self that you really ought to get up and move?
If you struggle to get up, you’re probably suffering sleep inertia. “It’s like you have this hangover of sleep that can take you a while to get going,” says Victoria University sleep psychologist Associate Professor Gerard Kennedy. “It can last for anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour.”
Lack of sleep is the number one culprit for sleep inertia, but if you’re naturally wired to function better at night, you might find an earlier bedtime hard to lock in. “There is actually a genetic predisposition and an innate tendency to be either a night person or a morning person,” says Dr Sarah Blunden, sleep research fellow at the University of South Australia.
The best way to reset our body clocks is via sunlight in the morning. When our retinas absorb light, our central nervous system receives the message that it’s time to get up.
“Exposing yourself to bright light actually suppresses your melatonin, which is your night hormone,” Dr Blunden says. “If you suppress it bit by bit each morning, it will kick in earlier at night so you can move your bedtime back.”
Associate Professor Kennedy says some people who struggle in the mornings take melatonin in tablet form. “You take it two hours before
your desired bedtime to try to pull your body clock back in the direction of the dose of melatonin,” he says.
Changing your meal and social routines can also alter your body clock. “If you time your meals and have breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12 and dinner at 6.30 or 7pm, this acts as another signal to anchor your biological rhythms,” Associate Professor Kennedy says.
Rise and shine
If you’re determined to be a morning person, you have to kiss the snooze button goodbye. “It’s better to set your alarm for the time you really want to get out of bed,” Associate Professor Kennedy says. “You need to mentally tell yourself before you go to bed, ‘I have to get up at this time’, rather than thinking, ‘When the alarm goes off I might get up, or I might turn it down’.”
It could also be worth turning up your alarm. “I usually put my alarm on loud if I have an important early start,” he says.
Brabon, who gets up at 4am to set up for boot camp, says early risers need to be organised. “I have all my gym clothes laid out and I make sure my lunch is ready,” she says.
And she promises it does get easier. “The first two weeks are always the hardest,” she admits. “But it’s worth it – you’re up and you’re motivated to do something for yourself that puts you ahead of everybody else who is lying in bed.”
+ Find out how body+soul’s online editor became an early-morning exercise person in her blog at bodyandsoul.com.au