If you identify as a “night owl,” then you’re probably all too familiar with the feeling of running late. Maybe you’ve been trying to get into an early-morning cross-training routine for months, but when the alarm goes off, the struggle becomes all too real. Or you have no trouble performing until late at night, but find yourself sluggish during your morning rehearsals. Perhaps you’re constantly scrambling to get to your first class on time, while others cheerfully boast that they’ve already been up for hours at the start of barre.
Most of the time, people will just tell you that you should be going to bed earlier, and getting more sleep per night. While this is good advice, it may not tell the whole story. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that there really might be differences in the way night owls and early risers are “wired”—and that society tends to cater to the morning people.
The study surveyed thousands of high school and middle school students in Virginia (both “morning” and “night” people), who were expected to be at school by 7:20 am, and looked at things like their daytime sleepiness, alertness, and emotional and behavioral states. They found that even when the students were all getting the same amount of sleep, the night owls fared worse, suggesting that when they slept mattered—not just how much sleep they got. The idea is that we can be predisposed to be alert or tired at different times in a 24-hour cycle. Morning people might be at their most awake and functional in the early hours, but night people may naturally be on a later schedule. And trying to fit themselves into a schedule that’s “unnatural” for them may present real challenges.
The results don’t answer every question—after all, there are many factors that can affect sleeping habits. Still, getting a sense of when you’re naturally most awake and productive may help you to use the information to your advantage. For the days that you do have early-morning commitments, here are a few tricks you can try to make the process a bit easier:
Set yourself up for success. If you plan your morning the night before—from prepping your dance bag and breakfast, to arranging to meet a friend for an early workout—it’ll be that much easier to get up and go.
Avoid screens before bed. The type of light emitted from e-readers, phones or computer screens can be disruptive to sleep, and throw off your body’s natural rhythms (though reading a good old-fashioned print book may help you wind down before bed).
Getting enough sleep is still important. While early morning may never be your most productive time, you’ll still be better off if you get enough rest the night before (six hours a night may feel like enough, but one study found that it’s as bad as depriving yourself of sleep altogether).