It’s 6AM & your alarm goes off. Are you ready to hop out of bed, lace up your sneakers, grab a granola bar & head out the door — or does the thought of functioning at this hour make you cringe instead? Fast forward to 10PM. Are you meal-prepping for the week ahead, on your way back from the library or evening fitness class… or are you winding down for the night, brushing your teeth & slipping under your coziest blankets with a book (or, let’s be real — another season of Friends on Netflix)? We live by our routines, whether we notice them or not, & while we may not be able to change our habits completely, we can utilize the times we function best by planning out our days — & knowing when to give ourselves a break.
My sleep schedule has changed a lot during my college years. I started training for my first half-marathon during the spring semester of my freshman year, which meant 8AM Saturday long runs & squeezing in my other weekly workouts whenever I could find the time. During the next year or so, I was training pretty heavily for my races. I’d become accustomed to waking up at 6AM to start my day sweating it out — & I felt “off” if this routine ever got disrupted. Fast forward to fall semester of my senior year… I was no longer able to run (or do any kind of moving, really) with a broken foot. This really threw my routine — & in turn, my overall mindset & mental health — for a tailspin. Frustration became apathy & eventually worsened into depression; by then I was sleeping in later & later each day & not making the most of the time I did have.
Today, I’m still finding a balance between these two extreme ways of living. I know that on clinical days, I have to be up at 5AM to make it to the hospital on time. So, on my free days I let myself sleep in because, honestly, it’s what my body (& sanity!) needs. I no longer rely on a morning endorphin-kick to get me through the day; I’ve found other ways to feel productive & keep my emotions in check. Actually, my routine isn’t really a routine anymore — I listen to my body & plan out my day based on what it needs. An hour of scrolling through Twitter before hitting the gym? Check. Choosing to nap instead of run on a rainy afternoon? Sure. I had to deconstruct my routine in order to figure out what aspects of my day were most important to me — but, if you’re like most people, you might like the consistency of scheduling out your day & optimizing your time accordingly.
Whether you’re an early bird, night owl, or find yourself falling somewhere in between, make the most of your hours by tuning into when you perform your best.
DUSK OR DAWN
Studies have found that our internal biological clocks are predetermined by genetics. Our circadian rhythms control the 24-hour daily cycle of all our physiological processes, sleep & wake cycles included. Research has found that one clock gene, in particular, is longer in early birds than in night owls, which may account for why some people are so strongly predisposed to waking & sleeping at certain times. Long story short — if you’re a morning person, it’s hard to become a night person, & vice versa.
RISE + SHINE
Regardless of when you wake up, if you’re used to sipping your coffee slowly in the morning, catching up on current events with The Skimm & planning for the day ahead, then you might call yourself an early bird. There’s a reason why we associate waking up before sunrise with being more proactive throughout the day — early birds are notorious perfectionists, more resistant to obstacles & generally having a happier outlook on life. They’re also more organized & detail-oriented, so break out that planner & make the most of your daylight hours. While night owls often find themselves sleeping in past breakfast, early birds might decide it’s the perfect time to get ahead of the game.
People generally assume that “the early bird catches the worm” but luckily there’s good news for all you night owls, too. This study suggests that nocturnal individuals are actually more intelligent than their early-rising counterparts & are more likely to seek new experiences & explore the unknown. They’re considered creative thinkers, as brain activity increases past midnight — perfect for finishing up those last-minute deadlines or finishing that book you just can’t put down. Night owls also experience improved mood & greater physical strength during the evening hours, so if you’re looking to make the most of your workouts, 6-8PM is your best bet. Once your head finally hits the pillow, try sleeping with the curtains or blinds open & let a little natural sunshine wake you up… instead of hitting the snooze alarm.
Like everything else, setting a routine is all about compromise. In between balancing what you have to do with what you want to do, keep in mind that there are certain times that YOU work best. Make sure to listen to yourself & don’t be afraid to break your routines, at least every now & then.