I used to think that I was a morning person, and waking up early came very naturally to me. This illusion finally shattered when I moved from my homeland (Norway) to San Francisco in 2009: Suddenly I fell into the sea of zombies ambling around at noon, hurriedly running out of coffee shops at 2pm after buying their afternoon fix, and arriving to dinner parties at 8pm. I was confused. How could this be?
Where did my natural morningness go? Nightlife had taken a toll on me back in Norway as well, but it never affected my sleeping habits that drastically. Was it the stress of living in America, far away from family and friends? Was it the stronger coffee?
Perhaps, but I have finally figured out what really made me a zombie: The lack of sunlight.
I moved to San Francisco with one suitcase and some big dreams. I had been there for just two weeks when I suddenly came down with a terrible flu that left me bedridden for several days–a friend from Norway had warned me that the Californian climate was hard on newcomers, but I didn’t know how right she was. Luckily a kind doctor prescribed Tamiflu to fight the fever (which proved utterly useless), which left me with a lingering drowsiness that made it impossible for me to get up in time for work.
One morning I finally made it out of bed and I made my way to the bus stop under a steel gray sky. The clouds were thick, like a ceiling barely allowing any sunlight through. My head felt heavy when I stood up, which was strange because I hadn’t used much sleep the previous night. On my way to work–a 20-minute walk–it started to rain. As soon as I arrived at my desk, I knew what the problem was: My body had adjusted itself to a new cycle but hadn’t gotten enough sunlight during the first week to do so properly.
I decided then and there that I needed light therapy. I bought myself some orange goggles (to filter out blue light) and a full spectrum alarm clock, which simulates the outdoor light of California. I have kept them ever since and now they are an essential part of my daily routine–I never wake up feeling tired anymore.
All the extra sunlight has done more than just help me adjust to West Coast time; it has made me more alert and energetic during all hours of the day. I’m never tired anymore and am constantly looking forward to new challenges–which is great because there are many of them!
Here’s how you can become a morning person (and avoid becoming a zombie) as well:
Get some sunlight every day
The most important thing for your body is to get enough light during the daytime. You can go for a walk in the middle of the day, stroll by the beach or make an effort to sit outside and read on your lunch break.
Get enough sleep
This is second most important thing: Make sure you are going to bed early enough (so that your body can adjust its natural clock) and sleeping long enough (so that you wake up refreshed).
How much is “enough” and when do I wake up?
The most important thing to remember here is that your body will adjust itself after a couple of days. Finding the optimal time for sleeping and waking up may require some experimenting, but if you are persistent you will find it soon enough.