Sorry, Night Owls: Early Risers are Happier Than You

Morning people are happier
iStock/AleksandarNakic

When the time comes to roll out of bed, some of us can’t help but to press the snooze button over and over again. But there’s good reason to get in the habit as being an early bird has a number of benefits. From fitting in that exercise routine to having time to enjoy a hot breakfast, or just sipping on your morning cup o’ Joe before everyone else in your family wakes up. But science shows that waking up early is about more than just having extra time in the morning, it also means better mental health.

In all, about 20 percent of us are considered night owls and around ten percent are early birds. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Here’s why it’s worth waking up earlier and how you can change your routine.

The Mental Health Benefits of Being an Early Bird

1. You’re more likely to exercise

As mentioned above, if you wake up in the morning you’re more likely to fit in an exercise routine. For some people (including myself), exercising in the morning is better than exercising in the evening because night exercise can disrupt your sleep. And of course, exercise helps with the release of serotonin in the brain. A 2001 study published in Clinical Psychology Review found that aerobic exercise may have antidepressant effects on the brain by increasing serotonin. In some cases, exercise may work even better than medication.

2. Night owls are more vulnerable to depression

A study published in the January 2014 edition of Neuroimage found that night owls had different “white matter (WM) integrity” in their brains, which means that they’re more prone to depression. The study also found that night owls were more prone to abuse alcohol and nicotine compared to early birds.

3. Night owls tend to get less sleep

The reason why night owls tended to be more depressed, according to the study, could be the result of their general lack of sleep. Meaning they don’t have different white matter integrity just because they’re born with it.

In our fast-paced society, we tend to work more than ever before and sleeping in just isn’t an option. Night owls still have to wake up and go to work. This means they end up sacrificing sleep to fulfill their night owl tendencies. Not getting enough sleep is one of the worse things you can do for your mental health. A study published in the May 2016 issue of Journal of Integrative Medicine found that not getting enough sleep posed major threats to mental health and increased your risk of anxiety and depression. Not to mention that those who don’t get enough sleep tend to dose up on caffeine. And when you’re prone to anxiety anyway, this doesn’t help the situation.

4. Early birds are happier

A study published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Emotion found that early birds tended to be happier. Researchers followed two groups of participants. One group ranged in age from 17 to 38 and the other ranged in age from 59 to 79. The study found, unsurprisingly, that the younger group was much less likely to be early birds and that the older group tended to be happier as a result.

“We found that older adults reported greater positive emotion than younger adults, and older adults were more likely to be morning-type people than younger adults,” study researcher Renee Biss, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, told LiveScience. “The ‘morningness’ was associated with greater happiness emotions in both age groups.”

How to Change Your Sleep Patterns

We all want to be happy. And if research shows that becoming an early bird can help, then why not make the switch? While some of us are less inclined to wake up before the sun rises, we can all do it. Here’s how:

1. Gradually change your bedtime

The best way to wake up earlier is to go to bed earlier. But doing it all at once can make you exhausted. Instead, start by trying to go to bed ten minutes earlier every night. Most of us require between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. So figure out the time you want to wake up and start to move toward it.

2. Do something enjoyable in the morning

4 Expert-Backed Reasons Early Risers are Happier and How to Become One
IStock/EmirMemedovski

If you’re going to wake up early, you might as well use the extra time to do something you enjoy. Whether it’s hitting a yoga class or reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, use the time for activities that are appealing to you.

3. Change your bedtime routine

Yep, if you want to wake up early, you need to get to bed earlier. This involves changing your bedtime routine. Here’s how:

  • Dim the lights.

In the hours before bedtime, dim the lights in the house. Set the stage for your relaxing sanctuary.

  • Drink chamomile tea.

Sip on chamomile tea throughout the night to promote relaxation.

  • Keep it calm.

Avoid talking about subjects that are upsetting before bedtime. Don’t watch the news or violent television. If you have real problems sleeping, you might want to give up screen time entirely because the back lighting on your devices has been shown to keep some people up later at night.

  • Maintain a routine.

Maintaining a routine that’s dependable and not too hectic is great for bedtime preparation. Again, this goes back to keeping it calm. Adding in a meditation before bed or some restorative yoga can be a great way to relax the body and mind before bedtime.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? What are your tips for successfully waking up in the morning? We want to know! Drop us a line via Twitter @OrganicAuthorit.

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Sara Novak
Sara Novak

Sara Novak is an independent journalist who reports on health, science, yoga, and travel. She was a writer for Discovery Communications from 2006-2013 and her work has been featured on Discovery Health, Popular Science, TLC, Animal Planet, What to Expect, TreeHugger, and many more. She’s also a certified yoga teacher. When she's not churning away on her laptop, she can be found atop her yoga mat or walking the beach with her husband, baby boy, and two lovable cocker spaniels.