Can You Become “A Morning Person”?

Someone asked me to write a post about becoming a morning person. Based, I suppose, on my expertise of frequently getting up in the morning.

I was skeptical – can one actually become a morning person? What does that even mean?

I suppose it’s no surprise that there are already countless articles on the subject – apparently, it only takes five minutes to become a morning person. Or, if you prefer, here are 19 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Becoming a Morning Person. (My favorite tip: “nap cautiously”). If you’re looking for a somewhat more legitimate news source, here’s a Times Magazine op-ed wistfully entitled, “How I became a morning person.”

I am still skeptical.

All these self-help articles are written in the blasé tone commonly found in fat-shaming weight loss articles. If you want to lose weight, eat less. If you want to be a morning person…just get up in the morning.

This advice does not seem that helpful.

For one thing, sleep habits are – at least in part – biologically determined. In one 2013 study, researchers used the standard Munich Chronotype Questionnaire to sort participants into “morning” and “night” type people.  They then studied melatonin and saliva samples of the participants, finding the the difference in circadian rhythms could be “detected at the molecular clockwork level.”

I am certainly reaching far beyond my areas of expertise, but it seems as though there is sufficient evidence for the conclusion that it is unproductive to simply tell a night owl to try harder to get up in the morning.

To be compound the matter, there is some evidence to suggest that “misalignment of circadian and social time may be a risk factor for developing depression” – eg, that “night owls,” whose preferred timing is disconnected from what is generally socially acceptable – are at higher risk of depression.

To be clear, chronotype is not a binary state. On the whole, a population may skew towards early or late, but diurnal preferences are a distribution for which most people fall in the middle. So those individuals glibly writing guides for how they became morning people were most likely not particularly night people to begin with.

If you really want to be a morning person, it seems reasonable to give it a try…but if it really doesn’t work for you, it may be best try finding a lifestyle that better supports your given sleep preferences.

So, I guess I don’t have very good advice.


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